When I first heard about Defector I was excited to see what essentially amounted to Mission Impossible coming to VR—the laughably improbable, overblown action that makes you feel like a true badass. And while there are some choice slices of action hero greatness served up on a silver platter, I couldn’t help but feel like Defector was still a bit undercooked in the middle.

Defector Details:

Official Site

Developer: Twisted Pixel Games
Publisher: Oculus Studios
Available On:  Oculus Store (Rift)
Reviewed On: Rift
Release Date: July 11th, 2019
Price: $20

Gameplay

As a kid growing up in the ’90s, I spent untold amounts of quarters on arcade light gun shooters like Area 51 (1995) and many of the Time Crisis franchise regulars. In a few ways, Defector reminds me of these on-rails arcade games of yore despite offering up a measure of choice when it comes to how you experience the game.

Although it isn’t an on-rails experience in the sense that you’re forcibly carried from one location to the next (it has free locomotion), Defector hasn’t made the allowances to give you any leeway to be clever, or discover alternate solutions to problems on your own. It makes me feel that, despite being able to switch the proverbial minecart on a temporary left or right track, that the choice is only about engaging in a one-off experience you want at that moment. And I was really looking forward to a game that promised not only to let you do incredible things, but to decide how you accomplish them.

To be clear, Defector is basically an arcade shooter at heart; it relies heavily on basic tropes that become a big focus later in the game, such as various gun types, infinite ammo, sparse health pickups, and a few minor bosses. When you’re not blasting away at enemies though, you’re following simple instructions from your telepresent buddy Doran—and you’ll find yourself chatting with NPCs and trying select the best answer from a basic dialogue tree for any given situation. More on NPCs in the ‘Immersion’ section below.

Image captured by Road to VR

Here’s a quick rundown of the story: you’re an elite spy who’s tasked with tracking down stolen ‘device segments’ which are important to the government… for reasons. Sitting in a government office, you flash back to each of your five missions, ostensibly while at your own deposition; the top brass aren’t happy with the way things went down. You don’t have much besides a special contact lens that lets you see key items, and an earpiece, both of which are used by your support buddy Doran to feed you important info.

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Minor spoiler: My favorite part by far is the first 25 minutes of the game, which is spent waltzing around undercover on a bad guy’s private jet with the aim of stealing back the first device segment to an absolutely incredible effect. After completing that part of the mission, the game presented me with an explicit choice between two different paths I could take next. I chose to parachute from one plane to the next, which ended with me clambering up the side of the damaged plane, looking out the open hatch, and shooting a machine gun at incoming fighter jets. The alternate pathway would have taken me through Dr. Villain’s plane to fight through all of the heavies and drive off the plane in mid-air James Bond-style.

Image courtesy Twisted Pixel

This is the ridiculous high-octane fun I signed up for, however Defector seems to dole these moments out at pretty sparse intervals for my liking thereafter, instead choosing to pad the game with its arcade shooter and its toothless NPC interactions. To its credit, Defector doesn’t bore you with a lengthy on-boarding experience, instead tossing you into new interactions as they happen, although it’s hard to call it a non-stop adrenaline ride.

As for the shooter bit, the game presents three types of enemies, maybe four if you count grenade-throwing goons as opposed to the overwhelming majority of the enemies with machine guns. There’s also Terminator-sized robots and flying drones, but none of the baddies present any real challenge if you ever played a VR shooter before.

Image captured by Road to VR

Like its arcade cabinet forbears, enemy AI is pretty simplistic; bad guys dash out of nowhere and basically stay put until you do your thing. Like true bullet sponges, you can shoot them directly in the head a few times before they go down. I would have liked to see more realism here and less arcade controls, but I can see how that might turn off people who aren’t in it for the shooting elements alone, and are just looking to be in an action movie.

As for the story, it predictably follows your standard action movie narrative, sending you off to interesting locales including India, London, and New York. It’s here that I wish the game would have given me more agency to explore, and accomplish missions in non-standard ways. More on that below.

Image captured by Road to VR

In the end, I spent a little over three hours on a single pass through the campaign, although you can jump back into previous missions (with the option of enabling cheats), so you revisit any one of the five missions to see where a different decision might have taken you.

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Immersion

One of the most frustrating elements in Defector is talking to NPCs. On first blush, the dialogue tree presents an opportunity to get through missions in unexpected and clever ways, possibly by looking at their dossier and finding out to best way manipulate the person into giving me what I need. But the reality is most of the time you’re continuously shunted towards a single answer that is deemed acceptable by the game, which often seems to have no guiding principle other than it’s just ‘right’.

Image captured by Road to VR

At almost every turn, unacceptable responses are met with the moral equivalent “Are you stupid? Try again, dumbo!” And although you’re not penalized for giving a ‘wrong’ answer, you have to doggedly click on each option to figure out which one is right in order to progress.

