Thursday, August 1, 2013

Defiance

Defiance is both a SyFy Channel TV show and a massively multiplayer game. They were advertised as being tied together, in plot and character, and that each would influence the other. The plan is that each released game is to be a single season of the show, instead of the normal monthly cost or free-to-play model. I started downloading the show almost immediately but was not interested in the $60 ticket for the game, until it came down to $11 on a recent Steam Sale. And for the past few weeks I have been playing and comparing.

The show takes place in a near future after an alien invasion. Several races of aliens from  the same system all came to our world on great Ark Ships. At first they presented themselves as potential allies and were even given lands to settle, in South America. But racial tensions arose and led to the Pale Wars. While most of their people slept in the great Ark Ships, many fought against the humans for land. Suddenly the war is brought to a halt by the Arkfalls, as the ships in orbit exploded and began to crash to Earth. The Votans blamed the humans and the humans said Votan experiments went afoul. It didn't help that the crashing ships had vast terraforming technology that began to radically change the Earth. We are talking planet changing alterations -- new mountain ranges, collapsed areas and entirely new biospheres. The war continued a bit longer until both sides ran out of resources and a tense peace was established.

This is the post-apocalyptic world the game and show are set in. The show takes place in a mostly buried St. Louis while the game starts in San Francisco and the surrounding lands. The plot of the show follows Nolan and Irissa, two "Ark Hunters" (scavengers and treasure hunters who raid fallen ships) seeking their great windfall, so they can retire to tropical Antarctica. Their trip is interrupted when they get mixed up in the lives of the people of Defiance, once St. Louis. The town needs a lawkeeper (sheriff) and Nolan just needs to slow down for a bit. Irissa is his adopted daughter and of the Votan race Irathients. The game also has you as an Ark Hunter, but one working for a megacorp seeking a similar windfall from a fallen ship. Nolan and Irissa appear in the game and some of the plot lines cross over. And that is where it gets annoying.

The first thing that is incredibly annoying is the radical departures each has from the other. What little technology Defiance (the town) has is all backward but even the most remote and run-down zone in the San Fran zone has tons of high tech and alien toys. Everything in the game just looks more science fiction. It even starts off with a crashing Earth spaceship though we got the idea in the show that things were not much more advanced than now when the aliens arrived. When did we get the time to invent helicarriers?

Secondly, the story connection between show and game is tenuous at best. I don't mind that we meet Nolan and Irissa at the beginning of the game, but if that takes places before they run east to Defiance, it is fine. The trouble is we continue to bump into them when events are meaning to parallel events in the show. WTF ? Did they just pick up and drive west for a bit of plot and then run back home? It just makes no sense at all -- terribly sloppy story telling. It makes B-level TV look like Shakespeare.

The show is meant to be a bit of Firefly, with a frontier feel mixed with typical SyFy shows -- a multitude of characters, some obvious bad guys, weird aliens and convoluted but very basic plots. The acting is middling but the show is still decent; as usual, I will watch almost anything scifi on TV.  The world building is nicely done, giving us tons of interactions between the different races, with their cultures clashing and also trying to leave an amount behind, and just become Earthlings. It has some good post-apoc vistas and decent CGI. I still do not understand why it is so difficult to just do something not middling but good. Aforementioned Firefly is still the best scifi show in over ten years, with BSG a good runner up. But the rest are so afraid of standing out, they just churn out the same familiar feel show after show. Does mediocrity really breed ratings?

The game is also a terrible example of mediocrity, the typical example of what MMOs are these days in a world where it doesn't pay to charge and free-to-play makes the money but skimps on the design. The missions are so boring, I never read their text. Just rinse and repeat the concepts of either getting stuff or killing bad guys or both. Essentially all missions involve running (driving) somewhere and holding the E key a lot of times, to activate something, and then kill the spawning bad guys. And all the bad guys (no, they don't deserve capital letters) are so familiar and boring -- infected mutants, Road Warrior ripoffs, the big green (blue here) guys from Fallout 3, big bugs, etc. Its all terribly boring, but like Minecraft is sort of zen in its repetitive digging with pick-axes, there is something relaxing about shooting the constant spawns.

So, soon the game will finish the "story line" for me, probably reaching some sort of show season ender connection.  The show already ended the season; probably the reason the game was so cheap. If the game isn't just killed outright I will rinse-repeat my strategy next year -- maybe. But I will watch the show next season, if but for Irissa the wild girl.