Reviews for Ubisoft’s new post-biological terrorism apocalypse shooter The Division have been bouncing around during the last week, now that people have had time to play the thing through to completion.
One of the biggest takeaways a lot of critics and players have had is that The Division is kind of, um, uncomfortable. And its creators have been careful to reiterate that, despite touching on all kinds of deeply political ideas currently at the fore of American culture—and centering on a terrorist attack that decimates New York City—it’s not making a political statement.
The Division is about a New York in shambles after the release of a super-deadly virus on Black Friday, transmitted on actual paper currency, but it has no comment on capitalism. It’s about a group of government agents hidden within the general US populace, but it’s not about lack of government accountability or clandestine operations against US citizens. It’s a game in which at least one whole faction of bad guys is just random New Yorkers who are (violently) trying to survive, and you’re constantly executing people on sight, but it’s not about how authority treats the citizenry in situations like this.
Writer Gareth Damien Martin pulls apart lots of issues at play in The Division in his review at Killscreen. Basically, in avoiding saying anything, Martin writes, the game kind of says a lot: It tries to create bad guys you can shoot with moral impunity and winds up picking on lower-class or seemingly underprivileged folks, for instance.
“The Division has a serious representation problem. Despite the complexity of its world, and its bleak sophistication, it fails miserably to represent the culture within it. Its crude depiction of a society divided entirely into “us and them” feels like the ugliest of conceits. “Citizens” are classified as those friendly-looking, passive idiots that wander up and down streets looking for a hand-out. “Enemies” include anyone who might take their own survival into their own hands. Within the first five minutes of the game you’ll gun down some guys rooting around in the bins, presumably for “looting” or carrying a firearm. Later you’ll kill some more who are occupying an electronics store and then proceed to loot the place yourself, an act made legal by the badge on your shoulder. Even the game’s “echoes,” 3D visualizations of previous events, seem designed to criminalize the populace, usually annotating them with their name and the crimes they have committed. This totalitarian atmosphere pervades everything—even down to a mission where you harvest a refugee camp for samples of virus variation, treating victims like petri dishes.”
You can check out the rest of Martin’s review over at Killscreen. Definitely give it a look before you consider spending any time playing The Division—it might not dissuade you, but it will hopefully make you think.