Defender holds a special place in the hearts of gamers over thirty. Most can probably remember the first time they saw the game, because when it debuted it was better looking and more exciting than any other arcade game to date. There have been plenty of arcade classics re-released in an attempt to capture feelings of nostalgia in aging gamers, but rather than repackaging the game's original code Midway has updated the classic game bringing it into the world of 3D gaming and into the 21st Century.
The basic aspects of the original game are still there. Alien landers drop from the sky to snatch spacesuit-wearing colonists without the sense to stay out of the open. If a lander captures a colonist, it will soon thereafter merge with the colonist into a deadly and aggressive mutant. You are charged with preventing this from happening and saving the colonists by blasting the invading aliens out of the sky. You can also pick up the colonists before the landers reach them, and up to three at a time can hang on for dear life under your ship. If you take the colonists to a designated drop-off zone, you will be rewarded with additional ammunition or with health power-ups.
The original Defender game gave you a single ship armed with a laser weapon and a smart bomb that would take out everything on the screen in a single blast. Now you'll have your choice of one of six ships, although you'll have to unlock some of them by completing missions. Each ship is rated on speed, armor, agility, and strength, and you can feel the difference in control when flying each of the ships. Ship selection makes a difference in the missions, as some missions will require you to cover a lot of ground rescuing colonists while others will have you going toe-to-toe against waves of alien invaders. Each ship also comes with a slightly different array of weapons, which include guided missiles, multiple projectile weapons, and ground attack bombs. If you score well in a mission, you are given points that you can use to purchase additional weapons for your selected ship before the start of the next mission .
As alluded to earlier, gameplay has evolved beyond the repetitive nature of the original. Instead of simply facing progressively faster waves of landers, you're given a variety of mission types. Of course, in a nod of respect to the original game you will face missions that require you to pick up colonists before the waves of landers can capture them and mutate. However, other missions include objectives such as ship escort and base defense. The initial missions are set in the outer reaches of the Solar System, and you must fight your way through 20 levels, eventually reaching Earth and fighting to free it from the invaders.
Unfortunately, the 20 missions do not contain as much gameplay as you might think. Some missions are surprisingly short, and you'll be able to play through the entire game in around ten hours, maybe even less. The mission objectives are surprisingly forgiving, and you can advance to the next mission even after achieving a negative score. The game features two multiplayer modes to help extend the life of the game: deathmatch and cooperative. Defender is primarily a shooter, so the deathmatch mode does not provide enough to hold the interest of players for too long. You can only fly around in circles, furiously tapping the fire key until someone blows up, for so long. You'll get more mileage out of the cooperative mode which teams you up with a friend to protect colonists from the aliens.