Defector review: An action-filled virtual joyride

Defector lets you get as close to being Ethan Hunt in Mission Impossible as most could ever hope for.

Oculus Studios
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It’s the beginning of summer, and with no typical Mission Impossible or Jason Bourne movies scheduled for release, perhaps it’s time for you to step into the role of super spy yourself. Defector, the product of Twisted Pixel Games and Oculus Studios, is your chance to play out those secret agent fantasies in virtual reality.

Defector puts you in the body of an agent on a mission and runs the gamut of typically sticky situations that super spies tend to find themselves in. Pulling from all the most popular clichés, you get to experience what it would be like if you were James Bond yourself. Defector does this to incredible effect, all without the nasty side effects of actually perishing due to some evil villain’s master plan.

You’ve got some explaining to do

Jet

Defector, like many summer action flicks, begins in the lavatory of an airplane. You insert an earpiece and contact lens which provide you with communication back to your handler at a non-descript spy agency. You’re on a mission where you're tasked with acquiring information from a sleazy weapons dealer.

As you make your way through this private jet filled with henchmen in expensive suits, it soon becomes clear that this isn’t going to end well. Channeling your inner Ethan Hunt, you’ll eventually have to choose between jumping out of the airplane with a parachute, or taking a chance on finding a different way off. Did I mention that the pilots are dead and you’re in a tailspin?

If all that sounds pretty awesome, it’s because it is. The story in Defector is told in a series of mission debriefings where you explain what happened in a variety of locales to your interviewer. It’s not clear who you work for, but it’s obvious that things didn’t go as planned. As you recount each mission, you relive them in full motion virtual reality.

Be the spy you want to be

Using the hacking tool

The controls in Defector are standard virtual reality fare and allow you the freedom of playing in just about any way you like. I began playing while standing in my Oculus Rift S’ play space and enjoyed the ability to move my secret agent in whatever method I chose. Defector is one of the few VR games that lets you take proper cover behind objects and walls, provided you’re willing to crouch down. Leaning around corners to take cover on an airplane with bullets whizzing past your head is an experience anyone should have at least a few times.

Movement occurs via full locomotion and use of the thumbsticks. There’s no teleportation here. You can choose from snap and smooth turning options and, of course, you can simply turn your own body. Seated playing is also supported and I spent the second half of the game in my rotating chair because I’m just not built for the super spy action lifestyle.

Defector provides a simple inventory system for storing mission-related items and support tools such as medkits and a hacking tool. All of your mission objectives and choices are relayed via your earpiece and contact lens. You can even activate a special scanning mode by tapping your forehead to allow you to scan for vital information. I could really use that feature in real life whenever I misplace my keys.

Fist fight

Combat comes in the form of melee and ranged weapons. You’re able to use just a small variety of firearms and the weapon and ammo reside on your hip. Thankfully, if you drop something like a weapon or tool that’s required for your mission, Defector will just place it back in your inventory or its holster automatically. Melee combat is surprisingly fun; just don’t think about what you look like to anyone watching you outside of your VR headset. There are several encounters where you’re forced into fistfights, none of which were particularly difficult to win. For the most part, however, I stuck to my guns and particularly enjoyed picking up the weapons of my enemies. There’s nothing quite like dual-wielding submachine guns and then throwing them at your opponent when you run out of ammo.

Most missions in Defector follow a well-defined path. You’re given a set of objectives, and it’s clear that you’ll only be able to accomplish some of them on any given playthrough. At some point, you’re presented with a choice of an action path and it’s mutually exclusive from the other one. However, you’ll be able to replay any mission after completion to try out the alternate option. After each mission, you unlock a variety of cheat codes and game options that can affect your next attempt in a variety of ways.

You said what now?

Combat

Defector is a great looking VR game. There are no shortcuts taken when it comes to visual fidelity and while the art style doesn’t aim for hyper-realism, each locale is wonderfully immersive and varied. You’re allowed to interact with NPCs that populate each area and a wide variety of everyday objects that are strewn about. Want to throw a random piece of plastic trash at the blackjack dealer? Sure, why not. Most of these interactions don’t cause a response, however, and you end up being able to step through non-important characters, but the environments look and feel great nonetheless.

