Back in the middle of the summer I mentioned the Defect Kickstarter from Thee Phase Interactive that, as it turned out following my original post, successfully raised its funding goal. Since that time, the Defect: Ship Destruction Kit early access launched on Steam as is available for everyone to purchase and jump into. And then, about three weeks ago, Three Phase Interactive sent DBB an email to offer us access to the game so that we might write up a quick Defect early access hands-on article to give everyone a glimpse into the game.
So here I am finally finding a bit of time to write up something about Defect a day before Christmas. As you can imagine it has been a busy time of year and that hasn’t left a lot of time for gaming. Nonetheless, I did manage to get a bit of hands-on time with Defect in order to bring you some insight on the game. You know me…I’m a giver!
Oh, by the way, on a side note, you will noticed that the game video embedded below is not from DBB this time. Instead, I have embedded a video from the Down Time Distractions YouTube channel. Down Time Distrations is a fan of Death by Beta, and we and going to start cross promoting each other a little bit. You can find the link to the DTD channel on the side bar.
Anyway, back to the game.
The name of Defect: Ship Destruction Kit is probably enough to give you a decent idea of what the game will entail. In a nut shell, you build a ship, you fly said ship, you lose the ship, and you start again. Of course, there are plenty of details encompassed by that statement, but it is important that you understand upfront that Defect is very much a “going back to the drawing board” sort of game. If you aren’t cool with continually designing and building a new ship on a very regular basis then Defect might not be for you.
The story behind of the game seems straight forward. You are a captain in the space navy protecting some planet somewhere in the galaxy, and you are helping to wage a war that is costing far too much money. As a result, the navy is forced to rely on prisoners to crew the ships. Oh yeah, we can all guess how well that is going to turn out. Anyway, that is more or less the story, or at least I think it is. It didn’t really captivate me and so I didn’t pay it much attention.
However, the story does set up the context of the gameplay cycle that you will go through again and again. First, you must build your ship to tackle any one of the available missions. It is here that Defect: SDK really shines. The ship construction phase is wonderfully deep for those that want to tinker with ship design. I am only about a third of the way into the game and already I have access to a huge number of components, and from what I can tell there are many more to come.
Ship construction actually can become very involved depending on how thorough you are about squeezing every ounce of power out of your ship. You must balance available power, available crew, mass, speed, steering, and so on. Every single available component either adds or subtracts to all of those stats, and it can lead to a delicate dance of trying to fit on everything you want. And because many missions require specific designs to ensure success you can expect to spend a lot of time designing the perfect ship. Oh, and did I mention that you always have to build a new ship after every mission? No, well more on that later on. Thankfully you can save and load your designs for future use.
Actually running the missions themselves is where Defect starts to become less interesting. Flying your ship is conducted using a direct top down view. If you have ever played games like SPAZ or VoidExpanse then you will have a good idea of how Defect plays. You rotate and thrust your ship using the WASD keys. You can also choose the aim and fire your weapons if you like, or leave that up to your crew. In fact, any component can be used under direct control in order to make it more effective. Want to go faster? Take direct control of your engines. Want more defense? Take direct control of your hull. Want to aim your weapons? Take control of them.
It sounds great, but in practice the direct control system is paper thin. In reality you a simply selecting any one of a range of bonuses for you ship, be that speed, armor, agility, and so on. Direct control of your weapons is the most tangible effect, while the rest are simply passive for the most part. That isn’t to say direct control isn’t important, because in many cases having extra speed or armor or whatever can be the difference between mission success or failure. It just isn’t an interesting system in my opinion.
And in fact this is the biggest problem with the missions that I have seen thus far. They just aren’t interesting. You warp in and pretty much do something similar every time. Protect something, scan something, or destroy something, all while fending off waves of smaller ships. After awhile the missions all blurred together.
This isn’t helped by the last phase of the game, which is really the calling card for Defect. At the end of each mission you will have to face whatever ship you designed and used in the previous mission. You see, using prisoners as crew isn’t the stellar idea that it sounds like, and successfully completing each mission will see you floating in space while your crew mutinies and makes off with your shiny new ship. They return in the next mission to have it out with you. Take them out and you will have the satisfaction of knowing that you turned your old crew to space dust moments before your latest crew decides to chuck you out the air lock.
This rinse and repeat aspect of the game will either captivate you or bore you, depending on the type of gamer you are. If you love the idea of building new ships all the time in order to overcome new challenges and your own designs then you will love this game. Me personally, I find it a bit tedious. The missions all feel similar, although they generally need a different type of ship to beat them in each case. That is fine in theory, but unfortunately there is very little indication of what that type of ship will be until you try the mission once or twice, or maybe multiple times. And of course you also need to worry about facing your previous design. Hopefully you didn’t make it too perfect.
Perhaps I am missing some critical and compelling aspect to Defect. Reading over the glowing feedback from other Steam users make me think so. Defect seems like a great concept, and to certain gamers it probably is a great in terms of how it is implemented. Me, however, I just can’t get into it. As I said earlier, I am about a third of the way through the game and so perhaps it gets far more interesting later on. The problem is that I simply lacking the motivation to bang my head against the wall in the ship construction phase in order to successfully finish any more of the missions.
Don’t get me wrong, a game being challenging isn’t inherently a bad thing. I like a challenge, but only as long as it makes sense. Unfortunately the deeper I go into Defect the less sense it makes to me. There is very little motivation for me to keep designing ships over and over to hammer through missions that all feel very similar, and where failure is due to some misstep in my design that I couldn’t foresee. Plus, the reason for failure isn’t always clear to me even after the fact, adding to the frustration. Gamers that love tinkering and building non-stop will probably have lots to love in Defect, but it seems that I am just not one of them.
To be fair, Defect is still in early access testing and therefore is subject to change. Plus, it is only about $15 right now, so it isn’t like it is a huge investment of cash to try out. Like I said, plenty of other gamers are (mostly) giving Defect good reviews, so take my opinion with a grain of salt. Defect is a slick game in many ways, but I think it caters to a very particular type of gamer. If it sounds like your sort of thing then you should give it a look. More importantly, if anything I have said makes it sound like it isn’t your sort of thing, then it probably isn’t.
I really want to like Defect, but so far that hasn’t become a reality for me. Hopefully your mileage will vary.
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