Hell is other people – The Division’s Dark Zone is an anxious PvP playground


We are not a strong team, so when we see a silhouette approach us from the absurdly filmic backlit subway corridor, we wordlessly stop, line up, and raise our piddly little weapons. It helps, a little. This is a human player – you can tell because he hasn’t automatically rung out some tiresome stock phrase about not respecting the authorities – and that’s terrifying. He has his gun raised too. FWUMPH, it goes, gently arcing a grenade over my teammate’s shoulder from its underslung second barrel. All three of us twitch visibly, probably more to do with shaking thumbs on analog sticks than any actual need to move. He was way too close to have missed. This was a threat, a demonstration of ordinance superiority.

It’s a gorilla beating its chest, a crab raising its crusher claw – he’s better than us, and he knows it. But we still outnumber him. Our ersatz leader emotes at him – it can’t be a coincidence that this nervy game’s default wave is an extended arm and a tiny flick of the wrist, halfway between a “hello” and a “help me” – and raises his gun again. Our new friend returns the gesture. Now all three of us wave at him. The tension’s lifting.

But now he does nothing. He keeps his weapon raised and, sickeningly slowly, points it at all three of us by turn. It might be time for action – the two of us on the flanks of our line-up move to surround him. This isn’t for any tactical reason, it just feels better. We aim at his head, switching to weapons best suited for dealing maximum critical hit damage. We can probably put him down before he fires more than one grenade. Probably.

And then he starts doing jumping jacks. Suddenly, we’re all doing jumping jacks. And then he’s in our squad – joining is perfectly seamless, someone invites you with a click of the right-stick, and you accept with the same button press – and we spend the next hour roaming New York like some tooled-up, wintry boy band, dancing whenever we’re not dropping rogue agents and street gangs.