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Friday, July 19, 2024

Disjunction review

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Need to know

What is it? Stylish and challenging top-down stealth puzzler.
Expect to pay $15/£13
Developer Ape Tribe Games
Publisher Sold Out
Reviewed on AMD Ryzen 5 3600, Nvidia GeForce 2080 Super, 32 GB RAM
Multiplayer? Nope!
Link Official site

A slick and stalwart stealth puzzler, Disjunction is Splinter Cell by way of Hotline Miami. Assuming the roles of three different characters, you must navigate your way through an array of fast-paced, fiendishly devised levels, slipping through shifting mazes of vision cones as you attempt to unravel a typically twisty cyberpunk conspiracy in near-future New York. Disjunction has style in spades, while its elaborate sneaking scenarios can be satisfying to unpick. But it can also be infuriating. The game doesn’t always play to its strength, and occasionally seems to actively enjoy wrong-footing you.

Disjunction kicks off as a hard-boiled detective story, with cybernetically enhanced-sleuth Frank Monroe investigating the possible framing of a local community leader for the murder of a policeman. As with any good Cyberpunk story, this simple case soon spirals into something much bigger. Two more player characters are introduced—an underground boxer who goes by the nickname Lockjaw, investigating the death of his daughter some weeks prior, and a female hacker named Spider, reluctantly drawn into the case after Lockjaw asks her to crack an encrypted tablet.

It’s a derivative near-future sci-fi, but Disjunction’s tale is sharply and engagingly told. Developers Ape Tribe Games successfully mimic the cool, detached dialogue of writers like Gibson, and the mystery it weaves is a convincing one. Moreover, given Disjunction isn’t primarily a narrative game, its storytelling systems are surprisingly robust. The text UI and branching dialogue are both elegant and responsive, while most conversations come with an array of choices, some of which can make a significant difference on the overall outcome of the story.

From a general presentation perspective, Disjunction is executed superbly. I’m generally not a fan of pixel-art, but its hard to complain about Disjunction’s crisply drawn characters and vividly painted environments. The loading screen—depicting a monorail travelling along a broken jawline of skyscrapers, illuminated from behind by buttery clouds—is particularly gorgeous. Levels and dialogue scenes, meanwhile, are accompanied by a pulsing, buzzing synth soundtrack that matches the game’s style and tone perfectly.

All of this acts as a framework for a series of natty stealth challenges. Your broad goal is always to sneak (or shoot) your way through a secure location, either to retrieve some evidence or to speak to some important figure in New York’s criminal underworld. It could be a warehouse or a penthouse, a clinic or a lab. What’s important is that when I say “secure”, I mean it. Each level is tightly locked down by patrolling guards, surveillance cameras, and a host of robotic sentries ranging from scuttling spiderbots to exploding Roombas.

Disjunction doesn’t immediately hit as hard as Hotline Miami, giving you a couple of (relatively) mediated levels to ease yourself in. Soon though, missions are stuffed with enough vision cones to make Solid Snake quiver in his cardboard box. Most enemies will spot you within a second of straying into their line of sight, at which point you have two choices, fight or die.

Disjunction doesn’t strictly mandate its stealth. You can kick the door down and start spitting lead if you want, whether from Spider’s Uzi or Lockjaw’s shotgun, and you’ll enjoy a relatively satisfying time. Weapons have a real kick, and enemies spatter and crumple in a gratifying enough way. That said, the game is clearly primed as a sneaking experience. Enemy patrols are scheduled so that you can just slip through if you move at this precise moment, or use that specific ability.

Speaking of which, each character has a range of skills to help them navigate the levels’ heavy security, such as Spider’s holographic projector that distracts enemies, or Monroe’s smoke grenades that allow him to pass an area unseen. They’re all useful abilities, but there’s nothing particularly radical or creative about them. Don’t expect anything like Deus Ex’s wall-punching or Dishonored 2’s Domino in terms of enemy or environment manipulation. 

What Disjunction lacks in originality, it makes up for in pace and, to a lesser extent, challenge. The stealth is tightly wound, demanding precise movements and speedy reactions. Failure tends to be abrupt and complete. You’re often back in the game before you character from the previous run has finished dying. It’s a refreshing change of pace from most stealth games, which tend to emphasise planning and caution. After a few hours playing Disjunction, you’ll find yourself moving through levels by instinct, your gut telling you which objects to hide behind, when to nab that keycard or make a dash for the doorway.

This quickfire stealth is undoubtedly where Disjunction is at its strongest. Unfortunately, the game doesn’t always play to it. One of the biggest issues in Disjunction is the camera, which is fixed at a low altitude above your character, preventing you from seeing much of the wider layout of a level. Most of my failures came not from misjudging my own movements, but because I simply couldn’t see the other side of a room, and thus had no way to identify the current position of other sentries.

Alongside this are a couple of other issues that needlessly frustrate the game’s sneakery. Most rooms of a level are separated by short corridors which appear to be designed as a breathing spot, letting you plan your next moves. But guard vision cones frequently stray into these spaces, forcing you to move out into the next room before you’re ready to do so. The checkpoint save system is also inconsistent. In some levels, checkpoints are evenly paced, whereas others force you to complete lengthy stealth sequences which are simply not fun to repeat.

Finally, sometimes Disjunction just likes to fuck with you. In one level, which involves sneaking into a Mafia boss’ lavish penthouse, one room is guarded by two Spiderbots, each with four vision cones that rotated on its central axis. After twenty minutes of cursing at those bots like Willem Dafoe in The Lighthouse, I finally got by them, only to be immediately roasted by a spinning laser turret hidden behind the other side of the door. I might have been impressed by the sheer audacity of it, had I not been busy summoning Neptune from the depths to wreak watery vengeance upon whoever put that sodding laser turret there.

It’s unfortunate that Disjunction occasionally veers from being challenging into unfair, lacking a certain clarity to the rules of its world, because otherwise it’s a slickly designed and rewarding stealth puzzler. It isn’t especially ambitious, or mind-blowingly original, but it is nonetheless a respectable debut from developers Ape Tribe Games.

The Verdict


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A compelling story and speedy stealth make up for Disjunction’s less even moments.

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