Defiance Review: The Sci-Fi Concept That Isn’t Shtako

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Originally published 2013.04.21

It was an ambitious idea that SyFy had, one that has never been attempted before (no, I’m not counting that horrible Enter the Matrix tie in.) To create a sci-fi franchise that not only used television, but an MMO video game as well to create a concurrent and immersive world all demographics could enjoy. With the help of Trion Worlds, I feel they are on their way to achieve a concept many production companies will try to imitate for years to come.

Both Defiance the game (released April 2nd) and the series (which premiered on the 15th) take place over 30 years after alien ships – called Arks – carrying 8 races of alien species landed on the planet. After an attempt at peaceful coexistence, a planet-wide accidental terraforming due to the new residents and the inter-species Pale Wars, Earth has very much become a changed place. The current peace between the species was due to the cooperative effort by soldiers on both sides of the battlefield – known as the Defiant Few – who laid down their arms and helped civilians who were trapped in a collapsed building. The game takes place in the frontier area that was once known as San Francisco, the place where the war ended, while the show occurs in the town named Defiance; a town that was rebuilt over the now buried St. Louis. Both locations have become lawless in their own right.

defiance-gameFirst off, I want to applaud the effort of both SyFy and Trion Worlds on attempting to make such a cross-medium franchise on this scale, much less making it to work. Right from the beginning, both properties throw the audience in the middle of this world with nothing but a smile and a “good luck”, yet brings you up to speed quickly. Between the two they have been successful introducing all the races involved in this world in a short amount of time, while building a world that is easy to get into. I also like the ability to have storylines cross into each property (an example of this are prequel missions in the game which directly lead into the premier of the series) while being stand-alone products at the same time. And though much of the concepts used for both the game and series may not be original, they are DAMN fun to experience!

As stated before, the MMO game puts you in the middle of the rough and lawless San Francisco area as a hired mercenary working for the president of a scientific research firm looking for Ark Tech (salvaged technology from Arks that have fallen to Earth.) However, the military transport you are on is attacked and you eject off the ship (along with Nolan and Irisa) before it blows up. You and the other players are stuck in the remains of San Francisco and its surrounding area, completing missions while taking on hostile races and humans alike.

The game itself is an RPG and not the Third Person Shooter we were originally expecting during the announcement last year, and there is nothing wrong with that. Coming from the creators of the PC darling Rift, it makes it more interesting. The controls are extremely intuitive with some welcomed changes to the console version (pressing down the left analog stick to run makes a HELL of a lot more sense!) The visuals really transport you into this world of a post Ark mixture of alien and Earthen landscapes. Driving around this world (yes, you get a vehicle to get around this huge map) makes you feel like Mad Max when you aren’t taking part in missions or Ark Falls (Ark ships that fall to Earth). Quick load out settings are quite useful in a firefight, especially if you play like I do (I usually pick people off from a distance, but will go Rambo at a drop of a hat if the shtako hits the fan). The social component is your standard fair, where you can join clans, make friends and parties with people you meet or just run with people into a firefight to help (which I am guilty of on more than a few occasions). If you want to be the dickish type, you can easily switch from cooperative to combative mode to take on other players and take part in Shadow Wars; but many of the players I have come across have taken the “We are in this together” approach for now.

The only down sides I have come across for console players is that you must install the game on the hard drive (which can take up to 30 minutes) and then the brutal first initial patching period (which can take much longer, depending on your connection). The game is also more oriented towards a more general game audience or more novice MMO players. The more hard-core MMO players might be bored from the slightly repetitive missions. Overall, though, it is definitely worth checking out.

defiance-showWhere the game plays like Mad Max, the show has a more The Good, The Bad and the Ugly feel. The series revolves around Nolan (Grant Bowler) and his adopted alien daughter Irisa (Stephanie Leonidas); scavengers looking to score enough money to head for Antarctica, which has apparently become a tropical paradise. After scoring major tech from an Ark Fall and a run in with a gang of aliens, Irisa is injured and the two are stranded until a Law Keeper (a sheriff if you will) finds them and brings them to Defiance. From there, Nolan and Irisa are dropped into the middle of a Romeo & Juliet plot between two prominent families in the town, dealing with a new tough-talking mayor (Amanda, played by Julie Benz) who is trying to figure out her job and a shadowy plot to empty the town to search for something that will change the world. Much to Irisa’s objections, the more time Nolan – one of the Defiant Few – spends in the town the more he begins to care about the people there. And after fending off an invasion of a mechanized army known as the Volge, Nolan is given a job as a Law Keeper for the town.

First and foremost, there is not much that is original about the show from experiencing the first episode. A lot of things we see in the show are derivatives of other things we have experienced. However, the beauty of the show is how these derivatives fit together and form a show that is fun and cool, while using tropes and turning them on their head. As an example, you would think a Han Solo-type of character like Nolan would either horde the money won in a fight club, or blow it gambling. Not only does he blow the money, he blows it the best way a man can; on alcohol and on a session with the lead mistress at the brothel – who is also the owner – Kenya (Mia Kirshner). The female characters alone are all interesting from Irisa and Amanda to Stahma Tarr, who is the wife of the owner of Defiance’s seedier enterprises, Datak Tarr. The character interactions are quick witted and interesting, especially what we see between Irisa and the deputy Law Keeper Tommy (Dewshane Williams).

Then there are the visual aspects of the show, which all work together to make Defiance pop. The creators have taken a more Star Trek approach, keeping a simplified approach to the alien designs for now. The CG really makes all the difference in showing how the Earth’s landscape has changed since the Arks appeared. It’s a fun show and has potential to expand and grow into a major force in the sci fi genre.

Has SyFy lived up to the expectations it set when they announced Defiance? Not yet, but they are well on their way. As long as they introduce interesting plotlines that are fun and content to keep the MMO going, I believe we are going to get something special that will be talked about the same way others in the genre are.

Defiance: The game is available for PC, Xbox 360 and Playstation 3

Defiance: The series currently airs on Mondays at 9PM on SyFy (10PM on Showcase in Canada)

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