The ‘movie tie-in’ game is one of the most disrespected of genres in the computer games industry, and yet SyFy and Trion Worlds have come together to create an experience which straddles both television and gaming media. The question is will does succeed?
In short, the cop-out answer is that really it’s too early to tell. Series one of the TV show is still only just underway (as of April 2013) and the games following is swelling slowly.
On the silver screen
As pilot episodes go, the first episode of Defiance sets itself up well, but you can’t help but shake the feeling that is trying hard to be ‘the new Firefly’. Of course it will want to avoid the destructive fate of Joss Wheedon’s famously cancelled series, but the setup is undeniably strongly influenced.
You have a slightly gruff, reluctant hero and war-veteran with the heart of gold – Joshua Nolan (Grant Bowler) – accompanied by his young female companion who may well have one or two screws loose – Irisa (Stephanie Leonidas).
The similarities don’t end with the characters either. There’s a definite post-apocolypse Western feel to Defiance, with a real feeling that people just want to get by and go their own way.
What is different to the world of Serenity though, is that this is Earth, a place called Defiance to be precise, the city which used to be called St. Louis before the trouble began, which now stands in the midst of mini wars taking places throughout the wastelands which surround it. The landscape has been partially terraformed by the arrival of the Voltan, a race of alien refugees who’s own planet has been destroyed, and the splintering of humanity following their inevitable clash with the Voltan has left a number of different factions, all out for themselves.
Being part of the story
The TV show serves to set up the story for the game in many ways. Despite being in different locations (the game takes place in San Francisco), the lore of this world puts it’s own twist on the issues of politics, race and deception, much as Star Trek once did.
In the game you take the role of an Arc Hunter, a scavenger who travels the wastelands searching for the best salvage and ‘scrip’, the universe’s currency.
As the game is Massively Multiplayer Online (MMO), your journey through the world is accompanied by others from across the globe, who jump in and out of missions at leisure.
Though based around social interaction, the gameplay doesn’t push it on you. There is area chat, which can be switched off, and you can make a group or go it alone as you please.
There are some areas specifically designed for multiplayer, such as specific cooperative missions and some player vs player modes, including the savage Shadow War, a 64 player battle to control an area in the vein of Battlefield’s Conquest mode.
Bringing it all together
Where the two feed together is the unique selling point of both the game and the TV show though, with grand promises that down the line the characters from the game (even top-ranking players) could find themselves appearing on the show and vice versa.
The latter has already been teased with a handful of episode missions set ahead of the TV show, which show its protagonists in search of a crystal which then appears in the pilot.
It’s a delicate balance to keep both a game and TV audience happy when they aren’t necessarily bought into both perspectives.
Undoubtedly the two combined are greater than the sum of their parts, and seeing familiar elements recur is a genuine thrill, but with a project with such a long-term focus, is it better to wait until things are a bit more built up?
Patch yourself up
The first in-game update has already fixed a long list of bugs and issues with the game, though some reviewers’ concerns such as the lacklustre visuals and limited weapon options remain.
To topple the giant that is World of Warcraft, the world’s most popular MMORPG, would take some serious doing, but the team here have made an MMO, something altogether more straightforward to engage with.
Character customisation is basic, think Mass Effect levels of detail customisation, and equally the weapons take some time and a lot of luck to get interesting. Weapon modding is perhaps the most complex sub-system, with certain weapons having ‘synergy’ mods, which work together for an overall more combined effect.
The game does warm up quickly though, granting a vehicle to zip around the surprisingly diverse landscape, filled with mini-encounters and secondary missions to keep things interesting. The whole thing has a strong Red Faction Guerilla feel, which is no bad thing.
The reason that this isn’t a review is because this is a game/TV series which is an investment of time as much as it is an entertainment experience in its own right. The ultimate decider as to whether the joint venture has worked will be whether they both last more then two seasons.
The potential for expansion is exciting though, and there are some good ideas and characters here begging to be developed further. Imagine teaming up with an army for a battle which spanned both the game and the TV show and your actions contributed to the outcome of both worlds. To see some real interaction and commitment to the vision both teams have set out towards could yet make the game one of the defining moments of this generation – a real trend-setter.
Hopefully these sorts of mutually beneficial collaborations are something which will become more and more common, with the one-sided affairs of old, which only sought to squeeze a few extra pounds out of a franchise, confined to the history books.
James Michael Parry