With Space Shooter-type games, you get one of two flavors.
On one hand, you have the super accurate sims. Elite: Dangerous, Everspace, Starpoint Gemini, blah blah blah. The kind of stuff that needs more than a CliffNotes pack, and a mind clear of any and all bullshit. On the other hand, the arcade types. Geometry Wars, Alien Cruise, all the Bullet Hells in the world; Quick in ‘n’ out sessions that provide catharsis on a budget. With Subdivision Infinity DX however, there’s a bridge between the two.
This is the debut title from Russian developers Mistfly Games; One of the rare few who didn’t have to go through to Sometimes You or Ratalaika in order to get a publishing deal. They’ve teamed up with publisher Blowfish Studios to promote their space shooter, with Blowfish boasting a beefy bag of brilliance in terms of their publishing repertoire. The Deer God was a calming experience, along with Morphite, and JackQuest… Okay, scratch off that last one.
You play as Rebel-1, a loner in a small tin can of a space ship, browsing what the galaxy has to offer when he’s roped into a massive fight with unknown assailants. Afterwards, he meets up with a lonely robot who tells him that the human inhabitants are all but present in this system. Wondering what the hell’s going on, your journey will take you down a path of assimilated ships, rogue corporate weaponry, and poor sentence structure.
You’re plopped into a random part of the galaxy where you’re told to roam around and will have to complete certain objectives. All of your objectives will be “shoot the thing that’s shooting at you”, but usually seasoned with sub-objectives like collecting resources or escorting friendly entities.
If this doesn’t sound like your sort of thing, or you’re simply tired of getting stomped on by more powerful enemies, then there is an exploration aspect. Here, you’re plopped into a random part of the galaxy, and you can mine asteroids with a mining tool, with enemies periodically spawning in to tickle your spaceship’s cheeks. The mining materials you’ll gain will be used to upgrade your cavalcade of ships, more money selling the useless crap you’ll grab in the middle of it all, and upgrades for your weapons.
It’s a surprisingly massive game, despite linearity in the mission structure, which usually revolves around “shoot the thing over here, then shoot the thing over there”. The exploration levels take place in massive playgrounds, filled with all sorts of space wrecks, debris, and asteroid belts. If this game had some form of multiplayer, they would make for some interesting battlegrounds, but regardless, their massive nature filled with all sorts of goodies can appease more explore-heavy players.
It also looks stellar. Unreal Engine 4 was used for this, and by God, does it look nice at times. Sure, they’re just sky-boxes, but damn, do they set the mood wonderfully. Bright purple light-streams penetrating the ships windows, wreckage tinted in the same colors– It’s genuinely gorgeous to look at, and it’s surprising that such a graphically intense game houses such a generic formula.
See, that opening paragraph wasn’t for nothing. Subdivision actually seems to be a middle-man between the insane pre-flight checks you’d have to make in games like Elite and the simple-minded sh’m’ups. Does it work? In some ways, yes, but in other ways, no, and that’s to be expected, honestly.
The upgrade system, for example, is almost perfectly designed. The weapons being upgraded via gear crates which are usually only obtainable from destroying other enemies; That’s fine, and it helps when deciding whether pumping gear crates and money is worth it or not. However, you’re only paying for small damage upgrades. The gun itself doesn’t change or evolve, it merely hits a little harder.
Same thing with all of the ships as well. They only get their cargo size for mining upgraded, along with a small armor boost. There’s no room for customization, speed, or ammo capacities; Those are all set and unable to change, which is a shame. Whether or not Subdivision’s attempt at melding two different difficulties of space shooters was intentional or not, it seems more half-hearted than anything.
Take the gameplay, for example; Once again, it’s very simple in its endeavors. You fly around and use a primary and secondary weapon, blah blah blah, but it’s the flying controls that could use some expansion. You can’t do a proper dodge roll, you can’t deploy something like chaff or flares to avoid lock-on missiles. With that said, it always seems like you’re outmatched against your enemies.
They move faster, they react faster, they’re equipped with more powerful weaponry, and they have access to the all-important EMP. They seem to discharge randomly, and once they hit you, you cannot aim at them, your fire rate decreases, and I believe your movement is also crippled. You don’t have access to this weapon, and it’s their most prominent form of attack that isn’t just a small burst of minigun bullets.
It wouldn’t be so bad if you had some back-up in these types of outnumbered and outgunned missions, but the escort missions are the only time you’ll get back-up, weirdly enough. Yes, give NPC friendlies to me in the mission where I’m supposed to be tested on how well I can protect a defenseless ship, and not when we have to face off against massive outposts, fitted with all sorts of devastating turrets. Mmm, I smell mixed priorities.
The mission structure and progression does get painfully generic at times. For once in a lifetime, it’s the escort missions that are providing brevity and relief in a game, with the same generic “destroy all enemies” missions truly becoming frustrating after a while. It doesn’t feel like a straight-forward burst of small missions was the right set-up here.
Maybe if the exploration levels and the missions themselves were mixed together in a semi-open world type of deal, it would be a lot stronger structurally. It’d save some faffing around between missions, and would make the flow and actual player progression in terms of equipment and skill much more satisfying. The exploration missions are a genuinely chill experience, and simply flying around, immersed in this spacey (lack of) atmosphere is great. Having NPCs to meet, and enemies to kill immediately after starting up a mission would be great.
The story is also quite silly. Beyond the typos and lack of actual establishment of the character, its narrative wavers between real-world dilemmas and straight-up stupidity. Corporations are the reasons behind why these galaxies are barren of friendly life, responsible for all the problems in the universe, etc etc. It’s like the writer has a grudge on McDonald’s or something, it’s underwritten and feels like there should be more context beneath it.
One thing I will single out for praise however is the soundtrack, which is weirdly brilliant. It’s not proper synthwave, but then it also isn’t proper techno, or bassline, it’s a meeting of the minds between hypnotic percussion and pulse-pounding keyboard leads. It’s dated to all hell, but so is Old Town Road, and I still hear those bloody hi-hats in the streets.
As it stands, Mistfly’s ambitions only go so far, maybe not even seen at all. It’s unbelievably difficult trying to figure out whether they wanted to make a deep but simple space shooter, or a ravishing adventure through rebel skies in a complicated space simulation. It leads to an inaccurate experience that should’ve been amazingly engrossing, and not mildly interesting.
On a budget, Subdivision is only just worth its price tag. Exploration can be quite relaxing in its own right, even after you’ve exhausted all resources, but in order to reach that, you have to play through some terribly under-designed missions. The gameplay fails to live up to its own pacing or its own promises, the structure is banal, and what should be a riveting adventure through unknown cosmos turns into lethargic space combat.
‘Tis a pity.
This Review of Subdivision Infinity DX was based on the Xbox One version of the game. A review copy of the game was provided.
What could've been a great gateway title into more complex space sims instead collapses in on itself, leading to an experience too slow to satisfy and too simple to appreciate.
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