Way back in the mists of time – those Xbox 360 days – a game launched with a unique hook. That game was Defiance, and the hook was that the game would be affected and altered by events that occurred in a tie-in TV series. What it boiled down to was that there would be special events in the game based on the exploits of the main TV characters, with them popping up to send you away to do various little tasks.
I was sucked in by this premise, and have good memories of playing the original game back in the day, teaming up with like minded friends and strangers to take down massive public events. Fast forward five years and Defiance has been re-released in an updated form for the current gen consoles and PCs… but given that the TV series ended after only three seasons, will the hook still be there or has the boat sailed?
The original Defiance, and therefore by extension this new version, takes place in an Earth that has been terraformed by an arriving alien species. This terraforming process has led to the Earth being transformed, with the eradication of plants and animals, and new species being created, such as the Hellbugs. The Pale Wars, as this conflict became known, ended when it became clear that in order for both species to survive in this hostile new world, the Humans and Votans would have to work together. The events in the game take place 15 years further down the road, and opens with the shooting down of a carrier that had a complement of Ark Hunters, of which we are one. Also on board was Karl Von Bach, an inventor and user of Ark Tech technology. After the crash, Von Bach is missing, and the first section of the game revolves around the hunt for him.
Defiance 2050 is *deep breath* a “science fiction-themed persistent world massively multiplayer online third-person shooter “. At the start of the game, you can choose to build your character from either a Human or Alien race, be male or female and generally do all the things that online shooters require you to do before you can actually play through things. To give it its due, the character generator is quite powerful, allowing you to create and alter pretty much all aspects of your character, but you also need to choose the class that you are going to play as; Assassin, Guardian, Combat Medic and Assault. Working on the premise that danger is best experienced through the scope of a sniper rifle, I initially chose Assassin, but it appears that all weapons are available to all classes.
As I mentioned above, we are cast as Ark Hunters in this world, tasked with salvaging alien technology from the many Ark Falls that occur in the Bay area, where the game is set. The advantage of being an Ark Hunter employed by Von Bach is a cybernetic implant called the EGO system – Environmental Guardian Online – and it’s basically an AI system that can manifest in the real world to give you missions and helpful information. Each class of Ark Hunter also has access to an EGO power, with the Assassins bringing a cloak that makes you invisible. Obviously being able to sneak past enemies and shoot them in the face while remaining undetected is a huge bonus, and even if the act of firing decloaks you, it still comes in very handy.
So with the character and class sorted, it’s into the game proper. The first section is the tutorial, as you might expect, and it hand holds you through the basics of combat and movement. It’s at this point that the doubts begin to creep in, as the graphics look muddy, the draw distances are ridiculous and the controls feel ponderous and slow, like you’re not really in control. The guns too don’t feel like they should and whilst scoring a headshot with a sniper rifle should be like the finger of God striking your target, in this game it’s more like the tickling stick of Ken Dodd, with headshots quite often not being one hit kills.
Still, it’s nothing a few pistol shots can’t remedy, and making it through the tutorial, you’d hope the game would open up and blossom into an open world flower of awesomeness. Again, the disappointment hits home as although Defiance does open up and you are able to go wherever you like, if you stray too far from where the game wants you to be, the enemies you encounter will kill you without a care in the world. If you don’t try to complete the missions in the order the game wants, it feels like you’re never going to make progress, which sees you struggle to gain EGO levels and access to new perks such as the ability to extend the cloak duration or carry more grenades.
There is a loot system in place as you’d expect, with killed enemies dropping weapons and equipment as you take them out, a lot like you would find in Borderlands. Equipping the correct gear for the mission you are on can be vital, as it’s not just about the most powerful gear. As an example, shotguns are some of the most powerful weapons you can find early on, but you really do need to be standing on the enemies bunions in order for them to function most effectively. You are sometimes better using a less powerful assault rifle, and able to hit from further away, especially when the melee mutants appear. The same applies to shields; it may be better to have a slightly weaker one with a fast recharge time, as opposed to a stronger on that leaves you exposed. Once you have a weapon that you like, it is possible to upgrade it by adding components like a better scope, larger magazine and new stocks, to name but a few. And having a sniper rifle with reduced scope sway, or an assault rifle with more controllable recoil can make a real difference. However, it does cost in-game currency to buy these components, and if you want to swap them to a different weapon it will again cost you, so you need to make sure you’re not upgrading too early.
Multiplayer is catered for in Definace 2050, in both co-op and PVP flavours. You can invite friends to join you in the game, but the whole procedure is a bit of a faff if I’m honest, with the invite screen being hidden away in a sub menu of a menu. Getting you and your friends into the same instance isn’t guaranteed either. The co-op Arkfall events are more successful, being marked on the map as a big red flame, and if you make your way over there, you’ll usually find a group of fellow Ark Hunters taking on a large Hellbug, for instance. When it is beaten, all the participants are rewarded with loot. Well, that’s the theory at least, as occasionally these Arkfalls see the loot chest spawn 15 feet in the air, out of the reach of all the players. Multiplayer is complemented by PvP options with straight up Team Deathmatch and Shadow War being available, which sees two teams trying to secure valuable tech and hold onto it to win the game.
The elephant in the Defiance 2050 room is found within the visuals. They haven’t moved on from the Xbox 360 days with a muddy looking palette and quite the oddest walking and jumping animations I’ve ever seen. The draw distances are truly awful as well, with buildings full of cookie cut enemies seemingly appearing out of thin air. The best way to describe this game is that it is authentic to the 360 version, which even five years ago wasn’t blessed with good graphics. To see this running on an Xbox One X is akin to a slap in the face, as it isn’t retro for retros sake. It just seems lazy.
Gameplay wise the game isn’t much better. From stilted and unnatural sounding dialogue when getting missions, to the teleporting enemies in a firefight, it just screams out for more playtesting. If you’re scoped in an enemy shooting them, it’s not all uncommon for them to suddenly teleport right to your side, which when it’s a melee mutant usually spells a quick trip to respawn land. Or more likely to the power button of your console, as it is incredibly frustrating and robs the game of any sense of flow or skill. Add in to this various and sundry crashes, from falling through the landscape, to complete game resets in the middle of a mission, losing all progress, it feels rough and ready. In fact, it feels like a game that was judged “good enough” and shoveled out the door.
For free, Defiance 2050 is ok, there is fun if you can overlook the bugs, and the story is a good one, albeit identical to the game I played half a decade ago. However broken shooting mechanics, poor graphics and not enough love put into the detail conspire to rob what fun there is. There is a large online community for the game, which I fully expect to drop off as the novelty wears off, but for now the help is there for the community events if you look for it. The best I can say is that you could well try it – if only because it is free – but don’t get your hopes up to much. There is a good game buried here somewhere, but the task of extracting it is too onerous.