Defiance is a game. But it's also, simultaneously, a television show. NBC has pumped a lot of cash into this Western-feeling sci-fi franchise, in the hope that players will presumably play this Defiance game between episodes of the Defiance TV show whilst wearing their Defiance pyjamas and eating Defiance-branded junk food from their Defiance lunchboxes. The show and game are so closely entwined that we were sent a copy of the pilot along with our review copy.
We needed it, because the Defiance game doesn't do a particularly great job of introducing you to its world. The idea is that sometime around the present day, a whole alien civilisation known as the Votan turns up on humanity's doorstep. Their solar system's been obliterated, you see, and they didn't realise Earth was already taken. Obviously, things turn a bit nasty and before you can say "post-apocalyptic setting" humanity and seven other war-weary alien species are trying to put conflict behind them in order to eke out a living on a terraformed Earth.
We know you aren't here for TV criticism, so suffice it to say that we thought the Defiance pilot was perfectly ok if you're into the kind of science-fiction where badass heroes kick the extra-terrestrial asses of aliens that don't really seem that alien except for their prosthetics. Every now and then characters from the TV show turn up in the game - so you can go "oh, it's that guy" and bathe in a comforting, reassuring glow of recognition.
On the Xbox, the most exciting thing about Defiance will be the fact this is an MMO - an entry ticket into a great big persistent world. Your adventures in Defiance on Xbox 360 take place alongside scores of other players, and there's a genuine thrill to turning up at the site of your most recent objective in order to discover a bunch of other players hunkered down, battling the mutant horde that you've been sent to exterminate.
Defiance's approach to co-operation is pretty straightforward: if you're near somebody else trying for the same objective, only one of you needs to actually complete the mission. It's a nice way of ensuring that you feel loosely aligned with anybody who wanders by, but it does tend to abolish the need for proper, actual teamwork. The same could be said for the class system - in that there isn't one. There's just a great big wall of upgrades and powers.
Still - you'll definitely feel some camaraderie during Arkfall events, massive player versus environment scrums that take place when a piece of alien ship falls from the sky. These tend to attract the attention of anyone nearby - and we can safely say that we've never played anything on our 360s that felt quite so, well, massively multiplayer: when we and dozens of other players battled a group of mutants for a the rights to a giant, sparking piece of alien tech it was a moment was of genuine togetherness.
Co-operation is a theme of the TV show, and it's the core of most MMOs. But in Defiance other players can often seem strangely unimportant - as if what you're playing isn't an MMO but in fact a massively simultaneous singleplayer game.
It doesn't really matter, because Defiance gets the basics wrong. The later Mass Effects and Borderlands successfully blended stats and guns, but Defiance reminds us of BioWare's sludgy-feeling first attempt - ordinary looking enemies will soak up ammo like you're firing a water pistol and their armour's made of sponge, and that's assuming you don't come across the lag problems that blighted our time with the game.