By Terris Harned (NWOrpheus)
Famed purveyors of fine video games, CD Projekt Red announced not too long ago that we might be waiting until 2021 for the much anticipated Cyberpunk 2077 title. Obviously, this is forever from now, and a little bit of me, deep inside, died with the news. Thankfully, however, I won’t have to wait until 2021 (hopefully) for a fix of some good ol’ fashioned cyberpunk gaming. This comes in thanks to Disjunction, by Ape Tribe Games.
Disjunction is a pixel graphics, twin-stick style adventure game, with a delightfully dystopian cyberpunk setting. So far they’ve only got a playable demo with the first two levels, but I absolutely can’t wait to see more of where this game intends to go.
The demo of the game is set in New York City, and some of the surrounding areas, some 30 years or so in the future (2048). It opens with a view of a smoggy evening skyline, or perhaps skyscrapers that pierce the clouds. A news broadcast then begins to set the stage, reporting on an incident between police and a man named Lamar Hubbard, a community leader for a district called Central City. Central City was once Central Park, but now is where the poorest residents of the area live in squalor. The way that you know these facts is by mousing over words with an orange highlight in the newscaster’s dialogue.
I enjoy these little lore tidbits that you can read more about, if you’re inclined, but you can totally get away with skipping them and just getting into the action if that’s more your style.
I feel like this is an exemplary example of the “show don’t tell” style of storytelling. The situation isn’t crammed down your throat, but is more presented delicately on a nice silver platter for your casual and leisurely consumption. I found this to be an enjoyable way to preface the game and bring immersion to the fore, even though the game’s pixel graphics are simplistic, or perhaps minimalist.
At any rate, the news story plays out, and you then find yourself in control of a private investigator named Frank. He answers a call from Lamar Hubbard’s wife, who seems quite familiar with the P.I., and asks him to look into the matter the news story prefaced. Without spoiling the story too much, I’ll just say that Frank ends up in a facility, after a transition sequence that reminds me of faintly the old Shadowrun SNES game, in the best possible way.
If you ever want to start a lively discussion, ask a group of old school gamers which was better, SNES or Genesis Shadowrun.
Once in the clinic, you begin the tutorial, beginning with the controls. For the PC version you move around with WASD, and can look around using the mouse. This includes “pushing” the view to one direction, to see further down hallways or around corners.
I’m told that there will be multiple endings for Disjunction, and the outcomes you get will depend heavily on how you play the game, as well as dialogue options. This comes into immediate effect when you begin play, as there are two play styles readily apparent. You can either try to sneak your way through the clinic, attempting to sneak up behind guards and waylay them with your stun baton, or you can go full murder hobo mode and just blaze through the place with your gun out.
I tend to prefer the stealth game, so I made an effort to stick to the shadows and carefully time my attacks so that I could drag a sleeping figure out of sight before another guard spotted it and came over to investigate. Now, when you’re walking slowly (default hold shift) you’ll actually decrease the “vision cone” of guards. This line of sight based cone shows as yellow on your screen when you’re close enough to a guard to track their movements. If the cone turns red, it usually means that the guards have spotted you, and things are about to go south.
The game is rewarding and challenging, without being frustratingly so. The levels I’ve played so far I feel have a very nice balance.
The stun baton and pistol aren’t the only tools you have at your disposal while sneaking around places that you don’t belong. Each of the game’s three playable characters will have a unique passive ability, as well as three different active abilities. For Frank, the P.I., the passive ability is Deadeye, which is fueled by his cybernetic ocular implants. His eyes can assess the most vulnerable parts of a target, and assist him in doing double damage. You also do double damage on a sneak attack from behind an opponent, which stacks with the Deadeye bonus.
The active abilities Frank possesses are shock bolter, smoke grenade, and first aid kit. The first aid kit, as you might have surmised, can heal you. The shock bolter releases a small electrical charge that disables both organic and inorganic targets for a few seconds, allowing you to get in close for that knockout hit. The smoke grenade will obfuscate the vision of any guards within it, which can buy you a couple seconds to get past a target. It also seems to work pretty nicely when multiple targets are around. First aid kit and smoke grenade each have 2 uses per mission (I think.. Maybe per floor? Not sure.)
I don’t envy the headache you’ll have when you awake. In the meantime, rest well, and dream of large women.
There wasn’t a whole lot of features beyond this in the demo, except that there is a bit of character progression that happens between levels. You’re given a certain number of “Upgrade Kits” throughout play, and can also earn some XP. These are both spent before each mission (except the tutorial) and allow you to fine tune your play style. For example, if you’re a guns blazing sort, an increase in firing speed might make you happy. For me and my stealthy approach I took an upgrade that increased my movement speed while walking.
Really though, I don’t know what other features the game would need. The music is catchy, and even though it runs on a relatively short loop, it doesn’t get inanely tiresome as some games that attempt to emulate the 16-bit era do. The graphics are minimalist, as I said, but not in a bad way. I’ve referred in the past to games that are “all flash, no bang”, and Disjunction absolutely avoids this pitfall.
The story is engaging, and the first two levels of the demo for Disjunction absolutely leave me waiting to see more. I want to see where the story goes, as well as what other playable characters there will be, and the lore and abilities they have. The 3-brother team over at Ape Tribe Games have put something fun together, and hope to release the game on Steam, GoG, and consoles, if they can, by Q4 2019. I suggest you wishlist this one on Steam and keep an eye out for it, especially if you appreciate the cyberpunk genre as much as I do.