When television and videogames get together - and decide that it isn't working out
When you hear the term 'videogame tie-in', or 'TV series collaboration', or even mention of the station 'SyFy' the first thing that springs to mind isn't going to be 'groundbreaking classic' - unless you happen to like Highlander spin-offs. Of course all of the above could be great, with leaps and bounds in technology, a game that purports to ride the wild hog of cross-media convergence is ambitious and befitting of a time of so many smart phones, TVs, and devices.
But sadly Defiance neither rides gracefully, or has much ambition. The MMO's developer, Trion Worlds, is sat somewhere in the mud, dirt on its face and sore of butt cheek, only offering up a confused look on its face and watching as the aforementioned hog scurries off into the distance.
Confused with that metaphor? Simply put, Defiance is such a missed opportunity, it slides into the realm of 'none entity' a bit like pretending to eat air, or have an invisible gun fight with an absent imaginary friend.
Defiance is Trion Worlds' hopeful next chapter in their big book of MMO domination. Following on the heels of the hugely underrated Rift, this next project sees the developer ditch sword and sorcery and pick up 'big effing guns'.
The world of Defiance is one of monotonous colours. Set against the backdrop of an interspecies war, both humans, and, interstellar race, Votans struggle to exist in a post apocalyptic world brought about by downed spaceships, and the terraforming materials spilt on impact. The upshot of it all is mutants, humanoids that look slightly like less blue Na'vi, and wonderfully exotic plant life.
Unfortunately another side effect to all of these galactic changes is the predisposition everyone has to pick up arms and start shooting everything that walks, crawls, or wobbles in their general direction.
While Defiance has a vaguely interesting set up, the game rarely manages to capitalise on it. The post-apocalyptic setting hits the same notes we have seen in similar games - browns and yellows are king here, setting the scene for a cataclysmic event seemingly caused by mass dysentery rather than warfare.
There is also an over reliance by the developers to leave any elements of storytelling and scene setting up to nudges and hints towards the TV series of the same name. Characters are given precedence but rarely explained or given context. Even quests devolve into simple collect and destroy X of Y affairs, with the oft-touted links to the SyFy show seemingly disappearing into a vague relation that they are set in the same universe: albeit the software in San Francisco, and the celluloid taking place in St. Louis.
But where Defiance really starts to crumble and diminish in expectation is not its punts at being an MMO, but at being a third person shooter. While the developer's last outing was the fantasy-themed Rift, the familiar territory of invisible dice rolls and D&D leanings haven't been easily forgotten, and Trion Worlds have found it hard to reconcile its goblin-ready experience with shooting things in the head.
Defiance has a feeling of weightlessness and lacks heft. Players moon jump through environments, taking pop-shots at gormless enemies, and never manage to escape the feeling that this is a traditional MMORPG, although with gun shots rather than sword swings.
Where developers may get away with slightly static worlds full of mobs and silent quest markers in a humdrum online fantasy, adapting this for shooting purposes requires a degree of adaptation - and yet here, there is no such amendments. Defiance lacks tension, sorely misses a cover system, and has the AI routines of a mid 1990s budget shooter.
Rather than becoming a riotous experience of explosions and massive warfare, perhaps in the same vein of Planetside 2, Trion World's relative shades of green begin to show. The world is full of the same ever-spawning mobs, with little intelligence other than to attack when somebody steps too close. The result is combat that is so flat and uninspired that it becomes a pain to engage with.
And yet at times Defiance can be an enjoyable and exhilarating ride. The EGO system, which acts as a level counter, doesn't become the be-all and end-all of the game, instead bestowing new perks, of which only one can be used at certain times. This means that while the underlying mechanics themselves can stall and feel ultimately pointless, rolling with friends and strangers is completely opened up to everybody.
Socialising within this MMO is the only true reason to play the game. Dungeons and Ark Falls make up the compelling experiences that Defiance has to offer, with both elements holding the promise that Trion Worlds is still alive and well somewhere within the code, and the brilliance of Rift is not yet lost.
Teaming with others will gloss over the dour and poorly implementing quests and sub quests of the rest of the game. Taking on monsters with dozens of allies is fun, and more often than not, a spectacle to behold. It's just a shame that this is a mere portion of the entire game, rather than the main thrust.
So while Defiance has moments of joy and excitement, these are almost always tempered with the realisation that this is just an ordinary, run-of-the-mill shooter. There are Player versus Player elements to contend with, but before long you will find that this MMO isn't the hub for all of your online gaming needs, and instead a mild diversion until you pick up your shooter of choose again.
PS3, Xbox 360 or PC?
Defiance is one of the rare MMOs to make an appearance on both PC and consoles, of course excluding the Wii U. While the differences between systems are minor, there are one or two key changes that players should bear in mind, should they want to delve into the mire of mediocrity, and dig out those gems of excellence that are buried deep beneath the surface.
First and foremost, Defiance is a fairly average looking game, but the PC comes up head and shoulders above its console counterparts. The textures are sharper, the effects brighter, and the whole experience just a little bit more aesthetically pleasing. The performance too, sticks to a fairly stable level, with the engine never really pushing the limits of newer machines, and melding easily with older ones.
The concession to consoles however, is in the UI system. Trion Worlds have seemingly compromised between the three systems, developing menus that attract neither audience. They are twiddly and too involved for joypads, and poorly implemented for PC - just try to find an 'exit game' icon within the latter.
All in all, the differences between console and PC come down to a few aesthetic issues, but none truly outshines the rest. The PC slightly edges out the competition on a purely visual level, but this isn't a decision that will keep many engaged for any length of time.
Defiance is an underwhelming MMO at best, but it does have one or two moments of distinction. The TV and videogame tie-ins largely fall short of the mark, and there are better online shooters out there to choose from. A curiosity in terms of media convergence, but it rarely troubles the definition of 'groundbreaking'. Average from start to finish.
Finding a group of allies and applying figurative adhesive to yourself so you may never part.
Platforms played: PlayStation 3, PC
TOP GAME MOMENT
Finding a group of allies and applying figurative adhesive to yourself so you may never part.Platforms played: PlayStation 3, PC