Here we have another of those Tom Clancy games that doesn’t quite fit a typical video game mold. The Division has the character creation tools, gear-me-up elements, upgrades and storyline of an RPG mixed with scores of run-and-take-cover third-person shooter missions. And it’s set in an MMO-like online world where the hope of gaining XP and finding key bits of loot keeps you grinding on and on and on.
The story takes place in an exquisitely detailed and spread-out New York City. A strange, potent strain of smallpox has swept into the metropolis and left the dying populace huddled and afraid. Was it bioterrorism or a horrible and unexpected natural plague? No one is certain, but with the death of hundreds of thousands, the city is left in meltdown mode. Within days, food, water and electricity are all at a premium and roving gangs have taken over what’s left of the streets: claiming whole boroughs for themselves and shooting anyone for a can of beans or a tank of gas.
You play as a sleeper agent of something called, of course, The Division, a group of highly skilled soldiers embedded in the populace by the U.S. Government for just such a city-crippling disaster. Your job is to grab your gun, organize a base of operations in the famous James A. Farley Post Office in Manhattan and gather the appropriate police, doctors, engineers and scientists necessary for a recovery. You must do what it takes to set the city aright. Translation: Kill every rioter, bandit or snarling militiaman you can place in your gun sights.
Of course, as a gamer your real reason for doing all this is the “joy” of becoming a super-soldier who completes missions, gathers great rewards and¬—with an arsenal of assault rifles, shotguns, marksman rifles, and other more exotic weaponry magically stashed away in a single backpack—can splatter the essence of any given crowd of foes.
Whether you attack your missions in single-player mode or with a small, much more strategically advantageous group of multiplayer pals is up to you. The result, however, is pretty much the same. Blood and goo oozes, spurts and sprays with kill after kill.
Enemies tend to absorb more bullets before they fall here than in most games. But play soon devolves into running and tumbling in and out of cover while killing a never-ending parade of profanity spewing, nameless thugs. Oh, and that profane spewing is common on both sides of the ever-moving battle line, by the way. F- and s-words, blasphemes and every form of crudity and vulgarity imaginable is vomited up in a Jersey Shore sort of accent.
I should also mention that there is one section of the city called the Dark Zone that gamers can venture into, if they dare. This is a massive, unstructured PvP (player vs. player) area in the middle of the city populated by any number of online players and AI (artificial intelligence) foes. This chunk of inner-city decay is important because it’s here that you find the toughest opponents and the most powered-up dropped loot and gear.
After obtaining a potent piece of swag, you have to make it back to an extraction point before you can get it pulled out by helicopter. That’s the only way you can then utilize it in other parts of the game. Your online companions, though, are looking for that sweet gear, too. So even if they teamed up with you moments before, they may quickly shoot you in the back to rob you of your hard-fought for treasure.
I bring this last part up because it speaks to an important aspect of this game of many colors. Beyond its wanton encouragement of backstabbing, The Division entices you to log a lot of hours in pursuit of that rare rifle or choice piece of armor.
Loot is good here. Loot is power. And, of course, like many MMOs that have come before, loot can equal addiction. And what you’re getting addicted to here is worth paying some serious moral attention to: grinding hours of blood- and gore-producing trigger-pulling peppered with obscenities.
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.