I need more hashes to unlock this computer as I am so close to unlocking my next security level, but goodness are they hard to come by. I am using my scanner ability as I meticulously work my way through the sprawling, underground labyrinth wondering where to go next. I feel like I have done everything so I back-track and double check every nook and crannie on the level, but I am starting to get confused. Was I just here? Was this where I started? No. Damn…where do I go from here?
Divide puts you in the role of David who is attempting to escape from a facility he has woken up in without certainty as to how he got there. The first impression the game made on me is you use “R2” for confirming everything. It makes sense, to a degree, as the traditional twin-stick setup wants you to keep your thumbs on the sticks. It did not take me long to start feeling comfortable with using “R2” as much as the game asked, but in a game so focused on maintaining traditional twin-stick controls, the actual combat is extremely frustrating. The weapons are difficult to use and extremely weak. The plus side, I suppose, is there is not much combat, and it is often easier to just hack your automated enemies. However, as someone who loves twin-stick shooters, I was really excited for a game that would have the familiar mechanics I adore and weave in a compelling story. Unfortunately the gameplay was actively turning me off of the game, but a good story could have saved it, and it started out promising.
The prologue of the story was compelling as it laid out groundwork for a story I was interested in. I wanted to learn more about the David, his sadly departed wife, the shadowy company she worked for, and more about the cool contact lenses David’s wife left for him. These lenses allow the protagonist to see things not visible to the human eye. The world comes alive when David views the world through them and this allows him to scan and hack computers, upload data, control the environment, and see messages scrawled on walls. It is a really interesting concept, but the bulk of your time is spent scavenging through isometric environments to get enough “hashes” to unlock computers and servers which eventually give you the security clearance necessary to access new areas. This time becomes increasingly dull as the areas all look similar, there is little direction on what order you should hack or unlock things in, and it mostly feels like you are spinning your wheels as you constantly revisit areas you have already been unintentionally in the hopes for additional hashes. During this time the only story that is really told is downloaded articles from different computers and modules which you have to navigate through the menu to read. Slowly, the story I wanted to know more about was losing me.
What makes things worse is each area you unlock looks strikingly similar to the previous area. There is a map you can utilize through SOLUS (which is what the menu is called David views through his contact lenses) but it is a bit cumbersome and not always really helpful. This can make backtracking a bit frustrating and the isometric design means stairwells and walkways are not always evident and you sometimes stumble across new ways to access areas purely by accident. What makes all of these struggles disappointing is the game has some really great parts!
The sound design of Divide is excellent. The tracks are well orchestrated and the effects and environmental noise all mix together to form a soundtrack that could have come from a game with a much larger budget. It, for me, was probably the single greatest accomplishment of the game. Similarly, the voice acting is pretty well done. As someone who has dinged smaller games who attempted voice acting and the execution was a bit lacking, I have to give some credit to Divide. While there are stumbles here and there, overall the voice acting is quite well done, and really helped engage me in the story when it was present. I just wish there had been more of it. Finally, there are some nuggets of a good story here, but trying to get navigate the game to experience those story beats proves to be more of a chore than the story is able to payoff.
Overall, Divide is an attempt to breathe some life into the twin-stick genre by blending it with compelling storytelling. While the ambition is admirable, the execution stumbles too often for the game to succeed. There are a few bright spots to be had, but the dull gameplay, repetitive environments, and overall lack of direction make it difficult to recommend this game.