For decades Avalon Hill has been renowned for its wonderfully brilliant board games, but when it turned its attention to computerized ports of its successful library, instead of becoming the turn-based juggernaut of PC games, it took a promising niche and heaped on the mediocrity. Apparently not content with giving only one genre a bad name, Avalon Hill decided to tackle the ultra-successful, much-ballyhooed first-person shooter and create a Quake clone that'll no doubt reach the bargain bin of your local Babbages in record time.
Defiance is the first release from Visceral Productions, the action-oriented publishing arm of Avalon Hill. The game was developed by Logicware but still manages to evoke that Avalon Hill sense of underachievement. Although this is not a terrible game, there's nothing here that would merit someone to really consider buying it when there are so many other 3D games of such a higher caliber in the same price range.
The action (to use the term loosely) takes place on the planet Calchona, in a secretive military complex. There's a war raging between your Hegemonistic Core of Planets and the Anterran Premacy Worlds, but it's being waged in space so no civilians are killed and no planets rendered uninhabitable. Unfortunately, both sides have reached a stalemate, forcing you and the rest of the "good guys" to resort to planetary warfare. As an elite fighter pilot, you've been selected to test out the new LAV-6 SABER, and this is where the "fun" begins.
To its credit, the first level serves as a subtle tutorial, helping you gain an understanding of the controls and get a good feel for the ship as you find your way through an obstacle course, showing off for the monitoring military VIPs. Using a keyboard, joystick, or/and mouse, you move along in a Descent-like manner. Instead of easily going up or down, your ship is equipped with thrusters that are only useful in short bursts. Usually you glide a few feet off the ground, using the thrusters to boost you through an elevated opening, or hopscotching up raised platforms. As you make your way through the course, you're given little clues - from the background dialogue on the intercom - that the action's about to heat up, until eventually you hear cries of terror accompanied by squishy, flesh-ripping noises. Having reached the conclusion that this wasn't part of the test, you fly out onto the battlefield and wage war with flying manta rays and other assorted vile vermin.
While Defiance fails to copy any of the redeeming qualities of its id rival (namely compelling gameplay), it does manage to successfully imitate its insipid color palette with plenty of unexciting browns and grays. The game does boast MMX and 3D-accelerated support, but aside from the realistic looking explosions, you really have to look long and hard to see the overall difference. In fact, the game actually slowed down for me when I played the 3D version.
The game brags of using a technology called Ncircle to deliver more realistic three-dimensional sound, and whatever it does, it does indeed do well. The distant sound of screeching beasties doesn't sound as if it's limited to the speakers right in front of you, though it must be admitted that the effects sound like they are sampled from a special effects CD. The "over 200 lines of spoken dialogue" are also decent, but nothing to write home about.
Gameplay is lackluster at best. Most of the time, the monsters simply run headlong at your ship with little regard that you are blasting the hell out of them. The controls are infuriatingly difficult to master and anyone who picks up the game will be glad it ships with a remapping utility. And finally, you have to actually read the readme.txt file if you want to learn how to save a game before you reach a save point.
Defiance is not a horrible game; you'll spend some time with it, get the occasional fleeting moment of pleasure here and there, but invariably you'll struggle to remember a thing about it when you're done.