Review: Disjunction

30 Jan 2021

I seem to be on a bit of a retro kick, following hot in the footsteps of our preview of Loop Hero with another retro styled title. This time we seem to be effectively moving from a mid-80s style to an early-90’s style with today’s game, Disjunction, developed by Ape Tribe Games, for most major platforms. The Steam version was played for this review.

Having said that though, the retro style is about the only thing the games have in common, as what we have here is a stealth-based action game, somewhat reminiscent of Metal Gear (The original version, not the NES one), which is all about going about your missions while trying to be sneaky and avoiding detection. So let’s skulk about and investigate to see whether this is worth your time.

The Not-so-Distant Future

Disjunction takes place a few decades after modern times in New York City following an economic collapse, in a district known as “Central City,” a slum district established in the Central Park area. Taking on the role of “Frank,” a private investigator, you are initially tasked with investigating what happened to a pillar of the Central City community whom a friend believes has been framed for the murder of a cop, in connection with a narcotics ring peddling “Shard,” a powerful new synthetic drug. Given a lead that he was arrested after visiting a new nonprofit health clinic, the game begins with Frank infiltrating said clinic to uncover evidence.

As the game progresses, you will both meet and play as various other characters with parallel storylines. Both the story itself and the gameplay present you with some opportunities to make decisions which can influence the story. For instance, in your first mission you’re asked not to kill anyone. If you do, this will affect the story after the mission. You will also have to make many similar sorts of choices in the NPC dialogue as well. Do I kill this person? Turn them over to the authorities? Or do I let them go?

The story dialogue is well-written, if definitely not G-rated (Swear bombs abound, fair warning!), and you can mouse over key names and topics in the text for more detailed information on certain things. You can also uncover magazine and newspaper clippings during the gameplay which add to the lore of the game.

The story is core to the experience all in all, and mostly very enjoyable. However, players may find the seemingly random switch to a new character and their perspective a little disjointing. The first time this happens there’s no obvious connection between the Frank and the second character you play as. It does make sense later so it’s fine, but it’s just an observation that may matter to some.

Sneak and Shoot

The main gameplay is quite reminiscent of the MSX Metal Gear games in a way, with its 2-D, top-down gameplay style. The game is all about sneaking around and avoiding detection as much as possible, although each character you play as has a range of tools to help you along, with both lethal and non-lethal weapons and other gadgets like smoke grenades, stun guns and even a cloaking device (Just think, in 20 years we’ll have the technology to turn ourselves invisible!). All of these tools mostly make your mission easier, however, you’re generally not absolutely required to take anyone out and there are achievements and such relating to this.

When you’re sneaking, you’ll see enemy vision cones and can use this to plan your attack. Make noise or get detected and you won’t be able to see this information. Planning your strategy to deal with each situation is fun. That said, there are not very many forced encounters. You can often dash past an enemy’s vision and go back to sneaking and avoid detection, and all the important items are in the game world and not held by enemies or NPCs, which means you generally don’t have to take anyone out, stealthily or otherwise.

However, there are some other stealth situations the game doesn’t get quite right. For example, you might see a guard standing in front of a table. If you sneak you’ll notice his vision is stopped by the table (it’s clearly a table and not a solid wall). You can stand on the opposite side of the table, walk around, use items (other than your gun) and he will never know you’re there.

You can walk in front of someone, you can even be seen with a corpse, and as long as you move out of the vision cone quickly enough, the enemy doesn’t even start investigating. Even when making sneak attacks, your melee weapon (such as a police stun baton) clearly makes noise as you knock a guard out, but close by enemies looking the other way won’t notice. Enemy behaviors are 100% predetermined as well, so you never need to improvise and repeat playthroughs end up being a walk in the park.

The game would probably be too hard if these situations were made more realistic, but it’s hard not to find some of these situations unbelievable. There are also electric floors and other traps which hurt you but don’t hurt anyone else, which didn’t make much sense to me as they aren’t activating just for you. Tools like the smoke grenades that would clearly cause a commotion for any normal person also don’t affect enemy behavior much – as long as you’re not seen, they’re go back to what they were doing after. Finally, there are a remarkable number of useless guards standing facing a wall. They’re always absurdly easy to avoid or take out since their vision cone doesn’t block off any area at all.

While this is a lot of talk about the game not having much realism in its stealth, I have to admit, the tools are fun to use and the gameplay is balanced. The game isn’t brutally difficult, nor is it too easy (most of the time). You just might have to try to suspend your disbelief a bit sometimes.

Can’t Hide From The Retro

Disjunction has a grungy, appealing aesthetic with a feel like the early 16-bit era with its pixel art, which fits right in with the simple detail of the characters and objects. High resolution text and icons make up the dialogue and UI, which make clear the modern era in which the game is made.

Personally, I think this is a good thing, as in my my review of Loop Hero I did comment on that game’s low pixel resolution making some of the text hard to read. Your mileage may vary though. There are a decent variety of environments, enemies, and objects, and it all looks consistent and well made.

Musically, the game opts for an atmospheric style. While it may not end up being a super memorable soundtrack, it is distinct and well made. It does sound more modern than the era for which it was made, though. If you’re super serious about your retro, this might be a minus point. Personally, I like it. Not much else to say here though. Not bad, but not exceptional either.

Turning in for the Night

Disjunction offers a solid, fun take on the stealth action genre. While it stumbles at times with the feel of its stealth mechanics, it is still satisfying and fun to play, aside from the one time my game progress mysteriously got deleted and I had to start over (though it hasn’t happened again).

If you enjoy action stealth experiences like those found in the early Metal Gear games and games like Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell (except being 2-D) and you like new retro-styled games in the modern era, chances are good you can enjoy this game, even if it doesn’t have the most realistic stealth mechanics.

~ Final Score 7/10 ~

Review Copy provided by Sold Out for PC. Screenshots taken by reviewer. Featured image courtesy of Sold Out.