New MMO shooter Defiance, produced and developed by Trion Worlds, aims to offer a brand new cross-media angle to gaming and television. But is it any good?
Defiance is Trion’s first attempt at bringing a game to console alongside PC, and with their past experience coming from PC-exclusive MMOs, I was initially sceptical about how well their pedigree would transfer to console. However, Trion themselves clearly understand the differences that will be required, and the development team from PS2 title EverQuest Online Adventures have been brought in to provide their expertise.
One thing they’ll also be wary of is that customer perceptions of consoles as inferior MMO cousins to the PC still exist. Trion believe that the large market for third-person shooters will blend well with the online demographic, offsetting this common prejudice against console MMOs. They’re also making the game stand out in another way, and it’s something that they truly can claim is unique to them.
Defiance will be attempting something new, bringing gaming and TV worlds together. The plan is to have characters jump between the game and the SyFy series, the theory being that people with access to both will see a deeper story experience. For example, a character will be able to jump from TV to game, enabling missions that will then tie-in to the series story arc.
“In the gap between Series One and Two, the game will evolve,” says Trion producer Rob Hill. “The universe within the game and the TV series is all in real-time; it’ll expand simultaneously and writers of the TV show will be watching the game story world closely in order to preserve continuity between both media.”
Building across two mediums did necessitate concessions, though, and both the game and TV series had to be changed to allow for production limitations. “The primary alien originally had four arms,” explains Hill. “Others had suits and helmets. When we presented it to SyFy, we were told that having that many arms would be too expensive to produce and that helmets wouldn’t work due to their blocking the characters’ expressions. In contrast, SyFy wanted horses in the TV show which would have taken several months to build in-game. So concessions had to be made by both teams.”
The game story follows your custom ‘ark hunter’, who’s basically just a futuristic Indiana Jones. Each player has the option of working within a group of hundreds of other players in order to progress through the story, with the biggest battles directly affecting the next series of the TV show. “This is not a typical story arc. Relationships between characters will develop. We really want to emulate the drama of the TV series.”
The game will be televised
With a huge open-world environment and map to explore, Defiance will be contending against the likes of PlanetSide 2, with Hill telling us the game could “theoretically host thousands of players”, but they’re currently alpha testing to make sure fun isn’t sacrificed simply for the sake of chasing big numbers.
The server can scale game types depending on population. Shadow War – one of the four game modes on offer, and one that follows the recognisable domination template – can deploy between two and seven capture points for up to 50 players, each one placed further away than the last, in order to expand the map fully.
The other game modes on offer are free-roam, battlegrounds and co-op maps. Free-roam gives the player the opportunity to progress through the game alongside an almost unlimited amount of other players, while battlegrounds is simply a straight-up team death-match.
Co-op maps are where Defiance deviates from the script most, involving teams of four players slaughtering their way through a dungeon. The co-op maps utilise a formula not often seen in shooters, with oversized bosses at the end of horde-hacking levels. The old-school thrill of big bosses really adds a special spice to the third-person shooter template.
Visually, the game delivers. Attention to detail means that simple effects like the pulsating motion of plants give an organic yet sci-fi feel to the world, and the weather changes throughout the game, adding an atmosphere that makes the world feel dynamic. Bright fluorescent colours clash with one another and the sheer number and variety of alien species adds breadth to the complexity of the world.
The cocktail of third-person shooter and MMO is one that has the potential to win a big audience, and Defiance promises to be an immersive and popular game. Whether developing it in synchrony with the TV show will help or hinder matters is another matter, but it’s certainly an intriguing and novel prospect.
Defiance, from Trion Worlds, is due out April 2013 for PC, PS3, and 360.