Review by discoinferno84
"I wanna fly away..."
I was wandering around a used Gamecube game rack a few weeks ago. I wasn't looking for anything special, just something cheap and fun. As my eyes scanned over countless copies of obscure titles that would likely never see the light of mainstream gaming, I happened to come across a single copy of Defender. The dynamic cover art featured a detailed futuristic fighter plane blasting through combat. For some reason, idea of adding another shooting game to my collection was appealing. I suppose I was just wishing for a game resembling Star Fox 64 or other shooters I'd grown accustomed to. In the end, I spent the ten dollars and brought the game home with me, hoping this game could deliver something more than its meager store worth. Fortunately, Defender didn't disappoint.
As the cover art suggested, Defender takes place in the future. Defender's story is reminiscent of a few science fiction/adventure movies like Independence Day or Starship Troopers. It may not be the deepest game plot ever conceived, but it could pass for a summer Hollywood blockbuster. During an era where space colonization was in full swing, humanity is rejoicing in its newfound technological strength. Suddenly, the massive forces of the Manti attack the Earth. These aliens harvest human DNA as a source of nutrient and power supply. Once the Manti have harvested the human DNA, the humans undergo dangerous mutations, leaving them wild beings with a desire for human destruction. The majority of Earth's forces are wiped out. The remaining members of the human race are scattered out onto the various space colonies around the solar system. The Manti have taken complete control of the Earth. If the Manti forces become to strong, humanity will never be able to return to its home planet. You play as a new pilot for the Earth's remaining forces. Your mission is to wipe out the Manti presence and take back the beloved Earth.
So you've been recruited as part of the elite Defenders. You're facing down countless Manti forces as you make your way back to Earth. How are you supposed to get rid of them? You have the choice of a few fighter planes to pilot. Each fighter has different control abilities to suit your preferences. Do you want superior maneuvering? Your best bet is the default Defender. Or do you want the Guardian fighter with its awesome attack strength? It's up to you to figure out what kind of ship you want and how you want to perform in combat.
After you've chosen your plane, you are given a briefing as to what you have to do to complete the mission. The average gamer will probably skip right over the dialogue and cut scenes to get right into the battle. The problem with that is that the briefings are actually helpful once you're in the thick of battle. Listening to these briefings can actually provide clues and hints as to what you're actually doing. Your missions usually involve just a few specific tasks. Most of these tasks revolve around real time strategies and battle tactics. You'll be required to save stranded colonists, protect supply envoys, and defend military bases.
While it sounds simple, the actual performance of these tasks can prove to be daunting. Sure, you've got to save some colonists. The problem is that they're spread out over a massive battlefield. That means you need to be observant as you're getting blasted from every direction. Or you could be commissioned to protect a munitions factory. While you're keeping the enemies busy, the factory will produce other attack vehicles to give you backup. You can then place these vehicles anywhere on the battlefield to give you an advantage in battle. It's in-game tactics like these that keep you on your toes through the duration of the battle. It's up to you to think strategically and be able to finish your mission objectives to ensure your victory.
With so much riding the success of your mission, you need to become adjusted to the controls of your fighter plane. The controls of the Defender ships are modeled like those found most other aerial shooting games. You can toggle between lasers and missiles, lock onto enemies, do barrel rolls, etc. The controls are easy to pick up and eventually become intuitive. There is an issue with button sensitivity, however. Your only way to move is to fire up your booster jets by pressing the shoulder button. The problem is that you can't mash the button to activate the boosters. Instead, you have to slightly push down on the button and pick up speed. Sometimes you'll be in the thick of battle, but you'll be distracted because you think you're not pushing the boost button correctly. The same sensitivity can be found with the Control Stick. If you're about to do a somersault and accidentally turn the Control Stick in the wrong direction at the last moment, you'll go careening into a tangent. If that happens, you'll be wasting precious seconds as the Manti ships blast you into pieces.
Also, there is a certain lack of realism with the gameplay. Maybe the game designers put too much emphasis on strategy and decided to throw reality out the window. Take your fighter for example. For some reason, your ship can't take too many laser hits before it explodes. However, it'll bounce off walls and buildings as if it were made of rubber. If you ever flew into a wall in Star Fox 64, you'd probably lose a wing. If you fly into a wall here, you'll just bounce back a few feet. I'm not complaining that there's a limited amount of ways to die. I just wish the game designers added something to make the combat more believable. The same goes with rescuing the colonists. The colonists are basically people waiting around to be taken off the battlefield. You have to fly your ship over them, and they will grab onto your wings. Now, common sense dictates that we have to slow down in order for the colonists to even attempt to grab hold of the ship. But when a dozen Manti fighters are chasing you, you can't exactly afford to slow down. All you can do is fly into the groups of people going at Mach speed. If realism were to reign in this situation, the colonists would likely be torn up as the ship runs over them. If they grab hold of your wings, their arms would be ripped from their sockets at you accelerate back to base. This isn't the case. You can fly at the hapless colonists at any speed and they will still latch on to your ship and be on their merry way.
With so much going on during battle, it's hard to get a real sense of your surroundings. Luckily, we are given elaborate cut scenes before each battle to gain a sense of where you're fighting and the overall mood. The cut scenes have excellent detail and showcase some of the Gamecube's finer graphical abilities. But the good graphics don't end with the cut scenes. You're fighting on the various colonies on the planets in our solar system. Each planet is rendered with beautiful and vibrant colors. The graphics of the landscape and buildings are mediocre at best, but the beauty lies with the skies, your ship, and the enemies. You can see the wispy cloud cover as you zoom over a battlefield. You gaze at the stars with excellent lighting. You can almost feel the heat of your booster jets and the see sparks fly when your ship gets hit. You see the ominous glow of the enemy Manti forces. It's graphics like these that make for a more enjoyable gaming experience. The graphics almost make up for the unrealistic aspects of the game.
Also, the sound effects are almost top-notch for Gamecube standards. The voice acting was done with special attention to each character. The commander sounds like the stereotypical tough and irritable superior officer. A robot with a clear and crisp voice explains your mission objectives. Your boosters roar when you activate the gets. The lasers fire with loud pulses. There is a fast-paced techno soundtrack to back up your adventure. The overall dedication to the music and the other minute sound details create an excellent setting and draws you deeper into the game.
So, where does that leave Defender? In the end, it's really up to you. This game features excellent strategic gameplay, but has questionable controls. If you're into tactical shooters, have a look at this game. If you're not into being restricted by specific mission objectives, you might want to hold onto your money. This game benefits from decent graphics and sound that make good use of the Gamecube's abilities. Also, this game is likely piled under a bunch of virtually unknown Gamecube games at your local store. If you want something that's cheap, fun, and mildly challenging, give Defender a shot.
Reviewer's Score: 7/10 | Originally Posted: 05/09/04
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