I posted a review of The Division earlier. The game plays quite well and if you’re looking for an FPS to play with your friends then The Division should fill that hole nicely.
The plot though!
The plot is barebones, with most of it being shown to the player in hidden conversations between NPCs throughout the game instead of directly telling you what’s going on (a good story device!).
In the game an evil scientist has altered the small pox virus to be extremely lethal and resistant to treatment.
He released the virus to the public by infecting a bunch of money sent to malls before Black Friday. The infection spread rapidly and since people are no longer regularly vaccinated against small pox, the effects were catastrophic.
You enter the story as a member of the titular Division, a secret branch of the US military. Good news, all Division members are vaccinated against small pox! Even better, all special forces soldiers in the real US military are actually vaccinated against small pox for this exact sort of event!
Division members have Navy Seal like training but are also part of some sort of reserve/last line of defense.
You’re dropped off in the chaotic wasteland that used to be New York City, given a support staff, and tasked with the difficult goal of restoring order to a society that has all but torn itself apart.
That all sounds good at first, right? Well… not quite.
First of all, it’s unlikely that small pox could be modified enough that current vaccines wouldn’t be at least partially effective in the event of an outbreak. Current vaccines are so good that they prevent death if administered a week AFTER infection. Supply would be an issue, but let’s ignore that for now.
The game gets around the vaccination solution by saying that the virus has been modified to mutate quickly, like HIV. Vaccinations can’t be developed because by the time one is invented the disease has changed and the vaccination won’t work anymore (but your character is vaccinated successfully to make this even more confusing…).
That solution to the vaccination issue creates another problem. It’s is not beneficial to a disease if it rapidly kills people. Diseases want to spread and infect. If an infected person dies quickly then the disease doesn’t get to spread to as many people.
The bubonic plague killed about 50% of the people that were exposed to it during the Black Death in the 1300s, but that fell to less than 5% by the 1800s because it was not advantageous to the disease for it to kill people so quickly.
HIV goes another route, having a high lethality rate, but taking a long time to kill it’s victims all but ensuring that they will pass the disease on if no countermeasures are taken.
So if the small pox virus is mutating quickly in The Division it follows that the disease will also quickly drop in lethality. Otherwise the disease will effectively quarantine itself by killing it’s hosts before they can pass it on.
Next issue with the game is the existence of the Division military branch in the game. Why would the US military keep a group of highly trained special forces agents and not use them regularly? How would those agents maintain their skills if they were living normal civilian lives?
Navy Seals exist and the Army Reserves exist, but no one belongs to both camps. You’re either the best of the best and training all the time to maintain that position or you’re a backup if things go bad. You can’t be both.
The Division just doesn’t work as a plausible idea under scrutiny.
My final gripe with The Division’s background setting doesn’t have so much to do with believability but with a lack of character choice.
When you get sent into an area to “restore order” you get shot at by people. Why are they doing this? Aren’t you one of the good guys?
The answer becomes clear if you listen to the enemies talk to each other before they notice you.
While searching a dead body they’ll say stuff like, “See if he had any food, my kids are starving.”
Or, “Hurry up, I’m freezing.”
Or, “I need the medicine. See if it’s in his backpack.”
The enemies are not all black and the Division is not all white. There’s a touch of grey morality to everything.
Part of the Division’s purpose in NYC is to maintain a quarantine. No one goes in and no one goes out (except Division members).
The Division declares itself King of New York. You want food? You have to come to the Division, you can’t take it from the parachuted airdrops yourself. That’ll get you shot by the Division for “stealing.”
Same for medical supplies. Doesn’t matter how sick your family members are. If they don’t come to Division Headquarters then they don’t get treatment.
What’s that you say? Your uncle is too sick to walk and there’s no more gas to drive him to Division HQ? TOO BAD!
God help you if a Division member catches you searching one of the many dead bodies littering New York. This is just another crime that is punishable by death (Unless your a Division member. Then searching bodies is totally cool).
I understand that if society falls apart as completely as the game represents then the application of force is necessary to restore order, but it’s abundantly clear that the Division isn’t exploring other options. You can’t offer food or medicine to the gangmembers. You can’t threaten them to make them stop a crime in progress or arrest them. There’s no punishment available in the game except death.
And you can’t even ignore crimes in progress! If you walk by a gangmember then he pulls out his gun and shoots at you! Why? Because you’re a Division member and he knows that you’re going to take a shot at him for doing what he needs to do to survive.
This part of the game is kind of sick. As fun as the game is mechanically, this part is a big turnoff. You can’t even do something as simple as explore the ruined city without killing a few civilians.
I’m hoping that a DLC will fix this issue, but considering the other simplistic parts of The Division’s story, I doubt it.
So if you were hoping that you could play a white knight character in The Division, I’ve got bad news for you. Take a look at the dirty snow-covered city and you’ll see that grey is the only color.