Ape Tribe Games missed a trick when naming its new game. On the surface, Disjunction–released today on Xbox One, PS4, Switch, and PC, looks simple, uncomplicated, and a little bit dull. However, it delivers a clever and immersive game that’s cunningly challenging, remarkably deep, and surprisingly moreish. It should’ve been called Deception.
This plucky stealth-action RPG puts you in the shoes of three different characters in a dystopian, futuristic New York City. In a world that draws heavily on those ever-popular cyberpunk vibes, you use the trio’s individual strengths and abilities to navigate its top-down, non-linear, puzzle-like levels and uncover a murky corporate mystery.
It’s just a shame that one of its biggest strengths–a carefully crafted, imaginative and believable story–is ham-fistedly delivered.
From the first moments of the game–before you even start playing the core experience–Disjunction’s approach to storytelling is awkward and overwhelming. In its desire to present its complex and reactive narrative, it overloads you with information to such a degree that it almost pulls you away from an otherwise accessible world.
Wordy conversations, combined with its small typeface and orange hoverable text that gives additional context (i.e., twice as many words), overwhelm the screen. Just as you’re starting to enjoy its smooth graphics, atmospheric pixel art style and brilliant soundtrack, you’re forced to pore through reams of information just to get a handle on what the hell’s going on, or who people even are.
Its verbose narrative approach isn’t helped by occasionally uninspired writing that often lacks the subtlety and nuance of its gameplay. A fighter is introduced by a ring announcer as “the kickboxer with two mechanical legs,” while someone else tells you to “keep those cyber-eyes of yours peeled,” with all the finesse of Dan “the famous man looked at the red cup” Brown.
Luckily, when Disjunction finally throws you into the action, you’ll forget these foibles. The game prides itself on offering gamers the chance to adopt their own preferred approach to gameplay–either all guns blazing, or sneaking around to avoid confrontation entirely. Indie games have a particular habit of struggling to make two opposing playstyles equally enjoyable and challenging, but Disjunction nails it.
Even a dyed-in-the-wool stealth fan like me felt empowered and excited by the prospect of mixing it up. This is most definitely helped by the rich character backstories, which led me to interpret Joe–a metal-jawed, shotgun-toting, daughter-avenging monolith–as a very fitting avatar for my more brutal desires.
What makes both stealth and traditional combat more enjoyable is Disjunction’s simple, dependable controls, underpinned by its innovative approach to an energy bar, which is critical to success. Special abilities like grenades and boosts–which are, on the whole, non-lethal–are assigned slots based on their power, and will recharge from your remaining energy. While you can pick up small refills, the game encourages clever asset management, giving its puzzle-like levels another element to juggle.
Best laid plans often go to waste in Disjunction, thanks to its rogue-lite feel. Its penchant for massive spikes in difficulty will see you replaying the same section over and over again, and occasionally, you might only reach the end of a tricky segment out of blind luck, especially if you’ve disturbed enemies from their hard-set routines.
Things are further complicated by the game’s inconsistently placed checkpoints, which force you to redo large chunks of a level just to pick up from where you failed before–often repeatedly. But you keep putting yourself through it, even if you feel like defenestrating your controller, because Disjunction is that perfect “just one more go” game, thanks to the multiple strategies offered by its small but carefully formed stages.
For all the early hurdles in narrative it presents, Disjunction will give you a strong challenge, tailored to your strengths–and it’ll certainly prey on your weaknesses. Its modest $16 price tag belies the depth of its experience–one that offers a wonderful amount of replayability.
Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of Disjunction in exchange for a fair and honest review. The Xbox Series X version was played for review purposes.