There’s a reason spy films like the James Bond and Bourne franchises do so well, mixing ridiculous plotlines with amazing effects which provide a thrill ride for the audience. Translating that recipe across to a videogame isn’t always easy, especially when you need to fill way more than 1.5 hours of someone’s time. Twisted Pixel aims to do just that with Oculus Rift exclusive Defector. Trailers have shown the experience to be a veritable feast of cinematic stunts, a heart-pumping virtual reality (VR) extravaganza, which in part it is; just not entirely.
In Defector you play as a super-secret agent for an organisation simply called ‘The Agency’. There’s a plot involving some end of the world style plan and you and your team are trying to stop it. So the entire videogame is set out with your character retelling the story of what went on to your superiors, each level cutting back to you sat in an interview being grilled. If this sounds familiar to anyone who has a PlayStation VR and Blood & Truth then this particular sequence is almost a carbon copy, but the motion capture isn’t quite as good.
The first level is the one that’s been heavily advertised, where you’re on a plane driving a car out the back and somehow landing in another plane in one stupidly outrageous sequence. But it’s awesome all the same, knocking over a few guards on the way out. It’s just a shame that happens to be the biggest set piece in the entire title. There’s another one later on when you shoot down a helicopter, yet Defector never quite manages to retain that sparkle from the introduction.
That being said, there are lots of nice little touches throughout the videogame, such as the Indian market where you can play BlackJack and other gambling games. Easy to while away too much time in there. Or there’s a great bit in the first level involving a fistfight with a bodyguard. The mechanics are really well done and thought out, especially when you can grab him by the collar and smash him into a mirror. Again though, it’s a flourish of awesome that’s then never repeated – there are melee weapons but some more fist fighting would’ve been nice.
Defector seems to have this throughout, good bits then parts which let the experience down. Weapons, there are some interesting options available, from pistols which set opponents on fire to the gauntlets which are able to shoot electrified rounds as well as deploying blades of pure energy. The downer, the weapons holster around the waist tends to drift occasionally or twist. So that in a firefight the ammo isn’t always in the right position. And why is it clear? As if it’s some ethereal loadout.
What was nice and helped to keep interest in the plot was the conversation choices and the branching narrative. Rather than being spoken to, all the main dialogue was a two-way conversation. They were linear, so even with up to four options to choose from one was usually always correct. There were particular characters where if you got answers wrong then that could mean your death – high stakes are always important for spy’s – so it was fairly important to keep an eye for clues. However, these conversations lock movement, which felt too restrictive in a title where you’re able to freely run around most of the time.
And there are plenty of options on that front. Yes, Defector is geared towards a smooth location system for optimal gameplay but there plenty of in menu choices to tweak movement. Snap turning, vignettes and more are all available, so most players should find a setting that suits.
For such a big blockbuster release which has been heavily advertised, Defector was over way too quickly. The first run-through took just over four hours, without trying too hard, completing a few side objectives along the way. There are only five levels in total so Twisted Pixel will be counting on the replay elements to keep players entertained. And there are a few. Four of the levels have a specific story branch to alter certain outcomes while completing specific actions will open a myriad of unlockables, from development art, character models and even a throwback to gaming of old, a cheat list.
You don’t even need to go through the entire storyline again, with a quick start mode allowing level selection alongside choosing to start before or after the branch choice; which was a nice touch.
Defector is such a mixed bag. The production values are top-notch as you’d expect from Twisted Pixel and Oculus Studios, and Defector employs great ideas for an exciting adventure, most of the time. A little more gameplay variety would’ve been nice, jumping out of windows, rappelling down ravines, climbing the Effiel Tower in a suit, you know, stupid spy stuff. It should have been Oculus Rift’s answer to Blood & Truth, however, the experience just misses the mark.