For anyone who grew up in the early eighties Defender was a game that ate up more quarters than many would like to admit. It was simple in design and premise, save the humans from the onslaught of insectoid creatures. Flying back and forth across planets saving humans and destroying the masses was fun and quite addictive. The controls were simple, fire button and a smart bomb button in addition to the flying controls. Fast forward to 2002 and we find that Midway is in the fashion of bringing back some of these games with the modern 3D twist complete with new ideas while trying to be true to the classics. Last years Spy Hunter was an admirable update to another eighties classic. Defender, however is a different story. While Midway has done a good job of mixing original and classic content into the game, it still feels like a run of the mill shooter with the lucrative Defender franchise name. The end result is not exactly poor but something that has you earning for more of what it does not have.
The new Defender looks pretty good. The developers took the original design, which was not much if you know the classic, and have come up with a cool, sleek looking Defender ship. In addition to the Defender model, other models become available as you progress through the game. Each has its own unique look and attributes, but lets face it; the Defender model is the most versatile and reliable. The games environments are varied and look very good. The textures are varied and subtle lighting effects are used to showcase the weapon explosions and to enhance small cities and military bases. Even more variety in level design would have made things a little more interesting. Unfortunately there is a bit of draw-in and pop-up that can annoy at times but does not really affect the overall look or play of the game. The soundtrack is competent, as are the sound effects and solid voice work from the professional talent Midway hired for this game.
The ship controls for the most part are good. Each ship controls differently and therefore you will need to spend time with each one in order to control it properly. We found the Defender to be the most rounded in terms of control and weapon upgrades. The others are either too fast or too slow and this becomes an issue, as an important aspect of the game is your ability to rescue colonists who are either stranded or captured by the bugs. When they are picked up, you must deliver them to a drop off point so they can be taken to another location. If your ship is difficult to handle, you will end up losing hoards of colonists. Dead colonists are no good as you are docked important upgrade points. The gameplay tends to be fast and relentless in pace. Immediately after dealing with one problem, your commander will inform you that further colonists are in trouble or that another part of the area needs your assistance. While the intensity is good it tends to frustrate when you cannot deal with that many issues at once. Untimely colonist deaths are imminent and virtually impossible to avoid.
Defender has a fair bit of replay value to it due to how the levels are set up across our solar system with the ultimate showdown-taking place on Earth towards the end of the game. The two-player modes are pretty pathetic and annoying. It would seem that someone decided to throw them in at the last moment in hopes of garnering more interest from the consumer. In these cases it is best to leave it out and implement it properly in any future versions of the franchise.
Those looking for some nostalgia will not be disappointed, neither will those players looking for some alien blasting fun. The problem is there is nothing new in the space-shooting genre that we had envisioned. Regardless, give Defender a rental before passing final judgement.