Game Description: Prepare for an out-of-this-world, 3-D flying experience with the remake of the arcade classic Defender. Players must defend and protect the human race from an alien invasion as they assume the controls of next-generation combat-ready Defender ships. Battling an onslaught of vicious aliens, players strategically pilot their ships through more than 14 treacherous missions spanning the solar system, executing dynamic tactical maneuvers such as barrel rolls, 360-degree loops, and spinning reversals in order to evade the enemy.
Like the saying goes, everything old is new again. In recent years, weve seen a fairly sizable resurgence of classic titles attempt to make lightning strike a second time. Its pretty clear that some have been more successful than others, although I think the key to pulling it off is in retaining the core elements while also significantly expanding on them. As I noted in my recent review of Contra: Shattered Soldier, simply updating the graphics and leaving the rest unchanged doesnt really work. Audiences expectations have been raised by a number of amazing efforts in recent times, and wont easily settle for the simpler formulas of yesteryear.
Midway seems to have keyed into this, and as such theyve been the most successful with resuscitating their franchises. Following up on the warm welcome given to SpyHunter, Defender is their next entry. Its easy to see why they selected it. The original was such a runaway hit back in the 1980s that Midway actually built a factory dedicated to making only Defender cabinets, and the game eventually achieved incredible penetration of over 60,000 units domestically. If that doesnt qualify it as a likely winner, I dont know what does.
This new Defender is best described as a mission-based space shooter. However, in place of the standard Top Gun-style macho pilot, our hero is actually an Asian female. This fact has absolutely no bearing on the gameplay, but I took it as a small (but positive) sign regarding the state of our industry. Any portrayal of a woman as both competent and fully clothed is a good one. Thumbs up to developer Seven Studios there.
Getting to the plot, the gist is that humanity has encountered aggressive DNA-sucking aliens called Manti while colonizing the outer planets. No surprise to anyone, a war for survival ensues. The buggers end up occupying human outposts and actually infest the Earth. Naturally, its up to the remaining Terran forces to kick some chitinous abdomen and take back the homeland. Defender wont win any awards for plot originality, but the cutscenes and in-game chatter do a great job considering that the arcade version had a story approximately one sentence long.
The game controls nice and tighta necessary element for successful fast action. Every button on the Dual Shock 2 is used, but its an extremely comfortable and intuitive layout. Since Seven Studios made the right decisions in terms of controls, the gameplay is a breeze to get into. A good thing, since the difficulty of later missions is challenging enough without having to fight the controls.
For those too young to remember, the original Defender was about rescuing little pixel-people from pixel-aliens on a side-scrolling wraparound map. (Mostly solid black with a few more pixels thrown in.) It was pretty simple stuff, but surprisingly hard and very addicting at the time. Seven Studios has kept the main theme of "rescuing" and brought it nicely into the current age. Not content to add graphics and produce an identical play structure, Defender now sports a good variety of missions and a satisfying amount of complexity.
The average scenario has the player defending (hence the title) various things such as fragile warp gates or sensitive scientific laboratories from the onslaughts of multi-legged bloodsuckers. In addition, there are usually a number of helpless Colonists scattered about the terrain in need of a rapid evac. Its simple enough to grasp, but the pace is quite hectic and rushed because there are always several things going on at once. Do you engage the Manti over your base and let the Colonists be reduced to extraterrestrial nourishment, or do you save the citizens and hope that your outpost isnt reduced to smoking rubble? Although it may initially seem impossible to achieve it all, its a lot of fun trying.
Adding even more to the original formula, there are now elements of managing ground units and allocating rescued Colonists by putting them to work. Once back at a base, a Colonist can construct tanks, anti-aircraft guns or power-ups at your discretion. Power-ups float above the base to be used when needed, but the manufactured hardware can be towed behind your plane and used to fortify the front lines. It gives the game a bit of an RTS (Real-Time Strategy) flavor, but never bogs the game down or becomes too complex. I greatly enjoyed the mix of juggling resources on top of enough rapid-fire shooting to satisfy even the most trigger-happy flyer.
In fact, Id say the game comes pretty close to being "the total action package." The only downsides I could find were a few small bugs in the games artificial intelligence around the last two or three levels. Most noticeably, some of the enemy aliens started flying erratically at inexplicable hyperspeeds, and after beating the game some friendly Dropships clipped into the landscape and got stuck. Things like this were quite rare but noticeable because the rest of the game was so completely polished. One other thing possibly worth noting was that the difficulty seemed to peak in the middle of the game and became much easier once the Terrans started the final push back to Earth. However, this is a very small quibble and one that I hesitate to even mention.