And then there’s the NPCs that don’t offer anything. All answers are ‘wrong’ and lead nowhere. In fact, in the second mission I was so frustrated at the lack of any clues that I asked every single NPC in the level every question until I eventually found the one that would let me progress in the story. Your mileage may vary, and you may hit on that one NPC right away by chance, but there are zero clues to get you there—all of them dead ends. That was decidedly the only moment when you deal with non-combative NPCs in the game, but I really felt like it was a missed opportunity.

Despite this, there are valid divergences in the game’s narrative, which are marked with a big green ‘ACTION BRANCH’ labels. These represent a binary choice that the player can make, which is implicitly understood beforehand—e.g. go after the big beefy boss guy, or go after the weaselly little turncoat.

Image captured by Road to VR

Ultimately, action branches are a fun little asides that ideally appeals to what you want out of the game. Are you looking for a shooting section in the mission, or are you looking to go stealth? Although the scope of the game is fairly limited in terms of mission flexibility, I’m glad to at least be able to choose what sort of ride I’m in the mood for.

Visuals are a fundamental part of immersion, and the ingredients for impressive visuals are definitely there in Defector, but the game is still in need of a little more refinement. Anti-aliasing seems non-existent, and even on ‘Ultra’ settings it seems the world has its fair share of jaggies and inexplicable blur at moments. This is an honest shame, because I count many of the game’s design elements as a net positive, such as overall character design, motion capture, set pieces—all of it has enough meat on the bone for the sake of immersion. Although as is, the game’s visual fidelity puts a definite damper on both distance shooting and making out enemies in darker scenes.

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Object interaction is also somewhat of a missed opportunity; there are objects you’re allowed to pick up, and others you can’t. There’s really little rhyme or reason to it all. You can pick up a fork, but not an apple from a box. You can pick up a dish, but not a fire extinguisher. So on, and so forth. If you drop an item, sometimes it appears in your inventory, but if it’s a magazine, it just disappears.

Comfort

Despite a few moments when being swung around violently, Defector is mostly a comfortable game. It includes both variable snap-turning and smooth-turning for users who want max visual immersion.

If you’re looking to get the most out of your ability to move around though, you’ll want to strafe continuously so baddies can’t get a bead on your head. That sort of constant lateral movement can be uncomfortable though, so it’s nice to see that strafing is also a toggleable option.

Although ‘camera shake’ is enabled by default, which gives you more of a thrill when things start exploding around you, you can turn it off it that makes you uncomfortable.

REVIEW OVERVIEW
Overall
5.5

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  • JesuSaveSouls

    I dont agree

    • asshat

      then go write to your jesus blog about it

    • SataNeedSoulsToo

      “Thou shalt not kill”… I can see your struggling with this one, it’s not to late to switch sides.

      • Its a game, so I don’t think it applies here.

        • asshat

          its a joke, i dont think your mental state applies here

          • Jarilo

            Living up to your name I see.

        • SataNeedSoulsToo

          While I agree killing life in another simulation than the one you exist in is fair game. I’m not sure his God agrees. Further more on several occasions he has made mention of killing in other games being an issue with his beliefs.

  • Rosko

    kinda what i expected tbh, no doubt will buy it though.

  • dogtato

    You have to click on everything in the game to find the one pixel that lets you progress? So you’re saying it’s an adventure game.

    • Jarilo

      lmao , it was a bit of a stretch on their part.

  • Alextended

    Not saying this game doesn’t deserve this score. But that’s the score Blood & Truth also deserved yet got a lot better one without finding anything in the text that elevates it beyond this one as far as gameplay goes. I guess it does have slightly higher artistic quality but that’s not worth an extra 3 points. It’s even more restricted and “standard” even.

    • benz145

      Have you completed both games?

      • Adam Broadhurst

        Of course he hasn’t lol

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      • Alextended

        I’ve finished Blood & Truth, why do I need to finish both when I already said I don’t know if this game deserves this score, therefor indirectly announcing I haven’t played it, yet here you are asking if I have finished it? What? I just said Blood & Truth deserves a similar score for being pretty shoddy, way too restricted with way too imprecise tracking (the platform’s fault but if the platform can’t do 1:1 well then work your games differently like Astro Bot so they play good, duh) and only really having fancy presentation going for it.

  • Alan Harrington

    It’s cheap enough to buy it and enjoy it for what it is on the day of release. What more can you ask?

  • Jarilo

    I enjoyed it and it’s worth the 20 easily. Felt like an over the top spy action flick. Worked great with the Knuckle controllers and Revive too. I think 5.5 is a bit low in my opinion.

  • Les Vega

    It’s funny I disliked the opening mission and thought the game got better as it went on, I get the feeling the reviewer expectations were way out of whack for a $20 game, I would be hard pressed to name another built vr game even in a higher price bracket that has the same level of quality and content, personaly think it’s a solid 8/10.

