Disjunction is a top-down, stealth-action RPG set in 2048 New York, where everything’s gone a bit cyberpunk. A respected community leader has been arrested for murdering an NYPD officer, there’s a potent new drug infesting the streets, and violence is escalating between the Russian mafia and the Chinese tongs. All the while, a major private security corporation is pushing the city mayor to sign a contract authorising the deployment of new high-tech defence measures to ensure law and order.
Drawn into this mess are three unlikely souls. Frank Monroe is a washed-up private investigator with a pair of cybernetic eyes and disconcertingly perfect hair. Joe “Lockjaw” Murphy spends his evenings putting his bionic arm to bloody use in an underground fight ring before drinking away any thoughts of his recently-deceased daughter. Last but not least, “Spider” is a reclusive hacker with deeply personal ties to organised crime, and the owner of a tragically pet-resistant cat.
Each character has a unique set of abilities well-suited to taking on New York’s criminal underworld. Joe relies on his brute strength, Spider specialises in stealth tech (hologram kitty!), while Frank falls somewhere in between. Ultimately, though, it’s up to you to decide exactly how loud or quiet your Disjunction experience is going to be.
Coldstreak New York
Missions in Disjunction take the form of Hotline Miami-style infiltrations. As in that game, you can use the right analogue stick or mouse to move the aiming crosshair away from your character and extend their field of view, prepping you for upcoming challenges. Next comes the question: sneak or shoot? In my experience, a guns-blazing approach is the quickest way to get yourself killed. Alerted enemies will immediately form a cocaine-fuelled conga line and rush to your position. Unless you’re playing as Spider (who can turn invisible), your only option in this situation is to backpedal and fire away like a madman and hope that you’ll still have enough health left over for the next encounter.
With this in mind, it’s wise to approach each uncleared room in sneak mode. The first thing this does is reduce the amount of noise your character makes, letting you get right up behind a thug before thwacking them over the head and dragging their body into the shadows. More importantly, sneaking allows you to see enemy vision cones. These cones are extremely forgiving, to the point where these morons can’t even see over tables. Roaming enemies are more problematic (you’ll learn to hate all the robots), but can be efficiently dealt with by lurking behind a corner and bashing them as they pass by.
You’ll have the option to spend XP on improving Frank, Joe and Spider between missions via a linear skill tree system (because this is a video game and now every video game must have skill trees). What you pick here doesn’t matter too much, but anything that helps with stealth is a safe bet. At the same time, you can also boost special abilities using upgrade kits found in each level. Your options are usually between improving their effectiveness or reducing their energy cost. Energy is dropped by fallen enemies and I rarely found myself running too low, so effectiveness gets my vote.
Of course, as your skills escalate, so too does the opposition’s. The goons get bigger guns, the robots get stompier and the level design gets more treacherous (stepping on an electrified floor panel in Disjunction is the cyberpunk equivalent of Sideshow Bob stepping on a rake). It’s not long before some areas are drowned in an overwhelming sea of swirling vision cones that punish even the slightest misstep with instant death and beg the question: was this actually balanced for two play styles? Taken purely as a stealth game, Disjunction is a slow but ultimately satisfying time. For those of the “So I started blasting” disposition, it’s likely to be a gruelling comedy of errors.
The world of Disjunction is brought to life with a lush pixel art aesthetic… or at least as lush as depictions of seedy criminal hideouts can be, but there are some frankly beautiful sequences scattered throughout. However, you will notice some repetition. The game has about three varieties of environment: crime basement, tech facility and high-rise apartment. Similarly, you’ll be fighting the same half-dozen or so human enemy sprites regardless of the faction they happen to be aligned with.
Perhaps the real star of the show is the synth score composed by Dan Farley. It calmly underscores the story beats in dreamlike fashion, and quickly ramps up to energise your stealthy escapades. Sound design is also impressive. In particular, the blast of Joe’s shotgun is practically a world-ending event, and the crack of a melee weapon against an enemy’s skull sounds almost as painful as it looks. The lack of any voiced audio – even generic pain sounds – is the only disappointing omission.
The narrative unfolds primarily through a series of dialogue sequences where you can pick and choose responses. Most of these are just here for flavour, but a few dynamic surprises do crop up. Early on, Frank is encouraged to retrieve an item with as little collateral damage as possible. Try as I might, one stray bullet and one dead security guard was all it took to put Frank on the receiving end of a severe grilling.
But at key points you will be able to decide the fates of certain characters. These moments hint at future consequences, but I was only able to complete a single playthrough, and as far as I can tell they just affect the final round of dialogue boxes and don’t have any gameplay-related repercussions. Sadly there’s no level select option, meaning a full restart is the only way to find out for sure.
Disjunction is the first title by Ape Tribe Games, and one they can be proud of. It’s rough in spots and feels significantly more stealth-oriented than its play-how-you-like messaging lets on, but it tells an engaging story wrapped in an arresting audio/visual presentation, and the sense of satisfaction that comes from flawlessly clearing out nests of cybernetically-enhanced scum and villainy is worth experiencing.
Review copy provided by the publisher.