Tom Clancy's The Division preview

After Watch Dogs, Ubisoft's creating another believable future on Xbox One and PS4

What is a hands on review?
Image 1 of 4 Tom Clancy s The Division review
Tom Clancy's The Division review
Image 2 of 4 Tom Clancy s The Division review
Tom Clancy's The Division review
Image 3 of 4 Tom Clancy s The Division review
Tom Clancy's The Division review
Image 4 of 4 Tom Clancy s The Division review
Tom Clancy's The Division review

There were a hell of a lot of apocalypses at E3, from predictable zombie outbreaks to Mad Max dishing out carnage on poor, unsuspecting mutant baddies. Yet despite it's familiar-sounding "let's save New York, guys" setup, Ubisoft Massive's new entry into Tom Clancy's ever-enormous, not so much Ghost Recon as ghost-written, legacy is rightfully bagging a lot of 'best of E3' garlands.

Tom Clancy's The Division: Plot

Coming to PS4, Xbox One and PC, it tells a novel, satirical scenario of a super-flu pandemic being spread on the back of bank notes on one particularly popular cheap-laptop-bagging Black Friday.

In the wake of this economy-as-biology outbreak, you're part of a rag-tag specialist group (of course) put together to "save what remains". Yet this doesn't just pit you against the machinations the plot throws up, but also other human opponents.

See, The Division - subtitled "online, open world, RPG" - is another of these persistent experiences that the next-gen consoles seem to be knocking out with wild abandon. With no definition between single player, co-op and multiplayer, all gamers operate within the same sphere, creating factions, rivalries and specialisations on the fly as the campaign merges with mass-player trigger events.

A tactical third-person shooter with no class system, what initially appears to be Grand Theft Auto V after a particularly harsh winter - you play a rough-around-the-edges, beanied Nico type rather than a uniformed super solider - plays out on a much more stealthy level.

Cover is essential amid the blue-hued and part-destructed skyscraper's dangerous environs, helicopters circling and trouble waiting around every corner, car windows being shot out around you as you edge nearer your objectives.

Tom Clancy's The Division: Features

To attain new skills and equipment within the grander world, challenges must be completed as you scavenge the city, which, we're promised, will also have a tangible effect on the game world. As well as the main story, live tasks can be set, such as staying alive for a certain duration as areas are swept by AI attacks, with rewards for the best times across the community.

Among the finest graphical showpieces at E3 - operated by a PS4 controller but, Ubisoft told us, running off a high-end PC - The Division utilises the firm's new Snowdrop in-house engine developed for next-gen machines.

Sharing a visual bond with fellow Ubi future thriller Watch Dogs, the use of lighting and shade is noticeably a step on from what we've seen before, the crisp visuals a bigger leap forward than much of what we saw in Los Angeles.

Tom Clancy's The Division: Gameplay

Particularly swish flourishes include the in-game map, which rises in an orange glow like a hologram from beneath your feet, the Options menu, which rotates around your wrist as the camera zooms in, and the dynamic vital stats of you and your team, which extend from your body constantly and unobtrusively. Importantly, none require you to exit to a pause screen or break the game's fiction.

There is also a hell of a lot of sexy second-screen integration, with Ubisoft taking it upon itself to pioneer the promise of Xbox's SmartGlass and PlayStation's mobile might.

Indeed, the French publisher appears to have a companion app in development for every next-gen game they're working on, from The Crew to Assassin's Creed 4: Black Flag, although these are all self-contained, title-specific experiences rather than sideshows on the platform holders' parties.

The Division's is arguably the most impressive, a separate drone mini-game with its own progression path and challenges away from the main story, but which just so happens to feed into the game world as long as you're hooked up to Wi-Fi and synced with friends.

Players control a drone by moving their finger over the touch-screen map, sending it to attack or defend areas as they see fit. The twist is that the drone will appear in friends' worlds in real time, on the main system, and effect what goes on there, too.

Tom Clancy's The Division: Verdict

When people talk of "next-gen", they often only mean in terms of graphical fidelity. Yet while The Division has all of that down pat, too, it's this grander vision of a connected, many-screened world that seems to truly fit the term.

Helping/interfering with your mates' games while they're on the sofa and you're at work? The stuff of dreams, we tell you. It's makes a mean case for being "always online" while it's at it, too.

Tom Clancy's The Division release date: 2014

Tom Clancy's The Division price: TBC

What is a hands on review?

'Hands on reviews' are a journalist's first impressions of a piece of kit based on spending some time with it. It may be just a few moments, or a few hours. The important thing is we have been able to play with it ourselves and can give you some sense of what it's like to use, even if it's only an embryonic view.