One of the benefits of attending gaming conventions is that, sometimes, tucked away behind the AAA-behemoths always on display, you come across games that you’ve never heard of but which might pique your interest. That was the case at last year’s PlayStation Experience when I came across Divide. The folks from Exploding Tuba were trying to take a classic twin-stick shooter control scheme and marry it to an isometric adventure combined with a heavy sci-fi narrative element. Unfortunately, beyond the narrative aspirations they had, not much else really goes right with Divide.
In Divide you play as David, a single father who lost his wife in a lab accident at her work. Some time after her passing, you’re contacted by one of her old co-workers, Alton. He tells you all may not be as it seems, and gives you a briefcase. After playing at home with your daughter, you crack the case open to find a pair of special contact lenses that let you see the world in an entirely new light. Hidden documents, concealed buttons, and more all become visible to David, who realizes his very home was a testing ground for his deceased wife. Also in the case is a strange orb that explodes upon touching it, knocking David out. When he comes to, the world he knows is gone. In its place is a nightmarish future where the corporation that his wife worked for now rules. David now must find a way back to his own time—and his daughter.
The narrative is the lone bright spot for Divide. The dystopian world David wakes up in feels like it’s been inspired by the very best sci-fi one might read or see in a movie. They’re all familiar themes—corporations taking over the world, technology gone wrong or misused by malicious people, and a man out of time—but Divide does a nice job of using dialogue and context clues to give you reasons to care about the characters you meet, even despite the at times cringe-worthy voice acting.
But that’s it. After you have the plot laid out before you, getting David just from point A to point B becomes one of the worst gaming slogs I’ve had to wade through for a review in a long time. A large part of this has to do with the level design. Besides its monotonous aesthetic of white walls and holographic monitors everywhere, the pathways David must cross feel like a M.C. Escher painting in terms of how convoluted they are. Walkways that needlessly weave over and under each other not only take away from the futuristic theme thanks to their blatant inefficiency, but also serve as a constant thorn in your side due to the fixed isometric camera preventing you from seeing obstacles that might bar your path.
This fact is only compounded when the game requires you to backtrack. Navigation in Divide is a flat-out nightmare; never before have I begged so badly for more linearity. The map given to you is barely legible, providing no sense of direction or location. And, with no objective markers and almost no real landmarks to speak of, you’ll feel like Divide was actually intended as a walking-in-circles simulator instead of a sci-fi adventure.
When combat is introduced, it’s just another layer of ineptitude placed onto this cake of failure. David can use his special lenses to see menus and control panels not otherwise visible in the world, while sneaking up on the patrolling security robots—who grow to become more and more of a nuisance as the game goes on—will sometimes reveal a shut-off switch that can render them inert without having to fire a shot. The issues with all of this is that David can’t pull up his lenses while running, which is particularly a pain as you try to escape when things inevitably go awry, and you can only shoot his gun with the lenses activated, making overall combat maneuverability in already small spaces a constant nuisance.
The worst part about needing to activate your lenses to pull up your gun, though, is the fact that your laser sight is blue. Can you guess what the primary color is for most of the overlays that appear in the world when the lenses are on? A red laser sight would’ve stood out against the blue and white backdrops and not made aiming impossible. Considering how long it then takes your gun to charge up before each shot—which is why hacking security drones is actually preferred—there’s nothing like missing a charged up shot just barely because aiming is overly difficult. Not to mention, in a game with twin-stick mechanics, the reason why you can usually shoot quickly in those games is because bullets often act like tracers, allowing for easier correction. Having one blast every 30 seconds, not so much. I appreciate that Exploding Tuba wanted to try something different with a mechanic that hasn’t changed much over the years, but this was not the way to go.
Divide doesn’t just let players down from a design standpoint, though. From a technical point of view, it’s also a complete mess. David would get stuck on walls and furniture all the time, and I came out of several conversations with NPCs completely unable to move. As well, the game lacks a manual save system, but auto-saves infrequently—so when you have to reload after encountering one of these instant game-ending glitches, you’ll usually be losing anywhere between 10-15 minutes of progress.
Oh, but it doesn’t end there. It’s bad enough that this game doesn’t offer manual save points or frequent autosaves; my data also became corrupted somehow. Twice. There are four autosave slots if you try to manually load your game from the title screen, and all of them were unable to load. The only thing I can think of that happened in between those two playthroughs was the game was patched between them. I was told the first patch was specifically to fix this issue, which is even more mind-boggling that the game launched with such a major problem in the first place. How it happened again, I have no idea, but part of the reason this review took so long was I had to restart from the beginning and drag David’s sorry ass through time twice more before just marathoning through until the end. Nothing is more frustrating to me when playing a game than lost save data. Nothing.
Divide should be renamed “disaster,” because that’s what this game is. From a technical and gameplay standpoint, there are few worse experiences that come to mind. The developers would’ve been better off taking the story—which, again, was the lone bright spot—turning it into a 90-page movie script, and selling that off to Hollywood. As a game, this is as bad as it gets.
I can’t remember the last time I’ve seen such a mess of a game. There’s a decent story here, but it’s buried under so much technical and design shortcomings that it’s not worth your time digging to try to find it.
Exploding Tuba Studios
Exploding Tuba Studios
T - Teen
|Divide is available on PS4. Primary version reviewed was for PS4. Review code was provided by Exploding Tuba Studios for the benefit of this review. EGM reviews games on a scale of one to five stars.|
Ray has extensive roots in geek culture, as he’s written about videogames, comics, and movies for such outlets as Newsday.com, ESPNNewYork.com, Classic Game Room on YouTube, Collider.com, Comicvine.com, and of course EGM. His main goal in life? To become king of all geek media, of course!