reviews\ Nov 17, 2002 at 7:00 pm

Defender - XB - Review

Many moons ago, a side-scrolling shooter called Defender shined brightly in arcades.  The game had quite a bit of freedom for its time, allowing you to roam freely throughout each stage.  You could fly towards one end of the screen, turn around and fly all the way back to accomplish a task that you might've missed (i.e., kill an alien).  Angled lines were drawn on the bottom of each level, creating mountains for the players to screw up and crash into.  Most older gamers will feel nostalgic when they think of the fun, somewhat innovative gameplay that Defender produced.  There were no other games like it at the time, and if you take a gander at the list of games available for PS2, Xbox and GameCube, you'll find that there aren't many (if any) other games like it today.  Midway is here to remedy that with a 3D remake of their classic shooter.

You can tell that this game has changed a lot just by looking at the screen shots.  For one thing, the game is now made up of semi-detailed wire frame models, covered in polygons and smooth textures.  The player is no longer restricted to small, two-dimensional, rectangular levels.  With three dimensions, the player has the ability to go wherever he or she wants (assuming the game will let you, of course -- it does have its limits).  None of the levels are particularly long, but the missions aren't either, so having larger worlds would not have improved the game much.

One big change in how the game is played is the new mission system.  Every level has a pre-set list of objectives that the player is required to accomplish.  Sometimes the objectives are as simple as gunning down a few aliens, other times it's a tad more complex, having you locate an ally ship and then escort it to the nearest portal.

There are multiple ships to choose from (six in all), each with their own strengths and weaknesses.  Speed, Armor, Agility and Strength are measured, but that's not the only thing to be concerned with.  Some ships favor weak weapons that can be fired quickly, while others favor slow, more powerful weapons that can take out an alien with one hit.

Every action can be learned within a couple of seconds.  The command layout is very straightforward: A is fire, Y switches your weapons, the left analog stick controls your direction and the trigger buttons change your speed.  If the standard analog movements aren't enough for you to dodge enemy fire, press the X and B buttons to strafe left or right.  The ship automatically locks-on to your nearest opponent, but you can switch the target to an enemy unit, a friendly unit or a colonist by pressing one of the directional buttons.  I'm sure this sounds a little complex, but believe me, it's not.  The game itself is pretty simple, and most of the important functions (such as picking up ally troops) occur automatically when you fly by them.

If you were to compare Defender's graphics to the original game, you'd be blown away.  The transition from 2D to 3D is really amazing.  But with all of the technology we have today, Defender doesn't look so great, even on Xbox.  In fact, it actually looks worse on Xbox than on other consoles since Xbox is more powerful and has higher visual standards.

It would seem as if all classic games -- whether they were loved in the past (as Defender was), or just merely liked -- will have a three-dimensional remake at some point in time.  This is mainly due to game companies who want to relive the past, but gamers are also to blame for requesting/suggesting that remakes are made.

In some cases, games should be brought into the third dimension.  But when a game is as old as Defender, is there really a need for a 3D revision?  Some people thought so.  The thing is, Defender was unique in 2D form.  Its gameplay style -- moving back and forth between small levels -- does not translate well into the third dimension.  In fact, the translation feels more like a variation of every other flight/combat game out there.  It would not be improper (nor ironic) to call this game a Star Wars Starfighter clone.  Granted, it isn't boring, and some of the more action-oriented levels are fun to play, but Defender does not play like Defender.  The only thing that's the same is the name.  Everything else has changed, and not for the better.  I see where the developers were coming from.  More likely than not, this is the direction I would have taken had I been in charge of developing the game.  But it was the wrong direction, and from what I can tell, there isn't a right direction that could have been taken.  Some games can't be brought into the third dimension without losing something in the process.  Sadly, Defender is one of those games.

Reviewer's Scoring Details

Gameplay: 6
If you've played Star Wars Starfighter, you've played Defender (more or less).  As with the Clonetroopers in Attack of the Clones, the original host is always superior to the copy.

Graphics: 5.9 
Don't misinterpret the score: this is not an ugly game!  But if Defender were a pop star, it could not compete with the likes of Jessica Simpson or Britney Spears.  Or Avril Lavigne, for that matter.

Sound: 5
Defender has very little music, few sound effects and one of the most annoying computerized voice in the world.  (A computer-like female voice briefs you on your mission and then informs the player of any necessary details, but all I wanted to do was shut her up!)

Difficulty: Easy
Most of Defender’s missions are really easy to complete.

Concept: 5 
Good idea: bringing a classic game into the third dimension.  Bad idea: making the "classic" game play like every other game in a particular genre.

Multiplayer: 5.9
Defender's multiplayer modes (deathmatch and co-op) aren't bad, but the fun is limited.  The amount of people that can play simultaneously is quite limited, too.  Only two people can play Defender at once.  Even an Xbox link cable and several consoles/TVs cannot remedy this.

Overall: 6
If Defender had been named something else, it would have been thought of as a half-decent flight/combat game (which it is).  But as the long-awaited remake to a 2D classic, Defender had so much (perhaps too much) to live up to.

Above Average

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