Defiance is an intriguing prospect. Developer Trion took the idea of a future earth ravaged by apocalyptic war to Universal Cable Productions, and the company duly developed it into a blockbuster new TV series due to air on the Syfy channel next year. The video game and TV show will be linked, but also separate; both inhabiting and shaping this fantasy world where humans and aliens co-exist - albeit not always so harmoniously.
Defiance the TV show - directed by Priest and Legion helmer Scott Stewart for the pilot - is a character-driven drama based on a post-apocalyptic earth in 2034. It focuses on a ravaged community that was previously St Louis, where factions of people and alien races must put aside their difference to stand together against an "external threat".
The game, however, takes a more broad-stroke approach to the world, tasking players with getting involved in free-flowing, mass scale battles on the west coast of America. It is essentially an open world third-person shooter with MMO elements. Think Gears of War meets Skyrim and you're on the right track.
Fight alone, fight together
You pick to play as either a human or alien, create your character, and are then just thrown into the world and tasked with completing a range of different missions and quests. But you are very rarely alone in Defiance, as there will almost always be others players having their own experience at the same time. Indeed, for the bigger boss battles - known as ArkFall - there could be hundreds of active players fighting side-by-side.
What Trion appears to have created is an 'always on' world that focuses on co-operative play, but does not jam it down your throat. After playing through a few hours of the game, we found that the action flowed pretty freely and we felt supported by other players, but not reliant on them. You take on whatever missions you want, and can fully dictate how you want to play them.
Controls-wise, the game does not offer any major surprises on the typical third-person shooter mould. The guns are okay, but not hugely satisfying to fire, but everything works well enough and ammo and weapons are plentiful.
Get into the groove
Entering the world is initially a bit disorientating as everything is going off pretty much at the same time. You are getting shot at, people are offering you quests, and there is a general hubbub. But once you get into the groove, the game is really fun to play, and also pretty addictive.
One section involved securing a mine for our contact. We entered the base and gained a foothold, and then were joined by others' players, meaning it was easier to act as a controlled group and overwhelm our foes. In another section, we took on a giant red octopus-type boss, and it took a much bigger group of players all working together to destroy it. It always felt like there was enough to shoot for everyone.
Co-op in open world shooters can be tricky as it sometimes descends into a chaotic mess. But we found that players settled down into a rhythm in Defiance after just a short time, suggesting some good game design at play. You can often see battles going on in the distance, giving the world a dynamic feel, and offering the option to get involved if you want.
Where does the open world meet the small screen?
Trion has injected the game with loads of items to pick up and upgrades to unlock. We always felt that we were gaining new skills and items, and there was a wealth of data in the start menu across weapons, achievements and so on. The world is pretty huge, but you can always spawn a vehicle (we had a quad bike) to make it easier and quicker to get from place to place.
The game will dovetail with the TV series of the same name by featuring some of the characters and reflecting some of the events. But you won't need to watch the show to play the game, and vice versa. Alongside the co-op, there is a competitive multiplayer called Shadow War, which unfurls in the same world. The team-based modes - including king of the hill and capture the flag - will scale according to how many players are involved, such as adding more points to defend in bigger battles.
Defiance does not feel like it is trying to tag on the coat tails of a blockbuster new TV show. Instead, Trion appears to have created a product that will stand alone as an open world shooter. But it is possibly in how the game evolves as a 'transmedia' experience twinned with the TV show that makes it such an intriguing prospect for next year.
> Read our Defiance interview with developer Trion Worlds
Defiance will be released in April 2013 on PC, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.