It’s been some time since we’ve seen a flashy new virtual reality title. But Defector, a new Oculus Rift exclusive from Wilson’s Heart maker Twisted Pixel, is here to remind us that there’s still plenty of exhilarating, over-the-top concepts VR has yet to adequately explore. The game puts players in the shoes of a Mission Impossible-style spy who must outmaneuver a global crime syndicate, all while going undercover, shooting bad guys, engaging in fist fights, and — as the trailer makes clear — pulling off ludicrous stunts like driving a car out of the cargo bay of a flying airplane.
The plot may not be all that original. And in my short time with the game’s demo earlier this month, I can reliably say that Defector is more an homage and tip of the hat to spy thriller and action franchises like James Bond and The Fast and the Furious. But it is a strong testament to how much more fun those tropes and reused storylines can be when you get to act them out in VR.
Similar to how last year’s Wilson’s Heart was about translating the dark and moody tones of old-school monster movies and horror flicks into VR, Twisted Pixel wants Defector to be a VR showcase for pulse-pounding blockbusters. The game is funded and published by Oculus Studios, the Facebook-owned company’s in-house publisher. And like many other games Oculus funds, Defector stands both as a creative endeavor and as a technical example of what VR is capable of. As we said at the end of last year, VR remains a niche product category in need of some better software and cheaper hardware, and Oculus has thus far funded many of the market’s most high-profile projects to maintain industry momentum.
Defector does have some seemingly unavoidable quirks to achieve its blend of movement freedom and shoot ‘em up combat. Unlike Sony’s Blood & Truth, a similar VR shooting simulator that puts players on rails like a Time Crisis arcade game, Defector lets you walk around environments using the Oculus Touch thumbsticks.
That’s a risky proposition, as moving your in-game body with a controller while your real-world self stands still can induce nausea. Twisted Pixel says Defector will come with a ton of settings to help players adjust the game to their own preferred comfort level, including tunneling in the screen during movement to reduce motion sickness and letting players adjust walking speed and other in-game movement elements.
Beyond those factors, Defector will be your standard top-tier narrative VR game, coming in around the same length as Wilson’s Heart (around eight hours), but with more re-playability. Twisted Pixel is including branching storylines in Defector, allowing players to tackle any given situation with branching paths that, while they won’t affect the greater narrative, do drastically change the outcome of individual missions. That way, players can go back and try the other option, which tends to be more or less action-oriented depending on the first choice.
As an example, when given the option to leave behind the crime boss my partner and I knocked out on an airplane headed into a fatal descent, I decided to let my partner take him alive by strapping a parachute to his unconscious body. (My other option was to leave him be and take the parachute for myself.) I then had to find my own way off the plane, which involved shooting my way to the cargo bay and engaging in a fistfight with a brutish thug. I then hopped into a luxury sports car, which I promptly drove at full speed out of the back of the moving plane like I was Vin Diesel escaping the Burj Khalifa. The other option would have had me presumably sky diving in VR, which sounds almost as fun.
Either option is a good example of the type of choice-driven thrills Defector wants to offer, and the game feels like it will be a much-welcomed addition to the Rift library when it comes out sometime later this year.