The Disjunction developers, Ape Tribe Games, describe their game as a “classic RPG featuring hardcore stealth-action mechanics and a reactive story where your choices have real consequences” – which is mostly true. At its best, Disjunction can feel like an elaborate hybrid between the hyper-violent shootouts of Hotline Miami and high-speed punch-ups of Mr. Shifty; with a more developed and variable narrative that slowly unfurls as you progress.
Taking place in and around the slums of New York City in 2048 – after a major economic collapse has left the U.S. with sky-high unemployment, civil unrest, rampant crime, and drug-use problems – the three playable protagonists are brought together by their respective links to an ongoing conspiracy around a new hyper-addictive drug, a resurgence in gang warfare, human augmentation protests, and a shady security corporation looking to take control of policing in the city. Disjunction has a checklist of Cyberpunk themes all ticked off.
If I had to pick one core gameplay element that best describes the Disjunction experience, it’s timing your movement based on enemy vision cones.
First up is Frank, a former NYPD cop turned private eye, with a fondness for the non-lethal approach using tasers, smoke grenades, and a baton (with a pistol to fall back on). The second protagonist you control is Joe, a former fixer packing a mechanical arm, shotgun, and a fondness for direct combat. After several missions that set the scene, you finally take control of Spider, a hacker with a skillset that can be used for either ghosting through areas or setting up lethal ambushes thanks to her ability to cloak and emerge with her submachine gun blazing.
At first, Disjunction moves along at a brisk pace and remains fresh, swapping between characters and locations, with pre- and post-mission dialogue both suggesting the optimal approach and discussing the ramifications of your playstyle (non-lethal in most situations is clearly the “right” choice and affects endings available to each character). Every level has a primary goal and, often, a secondary goal to obtain an upgrade kit for your character in a well-guarded area. These upgrades allow you to augment one of your primary skills to better fit your playstyle, while the XP gained from completing goals can be used to provide more passive upgrades in a talent tree (again falling broadly into stealth, non-lethal, and lethal paths).
A non-lethal approach is strongly encouraged by several important NPCs, so sneaking through locations and using your abilities rather than weapons is the optimal path.
Once you get a feel for the character movement and abilities, juggling skill cooldowns, and the ever-present shifting enemy vision cones (which are halved when you are in shadow), Disjunction is best played as stealth-action hybrid with a strong push for rapid adaptation. A non-lethal approach is not mandatory, but a degree of stealth is necessary on most levels as you can’t take many hits and will be shredded by security lasers in seconds. The common gameplay loop goes something like this: you stick to the shadows in stealth mode, time your movement between vision cones, creep up behind isolated enemies to drop them with a sneak-attack and drag them away, then finally kite any alarmed enemies into doorways to cut down in a hail of bullets or area-of-affect grenade.
With single-use checkpoints only found near the centre of any given level (or triggered when transitioning between floors) and few health- or energy-restoring items, later levels become tense and increasingly unforgiving experiences. Scraping through to trigger a mid-level checkpoint with little health and no energy to activate abilities is often reason enough to restart the level entirely, giving the action a distinctly Hotline Miami-esque feel. However, with increasingly long and complex levels, these difficulty spikes drag down narrative pacing and the longer you play, the more you’ll notice repetitive elements.
Story repercussions be damned, the most enjoyable way to play Disjunction is to adapt on the fly, switching between the quiet and loud approach based on enemy types and their positioning.
Firstly, despite offering 30 “hand-crafted, non-linear” levels, all these levels are enclosed indoor environments. Sure, they have different layouts, artwork, and get more elaborate as you go on – the “non-linear” part being which corridor you pick to get to your destination – but you see nothing of the outside world aside from the backdrop of each protagonist’s apartment and the loading screen between missions. It makes each level feel detached and the New York setting merely flavour text.
Secondly, despite offering three characters, the narrative dictates when you play as them and their abilities begin to feel broadly similar the longer you play. Each character does much the same melee damage and their firearms, although suited to different engagement ranges, all get the job done equally well. Each character has a low energy cost “stun” ability (taser, charge, decoy) and a high energy cost crowd-control ability (smoke grenade, pulse grenade, tesla grenade). Even the augments and passive upgrade paths are too similar (such as picking ability damage vs. duration, or weapon damage vs. stealth movement speed).
Disjunction can look great, despite the pixel-art limitations. Unfortunately, seeing similar interior locations repeatedly dulls the impact.
With the gameplay issues covered, I can discuss Disjunction’s excellent presentation. Despite the repetitive nature of many levels, the pixel-art perspective-incorrect visuals are both stylish and essential for conveying gameplay information. The electronic soundtrack is unobtrusive but excellent, pulling most of the weight when it comes to creating a dystopian Cyberpunk atmosphere. The characterisation and general writing are solid (there’s no voice-work) and kept me pushing forward to see how the narrative would play out.
Overall, my feelings on Disjunction are mixed. The fast-paced stealth-action gameplay is satisfying, as is the slowly unravelling and gameplay-altered narrative that connects the protagonists and shady background organisations. However, the longer I played, repetition started to set in, and replaying increasingly tough levels become more of a burden and entertainment. If you’re a Hotline Miami fan that thrives on mastering pathing through increasingly tough levels, Disjunction gives you three protagonists with an evolving toolset and should keep you hooked. If, however, you’re a conventional RPG fan looking for a Cyberpunk-flavoured narrative, difficulty spikes drag down the pacing, and I found repetition and frustration kicked in long before the end.
Disjunction was developed by Ape Tribe Games and published by Sold Out
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