Disjunction adds stealth to satisfying cyberpunk tale
By GIESON CACHO | The Mercury News | Published: February 26, 2021
Video games go through trends. Zombies were popular for more than a decade, while extreme sports captured fans’ imagination in the aughts. Bald space marines had their day in the sun but gave way to more varied protagonists.
In the new decade, the cyberpunk genre has been picking up steam. That’s partly due to the hype surrounding CD Projekt Red’s long-in-the-works and recently released Cyberpunk 2077. The buzz has nudged other developers to explore a category that’s marked by dark futures and high technology.
One of those teams is Ape Tribe Games, which released its retro-style stealth genre title Disjunction. The project checks off all the cyberpunk bona fides. Powerful conglomerates? Bishop-Krauss is the defense contractor with all the robots and drones. Dystopian society? The U.S. went through an economic collapse, and a giant shanty town called Central City has risen in New York’s Central Park. Conspiracy? Central City leader Lamar Hubbard has been framed and is jailed by the police department.
Amid this backdrop, players take on the role of three protagonists — Frank, Joe and Spider. They’re strangers at first, but players discover that their dramas intertwine. Frank is a private investigator who looks into Lamar’s suspicious case. Joe is a father searching for justice after the death of his estranged daughter. Spider is a hacker who is trying to fight the pull of the family business.
In Disjunction, players control each of these characters as they sneak through maps crawling with thugs, security guards and robots. The overhead perspective and controls will remind players of “otline Miami,”but instead of tense gunfights and brawls, Ape Tribe’s project focuses on stealth.
Instead of running into a room guns blazing, it’s better to methodically assess the situation. Players should note the patrol routes, vision cones and traps before making a move. When attacking the room, they’ll have to make split-second decisions on whether to hide bodies or let them be. They’ll have to figure out whether it’s better to fight or hide.
What’s notable is that there’s no single solution for each level. Frank, Joe and Spider each have unique abilities. Frank is the most powerful character with the Deadeye ability and a silent stun gun. He can run through levels with minimal casualties. On the other hand, Joe, with his cybernetics, can take more damage and deliver the pain as long as players remember to use the combat stim. A level starring him usually has a trail of dead bodies.
Meanwhile, Spider is the more cerebral protagonist. Her holographic cat can distract adversaries so that she can sneak by or eliminate them. Her special ability to turn invisible helps players avoid conflict even if they’re in the middle of combat. Her powers take planning and foresight. The biggest drawback to her is that she doesn’t have much health and has no way to recover it other than picking up healing packs.
If that weren’t enough, each protagonist has a progression system. They can level up stats like sneaking or attack speed before heading to a level. Players can also modify abilities if they find upgrade kits in each stage. It can make powers such as grenades more effective by bumping the damage or impact radius.
Thankfully, players won’t be tied to an upgrade path. They can experiment and remove or add points in certain abilities to tweak how the heroes play through the levels.
As for the stages themselves, they’re serviceable, but the design isn’t particularly inspired. Most of the time, players venture through labyrinthine rooms, and after a while, one room looks like any other. The stages blur together in a smattering of corridors and rooms. It’s the weakest part of the effort.
On the bright side, Disjunction does have a plot that sucks players in, though anyone who knows their cyberpunk can predict where it all goes. Despite that, the reason players invest themselves in the narrative is that they are offered dialogue choices that allow for molding the personality of the protagonists. Players also have the decision to try to kill everyone in a level or knock them out. And those choices impact the ending.
Disjunction is a portrait of cyberpunk painted with the brush of a retro-style video game. It hits the genre beats one would expect, but it’s the tight and polished stealth mechanics that help the game break new ground. It’s the reason players will stick through the campaign.
Platforms: Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, PC