In my time with Defiance 2050, I shot some aliens, picked up loot, bought some cosmetics from a cash shop, shot some more aliens, drove an ATV, mashed the roll button, and did a lot of running. What I didn’t do, was watch several seasons of a cancelled SyFy show. While the grand Defiance experiment didn’t go as planned, this reboot of sorts does the job of bringing its niche fanbase to modern specs, with some bonus streamlining. If you’ve been aching to play Defiance on PS4, here’s your golden opportunity. If you’re out here wondering what Defiance 2050 is and if forking over the dozens or hundreds of hours it wants from you is worthwhile, well, you could do worse for free, but that’s about the ceiling here.
Here’s a history lesson, because the Defiance story is pretty interesting. Trion Worlds was on a mission to do something wild with the MMO, sci-fi shooter space. In this case, not only was the plan to launch this bad boy on consoles along with the friendlier PC, but also to launch a TV alongside it. Defiance the video game, despite having some merit, would be destined for the rotating video game shelves at Five Below stores. That sounds mean, but it is something I witnessed, so it is what it is. The show, however, managed to grab an audience on the SyFy network and lasted for a few years.
Defiance would eventually go free-to-play, and carve out its own slice of that pie. It has respectfully survived until now, and cultivated enough demand to move the game up to current hardware. Instead of making updates to the original, Trion Worlds has introduced Defiance 2050. It’s neither sequel nor remake – more of a “HD remaster” sort of deal, but with a few tweaks and changes to the gameplay systems. Otherwise, things are quite similar, albeit with somewhat boosted visuals and a few other bells and whistles. Okay, lesson over. How’s the game?
Defiance 2050 will feel familiar to anyone who’s ever played an online shooter-slash-RPG joint. You make a character, get a few sentences of dialogue about aliens breaking California and the rest of the Earth probably (but mostly California), and set off on your way to ignore further generic NPC dialogue boxes in the pursuit of dope loot. It’s a third-person shooter with a skill tree and a huge map, one full of random bad guys, emergent missions, static quests, and no fall damage. It’s even really well-designed around controller support, so it feels right at home on PS4 despite how much it looks like a PC game from the early 2000s. The key here is that all of it is open to other players, so you can end up doing work cooperatively with folks even without officially grouping up.
This sounds annoying, but it’s fine! I found myself often looking forward to getting where I was going, because the chances of having someone pursuing the same mission I was were so high. It can often feel like effort to find people and make friends in games like these when you’re new, so just being able to happen upon each other for a mission or two and help each other out, almost by accident, helps the Defiance world feel more like a world. It still looks and feels like a giant toybox, but that specific choice helps for emergent, experiential fun in a similar vein to Marvel Heroes or Destiny, but for more than just group missions. It happens in the campaign stuff, as well.
This culminates in what the game boasts as one of its hypest, in-game features: Arkfalls. Sometimes a storm will start, and huge portions of the map will turn red. This signifies some real stuff is about to go down, and if you haul ass to the designated waypoint, you’ll get to participate in some premiere alien shooting. In these events, all hell breaks loose as a giant alien emerges from underground, and dozens of players are needed to take it down. It’s a mess, but a fun mess that helps you feel like you’re contributing, because nobody can really tell what’s going on, but there’s big, ugly targets to throw lots of bullets at. When it’s over and the smoke clears, you then get the fun of everyone crowding around the big loot box, and running around to pick up ammo and other random drops.
As fun as it can be in an eating an entire bag of animal crackers before you realize it (the frosted kind with sprinkles that are somehow gross but still appealing) kind of way, Defiance 2050 does not feel like a game that was made in the past decade, much less late last generation. Aside from the size of the map, it all feels rudimentary and low-budget, not unlike an original SyFy series. It has this bland, jagged look to it that ages it tremendously, despite the new facelift. Movement and shooting feel weightless and sound funny, like a bunch of action figures are running around firing fantastical pop guns at each other. Vehicles are bizarrely implemented as mounts you can just summon out of thin air, for the express purpose of traversing the large, empty map. Loot is just text you cycle through in menus, and the skill trees don’t feel especially distinct.
Defiance 2050 is a game I can get lost in and enjoy several hours in at a time, but it’s mindless shooting and grinding that is the least difficult kind of gaming experience to locate in 2018. Sure, this game is free, but I can find a copy of The Division for not much more than free and get a similar, much more substantial experience. Destiny is an option within the same genre, and in the free-to-play space, there’s stuff like Warframe. It’s a crowded space, and while I respect Defiance 2050 for hanging in there the way it technically has all these years, I can’t shake that feeling like I just sat down in front of an empty peanut butter jar and tried to spoon at all the delicious-smelling nothing inside every time I finish a play session.
Game Title review code provided by publisher. Version 1.03 reviewed on a PS4. For more information on scoring please see our Review Policy here.