The first mission of Defector is like a glorious homage to every over-the-top spy movie to have ever appeared on a screen. There’s a handler feeding you information, a bad guy to converse with and then the possibility of driving a car out of a plane before leaping out and landing in a different plane. Oh, and then gunning down a bunch of fighter jets using nothing but an assault rifle because that’s how the real world works. It’s a bombastic introduction to Defector, but then the game never does manage to reach the same highs again. It’s perhaps no wonder that it was this first level which was shown off in the demos and previews.
But that doesn’t mean Defector doesn’t give it a shot and does so by mixing in a bunch of different ideas. In another of the five missions you get to pose as a masseuse, gently massaging away the suspect’s worries. There’s even an interrogation sequence involving questioning, punching and dangling the target out of a window. Hell, Defector even manages to wedge robots into the whole thing, even going so far as to hand you a ripped off robo-limb that acts as a gun. It’s just such a shame that the first mission is the best, and that everything afterwards struggles to live up to it.
Everything is loosely tied together by an overarching narrative where you’re being interviewed by a higher up member of your agency. As it turns out you’ve been tracking down mysterious segments of some special device that does….er, stuff. There’s really nothing of interest to focus on in terms of story. Characters whizz by in a blur, never stopping long enough to develop a personality past. It’s a shame because one did actually stand out from the ground, a guy that takes you prisoner at one point and has a speech pattern that makes him more interesting than everyone else.
It means that Defector never does manage to make its levels feel properly connected to each other. It’s like the levels were designed as their own self-contained areas then linked together later on during development.
But while the story itself may not impress it’s worth mentioning that the voice acting throughout is quite strong. I wouldn’t say it was impressive as that found in PS VR exclusive Blood & Truth, but it was still very solid.
And speaking of things that are solid the graphics are rather nice at times. The anti-aliasing seems almost non-existent at times and the blur can be a little strange but outside of that the levels pack a reasonable amount of detail and there’s a strong sense of depth, most noticeable when leaning out of a window to watch a body dropping from several stories onto a car. I replayed that a lot because the game isn’t always great at explaining what it wants you to do.
In keeping with the spy theme there’s even a dialog system so that you can merrily chat away to various people. The idea is that you’ll tap B to bring up a dossier that provides three pieces of information about a person, and then you’ll hopefully use that information to select the right dialog choices to steer the conversation where needed. It’s a cool idea, though in practice doesn’t offer much since there are definitive right or wrong answers. I would also have loved if the in-built Oculus mic was used so that you could actually speak aloud the options rather than selecting them using a button.
Another mechanic tossed into the mix is fist-fights. There’s a few of these throughout the game and they’re surprisingly good fun, albeit very simple. You hold up your arms to blow the glowing red attacks, and then launch a few jabs or haymakers of your own when the opponent’s face turns green. This color-coding really damages the immersion factor so it’s a shame there’s no option to get rid of it, but otherwise the fights are quite enjoyable.
And of course there’s the firefights, because every spy needs to know how to handle a gun. Infinite ammo and a heavily guide reload system help to keep the action flowing, and the guns themselves feel pretty nice to use. Variety is quite small, though, with a basic pistol, laser pistol and assault rifle forming the core of the selection. There is a quite fun smart-shot add-on and electric glove, though. Enemy A.I. is the bigger issue, by which I mean it seems to be almost non-existent. They pick a place and then stand there, usually out of cover, or will run straight into your line of fire. There’s a section involving a mini-gun where I literally got half-a-dozen kills in quick succession due to bad guys running into the hail of bullets, oblivious to the horrible death that was awaiting them.
It’s a buffet of various game mechanics, like a metaphor for where the VR industry currently is, busy experimenting and trying to find out how to make games for VR. The downside to Defector’s short attention span is that it never takes the time to properly flesh any one mechanic out, so instead we have okay shooting, and okay dialogue options and so on and so on. The fist-fights are a great example of something that could have been built on more and turned into a much stronger part of the game.
Defector also has the same problem plaguing VR as a whole: it’s short, dude. Like, the five missions will take around 4-5 hours to blitz through with maybe another hour or two to replay levels. In a smart piece of design, though, when you opt to replay a level you can jump straight to the branch point, but you still aren’t getting much of an adventure. Offsetting the shortness, however, is the relatively small price tag of just £19.99.
Interactivity with the world is a little disappointing, mostly because of how random it feels. Things like vases and cups can typically be picked up and tossed around, but other items can’t be. Stuff like vending machines, phones, pens and other various bits of scenery can’t be touched at all. None of this is a big deal ultimately, but more consistency would have gone a small way toward making the whole package more immersive.
Going forward I’d be happy to see some DLC for Defector, perhaps self-contained missions so that the developers could play around with awesome set-pieces and ideas like those found in the first level, or focus more on the dialog and spy elements of the game.
There’s plenty of options for comfort to be found in the options. The basics are all covered such as smooth turning or snap turning, plus tunnel vision if you like to have the edges of the screen darken when moving. You can also alter the speed of walking and turning, or even turn off strafing and turning completely if you fancy using real-life roomscale for that.
I did have high hopes for Defector going in, but it didn’t quite manage to live up to them. Ultimately I found Blood & Truth on the PS VR to be a stronger game, largely because it told a better story while focusing its gameplay more so that it could deliver a few, strong mechanics. But that doesn’t make Defector a bad game: for your money you get a pretty cool action movie/spy movie inspired adventure with a few great moments sprinkled throughout a basic yet fun game.
3.5 out of 5