If nothing else Trion Worlds deserve kudos for attempting something very different, a blending of videogame and TV show to try and create one world wherein the events of either medium can affect the other. The result of this mad experiment was Defiance, a third-person shooter in MMO guise.
But I’m worried that Defiance is hurting Defiance.
For all of the talk about creating one seamless universe, the game and the TV show feel like two very separate entities, and quite honestly had I picked up and played the game first I probably would have been discouraged to watch the TV show because of that. And this makes me wonder if there’s still some idea within the entertainment industry that we gamers have lower expectations, that we’ll happily swallow awful writing and characters. Trion and SyFy came up with a brilliant idea and had a golden opportunity to create something very unique, but the game is letting the side down.
It’s all down to the writing. The TV show hardly boasts writing worthy of Shakespeare, but it does have a light-hearted, fun vibe to it with characters are nearly instantly likable, equalling the kind of TV show that is rare these days, one with a sense of adventure and entertainment rather than just bleakness and misery wherever you look, though don’t be fooled because it does have its darker moments, as we just witness in the fourth episode, for example. At the heart of it all is the interesting relationship between Nolan, a lovable rogue in the same vein as a certain Star Wars character, and his adopted alien daughter, whose parents he killed in circumstances we only just discovered in the latest episode. It’s a fantastic set-up and gives them a loving, yet unstable relationship.
Meanwhile on the game the writing is piss-poor, if I’m not to mince words. All semblance of cheesy yet good dialogue is gone and the characters that we’re burdened with are a bunch of unlikable idiots, with the only possible exception being Von Bach who is sort of amusing in a strange way. The beautiful relationship between Nolan and his daughter is replaced by your stoic virtual avatar who never utters a word and Cass, a brash Irathient woman who could easily be described as sexually aggressive to the point of utter annoyance and whom I had absolutely zero emotional attachment to, making missions where I had to defend her against waves of enemies even more of a drag – I had to resist the urge to simply wander away and leave her to her fate.
A particular highlight of the game’s script is when Van Bach encounters Cass and says, “Your anger isn’t intimidating. Frankly it’s sexy. Where did you find this saucy vixen?” to which Cass’ brilliant retort is, “I’m going to hit you in the face.” It’s quite possibly one of the worst bits of character exchange I’ve listened to in quite some time, and had me physically flinching in my chair, albeit flinching with a slight hint of a smile at the corner of my mouth because of how daft it was.
Worse still I can only assume that the dialogue, characters and writing in general were all sanctioned by whomever is handling Defiance’s brand management, hence my feeling that there’s still a sense in the industry that gamers can be treated in a second-class manner, that we will accept something of lower quality than that of which it supposed to emulate. Seriously, if you’re the brand manager for Defiance, how could you approve the storytelling and writing within this game when you’re supposed to be crafting a cohesive whole? It’s so far from what the TV show is that you’re doing nothing more than hurting the overall brand, and ensuring that those that pick up the game have little reason to check out the show. I also have to assume based upon the game’s script that the TV show’s writers were never involved for even a second in writing the game. If they were it doesn’t show, and they weren’t, why the hell not? it seems like such a wasted opportunity to cement these two very different mediums as part of one, huge universe, ensuring that the game reflects the show in its writing and therefore helping to get players and viewers alike melded into one happy community of giggling misfits.
It’s not just the characters and dialogue, either. Apart from the names of things, almost everything in the game feels completely disconnected from the show and its style. The show deals extensively with themes of xenophobia and the interactions between the various Votan species and the native humans, creating some interesting dynamics, as well as the politics between factions and species, yet in the game these things are utterly ignored, boiling everything down to going out and shooting some stuff. Obviously this is a game and so I perfectly and happily accept the need for lots of action, and as an MMO it does have certain limitations, but to completely ignore the core tenants of the show renders even having the Defiance name slapped on the box nearly pointless.
Even the world feels like a pale imitation of what we see on TV. The CGI on the show hasn’t exactly been first-class, but the art-style and world-design has so far been impressive, giving it its own distinct look and identity. Defiance, the town itself, in particular looks great with a mixture of sci-fi and western which taps nicely into my Firefly love. But on the game we’re treated to a bland and boring world that’s vast yet utterly lifeless, leaving little to no reason for players to explore it. The shows graphics may not be impressive, but neither are the game’s. And once again it feels like the TV show’s creators have had nothing to do with the game as the art-style is only vaguely reminiscent of what we see every episode. As for the towns all we get is a few buildings with nothing even coming close to the hustle and bustle of Defiance (The town, not the show or the game. Christ this is confusing) popping up in even a cut-scene.
By developing a game Trion Worlds have the perfect opportunity to let us explore a wider part of Defiance’s world, to add to the series backstory and give us more contextual depth. They had a chance to create a memorable world to complement the TV show which focuses more on a single town. It could have been the perfect partnership. What we’ve gotten is pure mediocrity.
Am I being too harsh? Well, yes, I’m being harsh, but there’s good cause for that, I feel. Viewed entirely on its own as a standalone product Defiance (the game) is a decent MMO, one that has relatively little competition on consoles. It’s not exactly going to light the world on fire with its awesomeness, but it’s not bad, either. It’s just okay with plenty of potential to be mined by Trion, and has already gained a fair few fans because of this. But view Defiance (the game) as what it was intended to be, a blending of TV show and videogame, and all that’s to be seen is a failure, a wasted opportunity to create a beautiful and unique symbiosis. And in doing so I’m left with the irritating thought that we gamers are still often viewed as people who’ll accept any old bloody tat, rather than quality products.
We’re caught in something of a catch 22 situation as well. If Defiance the game fails miserably then companies could well be put off of the idea of a TV/videogame universe for some time, and that would be a terrible shame as it’s a fantastic concept with huge amounts of potential. And yet if it succeeds then I’m worried that will simply reinforce their idea that gamers will accept products of considerably lesser quality, which the game most certainly is when compared to the show. At the most basic level if lacks the same production values as the show, demonstrating, in my eyes, that despite all the talk of symbiotic relationship the game was very much treated as second-class.
Defiance, TV show and game alike, is rich in potential. The show is at least attempting to deliver on that potential and is more than holding up its half of the load, but the game is disappointing, failing at every hurdle to do what was envisioned when the project was conceived. It fails to capture the humor, adventure, fun and themes of the show, and in doing so was a wasted opportunity to create something truly brilliant.