Like the vast majority of games that give you the opportunity to customise your character, Defiance’s beard options are rubbish. The only halfway decent/ridiculous looking one is a mutton chop combo that makes your character look like he should be drinking gin and getting into fights in a 19th century pub. Everything else is typically dull, and you can’t give your character a giant Alan Moore beard (Alpha Protocol is still the only game with decent beard options), which surely is what everyone would like to do isn’t it?
Anyway Defiance isn’t a beard simulator unfortunately. It’s a massively multiplayer third person shooter set in the universe of a new TV series coming out next week on the Syfy channel that looks a bit like Farscape crossed with Deadwood, without all the excellent swearing. It deals with a new Earth a few years from now that’s been accidentally reshaped by idiot Alien visitors that dropped their terraforming technology. This, obviously, caused all sorts of mutations in the local wildlife, leaving Earth looking and feeling alien. Insert gratuitous ‘a bit like (home town)’ joke here.
Your character is an ark hunter, someone who pilfers knackered alien ships of their technology for cash and you’re on a top secret mission under the orders of one Karl Von Bach. Given that he’s got von in his name and he’s a bit of a conceited goon, it’s a good bet he’ll be a baddy. Anyway, you can choose between a human and an Irathient, one of the alien races in the series, as well as your character’s origin, and then you’re away to shoot, loot and blow up anyone that looks at you funny. Defiance is obviously hugely ambitious (it’s been in development since 2008) but it’s hard to see anything special about it after an initial few hours.
A lazy comparison would be to a third person Borderlands, as you make your own way around the environment, which admittedly looks pretty swell, all strange fauna and crumbled buildings, even though it’s YET ANOTHER post-apocalyptic jaunt through bandit land. You’re given objectives by the same military commander with a buzzcut that’s turned up in every game with guns and soldiers, and he’ll tell you to go and take out certain enemy factions or blow up caches or pilfer medical supplies. It’s all pretty ordinary, but not a total washout, as running around shotgunning enemies is enjoyable enough, even if they are incredibly stupid. After an hour or two you can summon a vehicle at any time, so there’s no tedious lugging about the environment. It’s not easy either, and if you play like a dunderhead you’ll get overrun quickly.
It’s early days yet, and it’ll doubtless be subject to a vigorous patching, as it definitely still has some issues to tussle through such as lost connections and occasionally dicky controls, but there may be something here, given repeated play. Everything depends on whether or not the TV show and its universe catches on too (perhaps they should have waited ‘til that was out and spruced it up a bit? Who knows). Will it be a Star Wars or a Space Precinct? A Battlestar Galactica or a Battlefield Earth? It’s all a bit up in the air for the Defiance game at the minute.