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XDefiant review – Overwatch meets Call of Duty in an Ubisoft theme park
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XDefiant review – Overwatch meets Call of Duty in an Ubisoft theme park

It is not difficult to sum up XDefiant, Ubisoft’s new free-to-play arena-based shooter. It’s Overwatch crossed with Call of Duty. Or maybe Apex Legends crossed with Counter-Strike. Whichever comparison you go for, what it definitely isn’t is a wildly original video game. But that’s not a problem if it works. And actually, it does.

XDefiant pitches teams of six players against each other in a variety of extremely familiar game types, such as Occupy, where players seek to seize a sequence of lone control points, and Domination, where they attempt to seize three control points at once. As in Activision’s long-running hit Overwatch, the visuals are bright and sunny, almost cartoon-like, and the locations are compact, like discrete areas in some sort of homicidal theme park. When you’re playing the Escort mode, where one team has to nudge a robotic vehicle through the map, it’s so similar to the Escort mode in Overwatch you’ll be continually struck with deja vu as you play. On top of that, the different classes of selectable characters (or factions as they’re called here) are so distinct and specifically powered, they’re much more like the individual heroes of Overwatch than the interchangeable spec-ops hard nuts of the latest Call of Duty titles.

XDefiant.View image in fullscreen

However, in its use of highly recognisable modern assault rifles, submachine guns and shotguns, the gunplay in XDefiant is much closer to Call of Duty. In fact, CoD veterans will recognise a lot of the names – the M16, the AK-47, the P-90 – like a ghastly roll call of household murder brands. The XP system is also distinctly Call of Duty-flavoured, allowing players to unlock new gun parts, projectiles and other items through killing enemies, achieving game objectives and meeting various daily and weekly challenges.

The feel of the game ricochets between all of its main genre rivals. The combination of three-lane and circular map elements means enemies are always coming at you from multiple directions, making for dramatic choke-point face-offs. The action is super-fast-paced, aggressive and often flamboyant, thanks to the Overwatch-style ability system that gives each faction a range of special offensive, passive and ultra abilities. Wherever you run, there are napalm drones flying about, electromagnetic barriers being deployed and stun-bots leaping on people’s faces. But the guns have an authentic weight and realism to them, which makes shootouts tense, exciting and also demanding: the weapons are pretty inaccurate until you start unlocking extras such as optics and rear grips.

Where it falls down slightly is environmental traversal. Apex Legends developer Respawn has a rule that any wall or object that looks scalable absolutely should be, whereas in XDefiant, the only vertical surfaces you can clamber on to are marked with yellow paint or covers, so you don’t get that joyous sense of fluidity and athleticism. Also, the game clearly wants you to play as a team, selecting the best factions and then working together on objectives; but unless you are playing with people you know, most sessions end up with everyone separating into their preferred weapon types and silently operating as lone wolves – just like any CoD public server on a Friday night.

What sets XDefiant apart is the fact that the maps and selectable character factions are drawn from Ubisoft games – so you can fight as the Cleaners from The Division, who specialise in flame weapons, or the Libertad freedom fighters from Far Cry 6, who are great at healing. Environments, too, are mostly inspired by familiar franchises. Dumbo from The Division is a snowy block of Manhattan, the open streets flanked with abandoned stores; Echelon HQ from Splinter Cell is a sleek hi-tech office, lined with mezzanine levels, back corridors and air ducts to sneak through. It’s a big celebration of the company’s history, like an Ubisoft version of Mario Party – if Bowser and Princess Daisy were trying to kill each other with light machine guns.

For a free game, supported by a Battle Pass and store that sell only cosmetic goods and XP boosts, XDefiant is a hugely impressive release, with plenty of promise for the future. It’s not doing anything new at all (one or two vaguely innovative game modes would have been nice at least), but it manages to bring a distinct Ubisoft feel to a crowded market base of team shooters: slick, instinctive and ostentatious, with a similar offensive range to Rainbow Six, just played at five times the speed.

Those tiring of Overwatch 2, Call of Duty or Counter-Strike, who want a fresh take on the format and have a penchant for Ubi franchises, have many happy hours of shooting, hiding and grinding for XP ahead.

Source: theguardian.com