Defiance Review


While I was distracted registering an online account for Defiance, I failed to recognise the signs. Tells like a licensed tie-in, a nothing sci-fi series and Grant Bowler were all glanced over with rose-coloured glasses as I perused the cover art, all while waiting for patch after patch to download and install. After a hopeful hour with the patches, all of it was lost just as soon as I could boot Defiance up.

Taking place in the not-too-distant future, Defiance plonks you into a largely terraformed and devastated imagining of the San Francisco Bay area. Though my attention was clinging by a fingernail, I managed to piece together that the remaining humans and Votans – an alien species that had invaded, warred and eventually settled on Earth – had learned to live together. Enter you, Karl Von Bach’s enlisted ‘ark hunter’. Your task is to scavenge the Bay Area for the most rare and advanced of alien technologies. What Von Bach wants with these marvels is supposed to be the hook, but quite frankly I didn’t care enough to pursue the main quest too deeply; the unbearably wooden characters made sure of this. I felt that if I were to glean any fun out of this at all, I’d need to scrape this empty barrel for others like me.

Don't try, you're screwed. Just give up, now.

Don’t try, you’re screwed. Just give up, now.

Not far down the trail, I found a player who was happily toiling away, making short work of what seemed like an endless onslaught of brainless husks. I decided I’d join in, and in typical fashion, soon found myself laid out on the deck, crawling toward him with the shimmering expectance of a bailout in my eyes. No rescue would eventuate, leaving my faith slightly dented.

Fortunately, there’s no consequences for perishing in Defiance. Should you go down once, you can simply pick yourself up and dust yourself off, as though it never even happened. Should you go down again, you either rely on the kindness of strangers, or respawn at a nearby checkpoint, paying a very disposable fee. It makes it accessible, but it also makes it easy to be reckless in battle, exposing more of Defiance’s less noticeable imperfections.

Running headfirst into any firefight makes it glaringly apparent that the close-range combat is close enough to broken that it might as well force you to engage in all battles from half a mile down the road. So often I’d storm the beaches, so to speak, only to be overwhelmed. It wasn’t at the hands of base infantry, though. My arch rivals were the towering mutants that could tag you from all angles. I honestly lost count of the times a grenade launcher-wielding ogre had his back to me, only to see a round clip through his body and put me in an early grave. It was infuriating the first time it happened, so you can only imagine what I was like after the twentieth.

As far as furthering the story goes, there’s little variance in how these missions are served up. More often than not, it’ll boil down to hack this, protect that, or escort this, leaving much to be desired. Throw in the fact that dying is no more than an inconvenience and these tasks become a grind much faster than they become challenging. The side quests especially lack scope as they too amount to predictably performing mundane tasks in threes. It’s a bore and the fact that Defiance thinks people would want to stomach this crap from the get-go is bewildering.

It’s not all doom and gloom, however, as Defiance does offer infrequent servings of a massively-multiplayer game done well enough. These come in the form of Arkfalls, a dynamic event that occurs when a piece of alien spacecraft plummets to the planet surface, prompting all hunters in the area – often numbering in the dozens – to band together, protect the precious technological payload and slay the alien scum that amass at the wreckage. Seeing so many people working toward a common goal make these passages the most rewarding aspect of the Defiance experience.

It’s not all peaches and cream, though, as a gathering of this size does lead to certain hang-ups. A lot of Defiance is a constant three-way battle between your embattled hero, an alien foe and the deterring force known as lag. I’d be rolling through the bleak world and come across a ‘revive your comrades’ side quest, only to have them vanish from the world along with every shred of evidence that they ever existed. This would often happen mid-firefight too. It’s startling and kind of hilarious to see an entire caravan of savage raiders simply pack up and disappear. It reminded me of that scene from The Simpsons where Poochy’s animation cel was just lifted out of frame; it’s just so inexplicably bad.

"Why the hell are we even playing this game?!"

“Why the hell are we even playing this game?!”

As with most large-scale offerings that rely on placing resources elsewhere, Defiance makes the expected sacrifices in most areas related to presentation. It looks like a dog’s breakfast, as the drab San Francisco setting does little to inspire discovery. Open-world games should inflate your want for adventure, and Defiance does nothing more than stifle it. Some of the enemy variants do well to inject some colour into the palette, but on the whole, it’s nothing but dirt and gravel cobbled together to create the most unwelcoming of shit towns. I even had nostalgia crop up in all the wrong places, as the abhorrent lip-synching stirred up a love for old PlayStation games that had long been dormant.

Not that it mattered, as the stilted and forced deliveries from the voice actors placed me right there with them. No, not with their characters on-screen. I mean physically with them in the recording studio while they read from a script and sucked down bagels to their heart’s content.

Though the enormous scale Arkfall events did give me some hope to cling on to, the rest of Defiance is pretty much slop. It doesn’t take long for the bugs and glitches to take hold and shake apart this already lifeless and uninspired experience. If you’re a fan of Defiance – I have not met a person who is – you might be able to wade through the crap and find something redeeming; Lord knows I did that for Lost: Via Domus once upon a time. But even that took a long, hot shower to cleanse myself of.

  • Xbox 360

The Verdict

If you’re into these sorts of games, give this one a pretty broad swerve. Just go play Guild Wars instead. If you’re a console gamer don’t tell the master race, they’ll only bleat ‘I told you so.’
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