Overall, I found the game to be satisfying on every level, far exceeding my expectations. An extremely nice touch that really pushed the disc over the top were the extras paying homage to the games history. The creator of Defender, Eugene Jarvis, spends a few minutes reminiscing and sharing his thoughts on the first game while a number of developers from Seven Studios talk about how they created the new one. Theres even a small piece of footage showing the arcade version for those whove never seen it. (Im betting thats a lot of people.) A little tribute piece like this should be a must for all remakes, in my opinion. For fans of the original Defender or those just looking for fast-paced, high-intensity space combat experience, the game is a winner that stays true to its roots while providing a fully-fleshed, intense and enjoyable experience overall.
Disclaimer: This review is based on the PlayStation 2 version of the game.
I have to admit it. Had I not chosen to review Defender, I probably never would have played this game. As I saw it, this title didn't appear to have much riding for it. Brad commented that one of the reasons why Midway decided to give this particular game a modern age overhaul is due to the immense popularity the original amassed. Hence, feelings of nostalgia might have contributed to the curiosity of what the new Defender might be like. As for me, seeing as how the arcade hit was released back in 1980, I'm sorry to say I can't remember having sunk quarter after quarter in order to destroy evil aliens. In fact, the original Defender had probably already been taken out of arcades for a long time when I started playing coin op. machines. Midway's updated classic was therefore something entirely new and unknown to me. Unfortunately, when browsing through a collection of titles, it looks more like the type of game that would easily go unperceived, a description it doesn't entirely deserves.
The best way I can think of to sum up the gaming experience Defender offers is to imagine a cross between Starfox 64 and the movie Starship Troopers. In other words, take the latter's giant bugs and place them in one of the N64 title's fully three-dimensional aerial arenas. The result? Aliens that can be fast, numerous and ferocious to the point of probably giving the N64 Starfox crew a seizure. There were even times when blinking would become hazardous for the safety of my ship, seeing as how the player is hunted from all sides. Needless to say I was thankful that the controls were spot on. While Brad tried out the PlayStation 2 version, I played Defender on GameCube and found myself to be equally satisfied with the button layout and the quick response of the Cube's controller.
This is one of the rare occasions when I actually felt outnumbered and against the odds. Midway did a great job of invoking in players the idea that they're not only fighting to do some large-scale pest control, but also to protect human life from extermination. You can't help but feel bad every time you hear a colonist scream in agony as he dies at the hands of a Manti. As mentioned in the first review, players have to make certain vital choices involving the rescue of humans and the preservation of outposts. Colonists proved to be a pain to save most of the time. It always seemed that rescuing one person after the other had me flying across the map and back only to realize that I couldn't make it in time.
According to Brad, part of the original Defender's success was due to its simple but addictive gameplay. I have no objection here. Often times, the simplest games can be the most addictive. Yet, as far as the new incarnation of Defender is concerned, there isn't much to get hooked to. After completing a mission, I didn't wish to go back and start it all over again just for the fun of it like certain memorable games would have me do. Also, the new Defender offers no particular element that either truly marks the gaming experience or would act as a beacon for the mind when remembering the game. This being said, it's a great space shooter for anyone that enjoys the genre. Otherwise, it just happens to be one of those titles that has a tendency to blend in the background and become virtually unnoticeable.
Disclaimer: This review is based on the GameCube version of the game.
According to ESRB, this game contains: Violence
Parents should be relatively safe, although please be aware that there are screams audible when Colonists die, and one cutscene shows a Colonist being swallowed by an alien. During gameplay there are some standard explosions, but in general theres nothing very graphic or offensive. No sexual content or questionable language.
Rogue Squadron fans will definitely want to check the game out. The Star Wars license is absent, but the mission structure, in-game chatter and basic feel closely mirror the games on the Nintendo 64 and GameCube in all the right ways. Defender also has excellent graphics and both Co-op and Deathmatch modes, to boot.
Senior citizen arcade junkies (like me) will get off on the old-school sound effects for the first ships blasters and the hilarious way the Colonists hang off of your craft just like they did in the arcade, only this time things are way more attractive than a few pixels on a black background. It still feels right underneath the eye candy, and that's what counts.
Hearing Impaired gamers get the old half-and-half treatment. There is text provided for the pre-mission briefs, but the audio cues during the missions are greatly condensed instead of being word-for-word translations. It doesnt significantly affect the gameplay, but it's pretty lame.