Next year is already shaping up to be a year of huge sci-fi projects including Star Trek: Into Darkness and Pacific Rim and our Sci-Fi London fest of course plus a host of AAA games including Metro: Last Light, Aliens: Colonial Marines and Dead Space 3 but none are more ambitious than the brand new transmedia MMO-TV title Defiance which will play out across the SyFy Channel (whose creative team combine talents from Battlestar Galactica and Farscape), PS3, Xbox and PC courtesy of game developers Trion.
United in a future fraught with danger and violence, Human and Votan settlers stand together on a terramorphed Earth as a new civilisation, rising up from the surreally coloured landscape after 15 years of famine, disease and war.
When their home systems were threatened with total destruction, the Votans came to Earth in titanic vessels called Arks, bringing their native flora and fauna with them. Not realising that Humans were already happily existing on the blue planet, the Votans attempted to colonise people, the result of which was a huge war where governments and worldwide communications were destroyed as explosions tore the Ark spaceships apart. Now surrounding the planet in a belt of orbiting debris, without warning, massive chunks of the wreckage continue to rain down to earth in cataclysmic “Arkfall events.” With the Arkfall came the Terramorph engines – machines designed to make Earth’s surface habitable for Votans, but with each Arkfall also comes fiery red monsters…
Leaping into the MMO (which is set in the San Francisco Bay Area) that will run alongside and seamlessly interweave with the 13-part weekly TV series (which is set in St. Louis), my first Arkfall random encounter was a frantic and exciting hubbub with countless other players all shooting away at a gigantic fanged Hellbug. Yup, Defiance manages to bring a rare and genuinely dynamic massively multiplayer experience to consoles! Under a smoky sky as I was plugging away at the seemingly endless bugs that were scuttling their way across the ravaged hills towards me, more and more players entered the fray. The joy of working as a team, of feeling like I’d turned up at the right time to muck in as up to 30 of us took the beast down was satisfying and am told that the final tally could allow dozens more to join in such events when the game goes live in April.
The San Fransisco Bay Area (which is linked to but is different to the barely recognisable location of St. Louis where the TV show is set) is a harsh area to survive in but thanks to Von Bach Industries, I had abilities that kept me ahead of the game. Hired as an Ark Hunter by technology and weapons dealer Von Bach, the overall aim is to find an artefact rumoured to be in the area. Equipped with expensive, AI EGO implants that can be upgraded to give extra powers, I set off on our first story mission which was to clear out a mining area in the heart of the countryside that had been fused with gulanite and otherworldly minerals. Driven by greed, cyborg “Miner 99ers” were creating a deadly assault in a bid to find riches and I had to flush them out. The AI opponents are relatively easy to fell as what they lack in brains they make up for in gusto. Often one would jump out and shoot in the air rather than shoot at me, despite being stood right in front of them. No problems in picking him off but for every yeehaw shot he fired off, another 10 miners would flood the area. The endless tides of enemies are clearly designed to encourage other players to lend a hand to the fray and the swell of satisfaction that kicked in when the area was declared clear was real and welcomed.
Elsewhere in the game, when following the main story mission (though I came across loads of mini side quests, I could only pursue one mission at a time) as a single player, I caught glimpses of other players also setting off on their own Ark Hunter adventures. The knowledge that I could have joined them at any point, watched them or ignored them and vice versa made us aware that playing in the Defiance world is effortless, spontaneous and primarily built on companionship. The freedom to hit the d-pad (I tested it on PS3) and immediately dip in and out of the action found happening all over the game without having to enter lobbies or switch through menus is a blessing for console gamers; the momentum and free-flowing action and never negatively impacts on how a player chooses to engage with the game. There’s no waiting for missions to start and the balance is such that no matter when I joined in, the rewards were there for all involved as all progression counts. It was interesting that during a Shadow War multiplayer match, where I had the chance to randomly join a team in a bid to hold on to territory for spoils, the fun drained away as opponents bounced around Halo style with the focus being on kill or be killed. It suddenly seemed ridiculously out of context as the mutual benefits of cooperation were lost in the fierce competition so I dropped out and instead accepted a local invite to join another player in taking on some hybrid-aliens at a dock, neutralising their weapons cache.
We had a tonne of fun bumping our way from A to B in our Hannibal 800TR quad bikes. Conjured up at the touch of a button, this powerful four wheel drive is tough, rough and ready for running over smaller chittering Hellbugs and is the best way to explore the colourful frontier. With five different load-outs to flick through, ramming into enemies so they drop progressively better weapons (that can be enhanced with attachments), shields and grenades is worth the ride alone. This is Borderlands meets Skyrim with a sci-fi core, though overall it doesn’t feel totally alien.
Already, I can’t wait to play more and am expecting to spend many of hours in the game world next year. Defiance is definitely one to watch out for!