STAFF REVIEW of Disjunction (Xbox One)

Saturday, February 13, 2021.
by Adam Dileva

Disjunction Box art Ever since the classics of Metal Gear, Thief and Deus Ex, I’ve been a fan of stealth games. If there’s a way to be sneaky and backstab my enemies without being seen, I generally try and take that route whenever possible. The cyberpunk genre has been picking up some momentum in the past few years, even without the recent massive release, and Disjunction is the latest 16-bit entry into the category, developed by Ape Tribe Games.

A completely solo affair, Disjunction is set in the not too distant future of 2048 in the seedy underbelly of New York City with a narrative that revolves around three playable characters. The main hook to Disjunction is that it offers you a choice of how to play. Do you want to try and be as stealthy as possible and knock out all your enemies, or go guns blazing, killing anyone in your way to solve a constantly unraveling mystery?

There’s a new synthetic drug circulating the streets of New York called “Shard”, and while finding out the origin of this deadly drug is a concern, there are many more events occurring simultaneously that will have the three different playable characters’ stories intertwine in interesting ways. While the story is a bit text heavy at times without any voice acting, it is an interesting plot, especially when you try and factor in the rationalization for your choices and actions. Your choices will have consequences and interestingly, I played the characters completely different based on who I was, as you’re going to be given the choice to arrest, kill or let certain NPC’s go when interrogating them. Also, the campaign was quite lengthier than I expected, which should last you between eight to twelve hours depending on your patience and reliance on stealth.

Disjunction utilizes stealth-action based on how you want to play, but also has some RPG elements as well. Each character has their own unique abilities as well, so they will approach certain situations in completely different ways. You can choose to utilize non-lethal takedowns should you wish, but killing everyone in your path is also a completely viable option if that’s how you want to play.

I chose to mostly play a stealthy run when possible, staying in the shadows, watching enemy pathing patterns and figuring out the most opportune moment to knock out everyone in my way. Sometimes I would hide the bodies, other times I would leave them in open view so that the guards saw them, interrupting their regular pathing, opening up new opportunities for me to pass or attack them I wouldn’t have had otherwise.

Oddly enough, running is your default speed, but it’s also loud. There are times where you’ll need to run to get out of a security camera’s view or to pass by a floor trap in time, but the majority of your time will be spent crouched, as it’s silent but also much slower. Much like in Metal Gear Solid, as you’re crouched you’ll see enemies’ exact cone of vision. While this makes it easy to see where you can and can’t go without alerting them, this also devolves much of the gameplay into simply avoiding the vision cones, usually getting as close as possible but still out of range. If you can’t avoid their vision, then what ability do you have to bypass or distract them? Or you know, just shoot and kill them, as that works too.

This is also where you’ll see how abysmal the enemy AI can really be. All that matters is what they see, or don’t see, in their cone of vision. This means you can literally take down an enemy within inches of them, but as long as you’re not in their sight, they won’t notice the enemy that just got taken down at their feet or directly behind them. Keeping bodies in plain sight is a tactic at times, as when they become alerted they’ll never end searching for you, which means they won’t reset to their original spots or pathing either.

Each of the three characters plays unique, as they have their own styles and abilities, which is where the light RPG elements come into play. During each stage you’re generally looking for a key to access to the next section but hidden throughout each stage are upgrade kits. This is a cyberpunk game remember, so you can upgrade your augments between stages if you find them, also improving your talents. While you won’t gain any new abilities, you’ll simply improve the ones you have and rely on the most. Since I like to use my stun baton the most to take out enemies quietly without killing them, I opted to boost the damage and speed of my melee attacks. Maybe you prefer the weapon approach, which is completely viable, so you could upgrade that instead if you wanted.

Generally though you’re simply reducing the time to use or refresh an ability, sometimes you’ll also make an ability cost less energy to use as well. You have a set amount of energy, which your abilities require to be used, so you have to decide when is the best time to use them as you can’t overly rely on your abilities. I opted to only use them in a sticky situation or when I couldn’t find a way to get passed a roaming security bot, but again, there are multiple solutions to every problem. And this is where Disjunction starts to shine, as when it comes to its gameplay, it’s essentially a puzzle game, trying to figure out the best way forward but with multiple solutions based on how you want to play. Yes, this means you’ll sometimes sit around to watch and learn pathing patterns from enemies, but once you execute what you exactly wanted to without being noticed, it’s a great feeling of accomplishment.

Level design is generally pretty basic, starting out as simple rooms with just a guard here and there, but eventually become more involved, throwing more in your way to make it harder to proceed without being noticed. You’ll have more enemies, then security cameras, eventually security bots, floor traps and more. Eventually you’ll have to learn how best to hide behind objects, following moving boxes on conveyors and more. Some of the robots that roam around also have a rotating camera that needs to be avoided, adding another layer of challenge. Again though, most of the gameplay simply boils down to simply avoiding all of the vision cones more than anything else.

My biggest complaint though comes from its camera. Disjunction is played in a mostly top down view, though at a slight angle. While that’s not an issue, because you’re generally indoors, you’re having to use items and corners for cover, but because of the odd angle it’s sometimes hard to determine if you’re against a corner or wall until you see the vision cones get close. I’ve had numerous deaths because I thought I was hidden behind a corner, only to find out I was standing out in the open because of the camera angle. Yes, you eventually become accustomed to it and will compensate, but it’s frustrating early on. This is where the single checkpoints per level come into play. When you die you’ll respawn at your last checkpoint, but with only one per stage, it can sometimes mean some long backtracking and reattempting half of a level all over again. Oh you saved with low health, energy and ammo? Gooduluck then.

Aesthetically, Disjunction utilizes classic 16-bit style pixels artwork, but plays very smooth and has a lot of detail and animations to it. By far though, the cyberpunk influenced soundtrack was the most enjoyable part of Disjunction with its brooding yet somber synthwave style, scored by composer Dan Farley.

Taking clear inspiration from Deus Ex and Metal Gear Solid, Disjunction rewards you for being patient if you’re going to play a stealth run. While the game simply devolves into avoiding vision cones more than anything else, the three playable characters are not only are for narrative purposes, but showcases different ways you can play based on your playstyle. Cyberpunk enthusiasts will no doubt enjoy their time in 2048 New York, as will fans of stealth games, though casual fans will probably enjoy Disjunction best in bite sized sessions rather than a longer playthrough.

** Disjunction was reviewed on an Xbox Series X **

Overall: 7.3 / 10
Gameplay: 7.0 / 10
Visuals: 7.0 / 10
Sound: 8.0 / 10


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