    • Jerald Doerr

      Wow, that’s it… I was always under the impression it was going to be a $39.99 priced game… I might just get it if it works with Revive.

  • Tom

    Are you seriously telling me that these games are better than Defector?
    This is a great site for info but a terrible site for reviews.
    9.4 – Pool Nation VR
    9.0 – Electronauts
    9.0 – The Gallery 2: Heart of the Emberstone
    9.0 – Rick and Morty
    9.0 – Sprint Vector
    8.8 – Vacation Simulator
    8.8 – Sacralith
    8.5 – Angry Birds VR: Isle of Pigs
    8.5 – Galaxy Golf
    8.5 – Transference
    8.5 – Werewolves Within
    8.3 – The Assembly
    8.3 – Red Matter
    8.0 – Arktika.1
    8.0 – Fujii
    8.0 – Eagle Flight
    8.0 – Eve: Gunjack
    8.0 – Out of Ammo
    8.0 – Transpose
    8.0 – Windlands 2
    7.5 – Syren
    7.2 – Psychonauts
    7.0 – The Mage’s Tale
    6.7 – Kittypocalypse
    6.6 – Time Machine VR
    6.5 – Feral Rites
    6.5 – ROM: Extraction
    6.0 – A Fisherman’s Tale
    6.0 – Unearthed Inc: The Lost Temple
    5.8 – Paper Valley
    5.5 – Defector

    • Les Vega

      Yeah that score seriously doesn’t match the game.

    • Bob

      Seems about right to me. The hardware reviews are generally pretty good but I think Road to VR is mainly a place where you can take in new info and developments from the VR sector and not reviews.

    • benz145

      No, this naive ranking assumes that games and player expectations are static which is not the case. We explain our approach to review rating here (note that a 5.5 puts Defector at the upper end of ‘OK’ and close to ‘Good’):

      https://www.roadtovr.com/road-vr-review-rating-scale/

      Was Pool Nation VR really good when it came out three years ago? Yes, there was pretty much nothing else like it at the time. If the same game launched tomorrow, would it be rated as well? No, because now there’s lots of other options and some of its features which were novel and impressive for the time are now expected in many cases.

      Was Half-Life 2 one of the best games at the time it launched? Yes. If the same game launched tomorrow, would it be showered with as much praise? No, because a bunch of games have done similar things since then and in many ways expanded beyond what it brought to the table, not to mention that player expectations and game design itself has changed significantly since then.

      VR game design is advancing even more rapidly than traditional game design.

      Further still, you can’t directly compare something like a social VR mini-game app to a shooter by their rating because they are different experiences and for different kinds of players (this would be like trying to compare a theater performance to a movie). Your list also attempts to compare games from one platform to others which doesn’t work when the differences between something like Gear VR and PC VR headsets is so vast.

      • david vincent

        Hey Ben, thanks for the review.

        I know a small video game website which solved their problems of score inflation, outdated scores, whining fans, etc. They just stopped to give a score at the end of their reviews and nobody complained.

        Just a friendly advice…

    • namekuseijin

      Lol @ Out of Ammo

      guess the real metric here is: if it’s vomit-inducing, 2 points are taken ;-)

    • Jerald Doerr

      Damn, where is Pavlov… Project Car 2…
      I guess I like dumb VR games…
      Aaak Gunjack!!! That games only good for porn stars needing exercise…

      All the games in this list are more like Apps…. Zero flight sims, racing sims… Or triple-A games.

      I’m not trying to bitch ( Ok that’s a lie ) but I get it… You can’t play every game unless it’s your job and you’re going to make a list and rate top VR games… Cough… Cough…

  • Zero7159

    Wow, 5.5 out of 10. That is much lower than what I would have given it. Granted, I am mid-way through Chapter 2 and so perhaps the rest of the game is crap.

    • benz145

      No one is saying the game is crap. If you read far enough to see the score, you must have also seen the prominent link that says “WE SCORE ON A LINEAR SCALE – Learn More” and explains what our ratings mean: https://www.roadtovr.com/road-vr-review-rating-scale/

  • Jonathan Winters III

    Another low scored game review from roadtovr. Why does this site insist on harsh reviews? Aren’t we supposed to be helping to grow the industry by being positive and supportive of devs? Yeesh.

    • benz145

      1) If you think it’s a good idea to inflate reviews scores to help “grow the industry” then I wholeheartedly disagree with you. Hype and inflated expectations does not help grow industries, nor does it make good games. Honest assessment of the content is the single best thing for both the industry and customers.

      2) This is not a “harsh” review, please read our review guidelines which is clearly linked right next to the score: https://www.roadtovr.com/road-vr-review-rating-scale/

    • Jerald Doerr

      Ummmm, if a person is studying to be a surgeon and they can’t even pass a test would you care to know this information before or after you were operated on?

      Would you still care about ruining his/her sales?