Disjunction Review: Retro Cyberpunk Stealth
Disjunction is a promising first effort from the three-person team at Ape Tribe games, as it pays homage to some of the finest stealth and cyberpunk games of the past. It features attractive pixel art and solid gameplay. However, it can’t quite live up to its forbearers, and its modest depth begins to wear out its welcome before the end.
Disjunction introduces you to a near-future, cyberpunk dystopian New York City. Gangs, drugs, and evil corporations run rampant, while corrupt politicians and police turn a blind eye to the suffering of the people. You spend time playing as three distinct characters with dark pasts, whose stories intertwine over the course of unraveling a wide-ranging conspiracy.
Each character has their own motivation, where one is a private investigator looking for evidence to free a framed man, another is an ex-con and prizefighter searching for the truth behind his daughter's death, and the third is a hacker and former crime syndicate member pulled back into the life by the family she tried to leave behind.
Disjunction Review: Retro Cyberpunk Stealth
The overall presentation of Disjunction is a treat. Well-designed pixel art brings life to the characters and city. New York’s fading industry-meets-gangs aesthetic is strongly reminiscent of Detroit in Robocop, while enemy designs conjure images of everything from generic gang bangers to The Terminator. The musical score brings the classic cyberpunk feeling to life with a retro-dystopian synthwave that would be at home in any movie theater of the 1980s.
The story itself doesn’t hold up as well.
It is fairly paint-by-numbers. You’ve got evil corporations, anti-human augmentation crusaders, new super drugs flooding the streets, and warring ethnocentric gangs — generic to the point of being forgettable. Disjunction does have a few branching story paths, but those roads just lead to different rote recreations of stories you've heard before.
Solid Sneaking and Shooting
You guide each character through a number of top-down levels ala Metal Gear for the NES. Enemies have vision cones and can be attacked head-on, stealthily avoided, or taken down with non-lethal sneak attacks. Each playable character has unique abilities and a skill tree to develop, and each plays slightly different.
Frank, the private investigator, is built for nonlethal takedowns, carrying a stun gun and smoke bombs. Joe, the prizefighter, favors combat and has regenerating health and a combat stim ability. And Spider, the hacker, favors stealth, utilizing active camouflage to turn temporarily invisible and holograms to distract enemies.
Characters control well. Sneaking around the various levels is enjoyable, especially with the well-implemented line of site system for enemies, which allows you to see where obstacles create blind spots. There is a special joy to be found in stealth games when you memorize patrol routes for enemies, determine the ideal location and timing for an ambush, and execute your plan.
Disjunction nails that feeling early and often.
The enemies react to seeing bodies, and the game gives you the ability to pick up and drag your fallen foes. This presents opportunities to clear areas before other enemies arrive, or put bodies in strategic locations to draw enemies where you want them.
When you have to go loud, gunplay is simple and straightforward. There is a reticle that hovers a short distance from your character, and it is up to the player to determine if enemies further away are within that trajectory, adding an element of skill to the gunplay. You are limited to the specific gun equipped to each of the three characters at the start, and ammo is scarce.
The Limits of Inspiration
Disjunction makes a strong initial impression. It is genuinely fun to sneak around, and the simple tutorial puts you in the action quickly. Watching enemies patrol and planning your approach is like solving a puzzle, and the action has a nice heft to it.
Unfortunately, this is also where Disjunction peaks.
The game never deviates from a fixed pattern: grab a keycard, go up the stairs, grab the next keycard, go to the end of the level. Once you’ve cleared a dozen rooms of bad guys it all begins to blend together. Every section ends with finding either an object that leads you to the next level or a conversation with your target, which always ends with either letting the person go free, arresting them, or killing them, all done via a dialogue choice.
The game’s biggest flaw is that it never does anything interesting. The leveling system is limited, and it doesn’t change the gameplay fundamentally. The game stops adding enemies and environmental traps early, making stealth repetitive after a fashion.
Disjunction fails to deliver the elements that make its predecessors special. Unlike the combat in Hotline Miami, the action here largely isn’t viable beyond the beginning of the game. Gameplay is slow, the camera is too tight to the character to show you much of what is ahead, and the sparse checkpoints make a guns-a-blazing approach too risky. Enemies swarm the sound of gunfire and are bullet sponges that mow you down quickly.
It suffers from its comparison to Metal Gear as well. Both are top-down stealth action games, but Metal Gear delivers memorable bosses and gameplay altering weapons and equipment. Conversely, there aren’t any bosses in Disjunction, nor any usable items beyond a character’s built-in setup. This lack of variety drags on the experience, regardless of how solid the core stealth mechanic is.
Ultimately, Disjunction’s good core gameplay can’t overcome its lack of ambition. After seven to nine hours of the exact same gameplay, even good stealth becomes uninteresting, and the credits rolling brought welcome relief.
Any temptation to play through Disjunction again to experience the different branching story paths had long since passed by then.
Disjunction Review — The Bottom Line
- Absolutely nails the '80s Cyberpunk Vibe
- Fun, quality stealth action
- Quality pixel art
- No gameplay evolution
- Predictable and formulaic story
- Compares poorly with its inspiration
Disjunction is a quality stealth action game that is fun to play and nails the '80s cyberpunk feel. The core gameplay loop is well-executed, and the overall presentation is very appealing.
It is held back by a lack of interesting development in both gameplay and story, however, and overstays its welcome. This is a good first outing from a small development team that can’t quite live up to its legendary predecessors.
[Note: Ape Tribe Games provided the copy of Disjunction used for this review.]