Editor’s Note: We’ve recently played an updated demo since this preview originally published on April 13th, 2018, and since the core mechanics (and our thoughts) are the same we’ve republished this hands-on once again. More coverage to come.
Becoming a secret spy is the ultimate fantasy for a lot of people. You get to drive fast cars, use special gadgets, and take down international crime syndicates with style and flair. Not to mention the awesome J.B. names like James Bond, Jason Bourne, and Jack Bauer. Defector, the latest VR game from Wilson’s Heart developer Twisted Pixel, taps directly into that fantasy to deliver a fast-paced thrill ride of an action game.
The closest thing to Defector I’ve seen in VR so far would have to be PlayStation VR World’s The London Heist, which is the basis for Blood & Truth, another upcoming PSVR-exclusive from the same London Heist team. What Defector does is take that core concept of being an action hero and layer it with heaps of espionage and branching missions.
The gameplay video above shows a great example. About a third of the way through the mission I’m presented with a decision: should I strap the parachute on myself and jump out of the plane to try and grapple onto the neighboring plane? Or should I shoot my way through the cargo bay and drive a sports car out of the plane like a complete badass? You get to see both outcomes if you watch the entire video.
Twisted Pixel was clear when I talked with them about the game that they want their missions to have real, meaningful branches that actually alter the course of the story and gameplay. While the overarching narrative will stay the same regardless, the path you take to each mission’s conclusions could be dramatically different — as mentioned above. This not only incentivizes multiple playthroughs (especially when considering each mission’s laundry list of bonus objectives) but it gives the player an increased sense of agency which is so crucial in VR games.
On top of that, Defector really did make me feel like a Mission: Impossible-esque spy. During dialogue scenes I can pull up a dossier full of information on my target to analyze their personality and weaknesses. How I handled conversations directly influences things and contributes to how the level might play out.
Even though my demo ended with me driving a car out of a plane (Fast & Furious style) the developers teased that it was one of the more tame levels by comparison. I’m not sure my heart rate can handle something much more intense than that. I could feel my adrenaline pumping and my stomach lurching as I plummeted towards the other plane after leaping from an expensive muscle car. Honestly there’s nothing quite like it in VR right now.
Ultimately it’s going to come down to how well the levels are balanced overall and what type of gameplay variety there will be. If every mission boils down to walk around under cover or hiding, take out some enemies, then executive a bombastic escape plan, it’s gonna get real boring real fast.
But I’ve got my fingers crossed that they have a few tricks up their sleeves. The gunplay felt good and accurate, requiring me to take cover in the environment and aim my shots well. The demo featured full smooth locomotion (a far cry from Wilson’s Heart’s pre-scripted teleportation spots) and once I enabled smooth turning it really opened up the possibilities for gameplay. In a way, it feels like the game Blood & Truth desperately wants to be but can’t.
Defector has the potential to set the tone for the next coming wave of VR-only titles. In an era that’s currently dominated by VR ports of non-VR games (LA Noire, Skyrim, Fallout 4, Resident Evil 7) it will be interesting to see if a built-for-VR first title like this has enough juice to command the discussion for longer than just its launch week. At least it isn’t another wave shooter.
Defector is slated for a 2018 release exclusively for the Oculus Rift with Touch. Let us know what you think of the game so far down in the comments below! And for more on Twisted Pixel’s work in VR, read (or watch) our Wilson’s Heart review right here.