Many of the action sequences are heavily scripted and certainly on rails, but it helps Twisted Pixel Games deliver the exact experience they intend. There’s a feeling of being in your own action movie, complete with well voice-acted characters that offer several conversation choices. The voice acting isn’t the only audio that’s well executed in Defector. Whether you’re dealing with the booming sounds of rapid air decompression on a plane, or silently sneaking through a courtyard trying to avoid detection, the sound design adds to the atmosphere.

Defector feels extremely polished, as you might expect from an Oculus Studios published title. I played on the new Oculus Rift S and its inside-out tracking didn’t disappoint once. Though absolutely playable with the built-in speakers, I did play it with a pair of proper headphones for better audio fidelity and I would recommend you do the same.

One more time, James

Arena

Length of content is an ongoing and valid concern for many VR gamers these days. Defector consists of roughly 4-5 hours’ worth of story content, which is on par with many VR experiences. Your play style will impact your time in Defector significantly, as you can easily spend more time investigating other areas and just being immersed in the environment. Since each mission presents at least one action path choice, there are definite reasons for a second playthrough. Using cheat codes to alter enemy behavior and even allowing you to become invincible can certainly entice you to return as well. That’s not even mentioning the need to complete all possible objectives, which can require several runs, too. If you’re purely talking about the story, though, it’s highly enjoyable and truly makes you feel like one of those summer action movie heroes. In the end, however, you will undoubtedly want more. At least the price-point of $19.99 seems reasonable for the content you get.

While combat is generally entertaining, and dual-wielding guns is a lot of fun, I've found that using both hands to steady a single weapon leaves something to be desired. It's supposed to help you improve your aim, and you can support any weapon with your other hand, and it looks cool while you do it. However, I found aiming to be much more challenging that way and eventually just stopped trying altogether and just held my weapon in my right hand only. The built-in scoreboard is a cool technical way of checking your next objective and is accessed by looking at your left wrist. Unfortunately, because it not only displays your current objective but also all other possible objectives in the mission, it can actually spoil a few upcoming encounters. It's not a game-breaking problem by any means but it would have been nice if Twisted Pixels had found a way to obscure upcoming events better.

Defector is easy to pick up and enjoy and could quickly become the title that you use to show off VR to your friends. I have no doubt that even inexperienced players can get into it quickly and live out their secret agent fantasies. Just keep an eye on them if they’re jumping out of that airplane for the first time.

If there’s one thing that sets Defector apart from similar VR titles it’s the level of polish. Everything in the game has a purpose and was meticulously designed. The combination of immersive action with excellent character designs backed up by great voice acting and sound design should satisfy anyone with an itch for this genre. There are other VR titles available that succeed in some of these areas, but Defector is the first of its kind that brings them all together for me.

Your mission, you should just accept it

Car in a cargo hold

If you want to drive a sports car out of the back of an airplane sometime this summer, then Defector is probably your best bet to accomplish that goal. Twisted Pixel Games and Oculus have created a wonderfully immersive and polished VR experience with Defector. Your journey will leave you wanting more so much so that you’re almost bound to go back for seconds. The graphics, sound design, voice acting, and freedom of movement are a great representation of what VR gaming can be today, and everyone should give it a try.


This review is based on an Oculus download code provided by the publisher. Defector is set to release on the Oculus Rift S and Oculus Rift on July 11, 2019.

Contributor

Jan has been playing video games for nearly 30 years and been a passionate geek for the better part of his life. When he's not grinding his way through Destiny in search of further lore, he can often be found neck deep in source code of various apps and websites. Feel free to ask him about whether or not Guardians are actually evil or not, and whether or not he'll give you some free SEO tech tips. You can follow him on Twitter @ChalkOne.

Review for
Defector
8
Pros
  • Top-notch graphics and voice acting
  • Tons of re-playability
  • Full motion control
  • Feels like being in an action movie
Cons
  • Built-in spoilers on the scoreboard
  • Two-handed weapon aiming not very good
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