Defender User Review
Fans of the original probably won't like this game - the two have nothing in common, aside from the challenge and some sound effects. I have a feeling this game would have been more loved if it had been an original franchise instead of a "retro remake." While this game doesn't live up to its license, it was definitely a pleasant surprise.
Right from the title screen, this game looks very nice, and I instantly appreciated its visual style. After navigating some simple menus, I was treated to quite the nice-looking game. It's no FFX, but the ships are detailed, the bullets are fiery, and the aliens are green. The environments are bland but passable, and the frame rate was fairly constant except when the screen was filled with a swarm of enemies. The frame drop isn't significant, but it affects gameplay enough to get me killed - and that's no good in a spaceship shooter.
In the sound department, this game is a whole different animal. The techno soundtrack is great and suits the game's frantic pace perfectly. There's a nice DJ mode if you want to have a rave in your basement, or something.
Even better are the retro sound effects reused in this game. Even though it doesn't play much like defender, hearing that classic sound each time you fire the pulse cannon is incredibly satisfying.
The only sound in the game I didn't like while playing through was the colonists' scream. Even though there are dozens of colonists to rescue in this game, there's only one sound for them getting devoured, and I got sick of it pretty fast.
Dying colonists aside, the graphics and sound come together to create a very alien atmosphere that's both inviting and foreboding. And that's my favorite part of this game - the indelible alien atmosphere. In some levels, there's a feeling of profound isolation. I was instantly reminded of the Metroid games. The story is fairly interesting and the cut scenes are very well done. Voice acting is surprisingly good on this low-budget title - good enough that I felt genuine emotion at some points in the game. Other parts were actually really funny!
Gameplay is what makes or breaks a game, though, and for a bargain bin shooter this one stands up well.
Before each mission, the player can choose from the ships they've unlocked, upgrade their equipment, buy more lives, and then head into battle.
Your superior will brief you on your mission and you're off, with a plethora of weapons and abilities to choose from. Although it's nothing new, destroying aliens in a vast 3D environment is a lot of fun. It can be frustrating if the mission isn't explained very clearly, or if your ship is mobbed by so many aliens you can't fight back, but for the most part this title is just a lot of fun.
An element of strategy is present in some of the levels, and while it's basic it does add some nice variety. Mostly it involves picking up colonists so they can make you equipment and then dropping it in strategic locations. If you want, though, you can fly around carrying a tank or missile crawler, and it'll fire at your enemies on its own.
There's some great variety in locales and missions - fortify a desolate moon against alien conquest, or protect a doomed spaceship in decaying orbit. Those space battles are a real treat - the atmosphere is incredible and you have the space you need to use all of your ship's capabilities. There are also some more standard "protect the official" and "get the item" missions, but even these are done well and have plenty of aliens to fry.
Instead of trying to emulate all the intricacies of spaceflight, Defender strips it down to a few simple controls, which generally works pretty well. L2 and R2 strafe, while the left analog stick adjusts pitch and turning. The right stick has four pre-set evasive maneuvers that can be pretty useful. All of the buttons are mapped to something, including handy locators for enemies, friends, and equipment on the D-pad. That's especially nice since the HUD is basically useless. The control config can be customized in the menus, and there's probably one preset to fit every player's style.
While the simple controls might turn off seasoned flight simulator fans, it works well for what Defender is. The only real problem is that precision aiming is hard due to the ships' momentum. Fortunately there are plenty of lock-on weapons to play with.
The single-player campaign is interesting and brutally challenging in the later levels. Four difficulty settings can make it even more punishing. The difficulty curve is nice, starting off easy-as-pie and ending tougher-than-nails. I still haven't won the Moon mission. Gamers looking for a challenge should check this one out.
The two-player co-op levels are just as entertaining, with four of the more frantic missions available to play with a buddy. Both players will end up screaming at the TV. There's also a Deathmatch option to play against a friend.
After all the missions are won, there's not much reason to keep coming back, but this bargain bin gem kept me entertained for several hours.
This user review does not reflect the views of the PSX Extreme Staff.