New York City: It’s dirty, noisy and crowded, and everyone who’s lived there has occasionally wished everyone else would just go away.
“Tom Clancy’s The Division” grants that wish via the “Green Poison,” a smallpox mutation that wipes out most Manhattanites and sends the rest packing. Of course, the old adage about being careful what you wish for applies: Once civilization has been dismantled, criminal gangs rush in and take control.
Your character is a Homeland Security agent assigned to help restore order on the island. You get to choose your gender, race and other physical characteristics, but the one trait that’s going to help you survive is your ability to handle a gun.
The initial section of “The Division” involves setting up a base at the landmark Postal Service building by Madison Square Garden. You need to rescue three experts — in medicine, tech and security — and then find the supplies they need to expand their facilities inside the post office.
Unfortunately, every expedition leads to a run-in with troublemakers. Most encounters involve one of three gangs: the Rioters, who were already in Manhattan when it collapsed; the Rikers, who escaped from the nearby prison; and the Cleaners, sanitation workers who just want to finish the job by burning down the whole thing.
There’s an awful lot to do in “The Division,” but the missions boil down to a few types: rescue a hostage, recover some valuable resource, crush a particularly heinous criminal. Forget about trying to negotiate your way through difficult situations, because the only way to solve things in this New York is with your trigger finger.
Still, taking out the trash does have its rewards — typically, more effective armor and more powerful weapons. You can also spend whatever loot you scavenge to build up your base, which gives you access to useful battlefield devices like turrets, shields and healing stations.
If downtown Manhattan isn’t rough enough for you, there’s the Dark Zone, where you aren’t just dealing with computer-controlled villains. Instead, you have the added threat of your fellow online players, who may turn rogue without warning. Teaming up with other agents is essential; in this neighborhood, lone wolves get chewed up fast.
I’ve only experienced a few glitches during this ambitious project’s first week online, sometimes losing access to Ubisoft’s server. But for the most part, “The Division” presents its grim vision with vivid detail and the occasional flash of beauty.
There’s something undeniably haunting about exploring a New York that’s been abandoned by all the people who make it such a great city.
At the same time, it’s somewhat dispiriting that the only way to take back Manhattan is through the barrel of a gun.
Real New Yorkers know it takes a lot more to make it in the big city.