At times, revisiting old games can be fascinating. As trends and design philosophy change, so do your opinions on what once flooded the market. Games that were once considered classics are now unremarkable. Others that were deemed bland and repetitive now feel like quintessential releases of the era. For me, Defiance, a first-person shooter from 1997 published by Avalon Hill, fits right into that latter category.
Once the game begins, all story beats are narrated in-game by a number of off-screen characters randomly chiming in on your comms. They are uniformly well-acted and even offer up hints on occasion, but they're cleverly placed when you find yourself along long corridors or empty environments. It may be simply an excuse for a plot, but if you listen closely some surprising twists and turns are on your way.
Collect health to heal your hull (left) or bullets to increase your ammo (right)
For most of the first half, your commanders, scientists and citizens on the other side are baffled by what's going on, unsure why this barren land now has life and how they managed to creep into the complex en masse. They hang around two types of level structure - a maze of corridors or an open landscape, and can consist of hulking monstrosities, laser spewing beast or flying manta rays that wouldn't be out of place in a classic Cronenberg film. Their AI isn't particularly fleshed out, with most having an aggressive stance with little reaction to getting shot until they eventually explode from your bullets. All the harder difficulties do is increase their bravado, increase their shooting frequency and increase their numbers. They'll also be more of a bullet sponge, but with your unlimited starter weapon, you won't be without offence. It's a bit lacklustre, to be honest.
In truth, the action isn't Defiance's primary design philosophy. Levels are much more structured around exploration and navigation. Your weapons, of which you have four types of guns and four types of explosives, do just as much to the environment as the enemies. They range from weak and slow laser blasts to a whirring cacophony of machine-gun bullets while your missiles are essentially different variants of BOOM! That boom can break crates, overload forcefields and destroy certain objects in the playfield opening up the way forward or secret areas. Your ammo will be used up for this purpose just as much as combat. If you're running out, go destroy some crates. Some may give you a variety of different bullets, health or shields.
Terminals can be activated just by bumping into them, but not all do anything (left).
Save stations work in the same way, but you can use a cheat to save at any time (right).
If you're unsure what can or cannot be destroyed, give a suspicious object a quick blast with your standard weapon. The sound it makes is decidedly different to more sturdy walls so you can then keep going at it until it explodes.
And this is where I should probably mention the sound design. While the sounds themselves aren't exactly the most inventive, the way they've been implemented are. At least for the time. The folks at Logicware spent a lot of time and effort developing Ncircle, a three-dimensional sound technology that gives the listener a greater understanding of the location of any given sound. It's still pretty decent if when wearing headphones, but the novelty of it has worn off in the years since.
Having taken control of a hovercraft - and a prototype one at that - you are prone to mechanical failures. These are limited to scripted moments, but when my right thruster first went out, I thought there was something wrong with my mouse. The floaty nature of your craft won't let you forget you are inside this vehicle but if you press F2, you'll be treated with a third-person viewpoint. It's nigh on impossible to take aim at anything while in this viewpoint, but I did find it useful for certain platforming sections.
Part of the environments are breakable and can be easily missed.
It took far too long to find out this grate was the way forward.
One of the key mechanics of Defiance is your thrust. You have a limited amount of rechargeable boost that will launch you into the air for a brief moment, kinda like SingleTrac's Outwars that came out a year later. It allows you to jump over gaps and reach higher platforms, which is an imperative skill to master as it is key to fully explore some levels. I did find it fiddly at times. The floaty nature of your hovercraft means you can easily slide off the other side but I did find switching to the third-person view made it a little easier to judge distance.
The levels are large and labyrinthine, with nowt but a radar to inform you of your position. A map would've been a godsend but at least enemy entrails linger as a reminder of where you've been. Some sections, in particular the underground caverns, have much more emphasis on exploration. In this respect, it is not too dissimilar to how you would navigate a classic Tomb Raider level. That being said, the routes you find are much simpler but I did spend some time trying to find them. I do enjoy this type of playstyle, but I understand players who were expecting a more high-octane experience may be disappointed.
You can switch to third-person view by pressing F2.
It's useless for combat but can help a great deal when platforming.
Another element that could put off adrenaline junkies is the save system. As levels tend to be pretty large and separated into segments, there are save stations located at certain points. Generally, they are thoughtfully placed, but there is a cheat that allows noobs to save whenever they want. Quite why this wasn't implemented from the off is beyond me, however, it gives you another reason to explore each corridor.
Defiance was a middling entry when it came out in 1997, but I really enjoyed my time with it. The simple design ethos holds up compared to games that were trying to do something new only to complicate things further. Perhaps Defiance defiantly deserves a new lease on life.
To download the PC game, follow the link below. This is a custom installer exclusive to The Collection Chamber uses dgVoodoo to run on modern systems. Tested on Windows 10.
File Size: 111 Mb. Install Size: 177 Mb. Need help? Consult the Collection Chamber FAQ
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Defiance is © Avalon Hill
Review, Cover Design and Installer created by me