Ambition is great, especially in the video game industry. VR, motion controls, the next biggest truly open world, are all leaps in the industry. Too often, however, games try to be too ambitious (looking at you No Man’s Sky) and end up being as big as an ocean but an inch deep. Defunct, the first game from developer Freshly Squeezed, doesn’t try to be something it’s not, rather it leans hard into its few simple mechanics and compact story. This leads it to be a straightforward, simple, and polished game.
Defunct is a charming game where you are a sort of worker robot in a futuristic world. Instead of legs, you sport a large wheel powered by a busted (Defunct) engine. You accidentally get thrown out of your spaceship with the trash and need to find your way back. Though your engine is weak you are armed with much more important equipment.
A gravity generator speeds you down hills and a jump and boos let you fly over obstacles. You get to race through a cartoony beautiful world that varies wildly through each compact level. The story is just a vehicle for the racing gameplay here but the cutscenes are nice with a touch of WALL-E wordless humor. Your robot throws a dismissive hand back towards troublesome obstacles as you pass by them and goes crazy when he wipes out.
The visual style gives great vistas with very average graphical quality. The environments are boxy and flat, but the variations of hills and forest regions still end up looking awfully pretty. The game is focused on speed, and the view looks impressive considering how fast you fly by it, but even when you toddle along looking for the secrets, the maps still have charm.
The boosts and pickups are large and easy to find, making them easy to get a big boost from while still being a challenge to collect a row of them at full speed. The gravity engine lights up green when speeding you down hills and red when it’s slowing you on an uphill, but this effect is sometimes obscured by the grass in the map.
Freshly Squeezed did a great job grabbing a composer for a varied and pleasant game soundtrack. Songs fit the levels well and give a sense of progression through the game. The boosts and other sounds are easy enough that they didn’t get annoying even after trying to break a time trial for hours straight.
The mechanics of Defunct’s gameplay get one of the best compliments gamers can give: they are easy to learn and difficult to master. The gravitize engine is the core element in the game. Simply click to turn it on and you either race downhill or drop faster out of the sky. Keep it held while you start an uphill, however, and you grind to a halt quickly.
The best part of this is that you can feasibly be bad at the gravity mechanic and still find a way to complete the game, but if you master it the game gets so much more exciting and rewarding. The jumps and boosts can be used on their own, but generally serve to compliment the gravitize engine. Jump and boost over a hilly valley and hit your gravitize to land at the start of a downhill section to blaze through a map.
It is amazing how much this gravity mechanic defines this game, it is responsive enough that it goes from green (downhill) to red (uphill) on moderately rolling terrain, but the game also provides plenty of easy steep hills for you to learn on. other powerups and mechanics can be utilized or unlocked through the game. You can magnetize to walls, or pick up a selectable boost to use at the right time, and maps offer other ways to get around from rails to fans and more.
It should be taken as a bit of a compliment when my biggest complaint about this game is that I want more of it, but it just isn’t there. Fox example; this game could have absolutely taken off with mod support and custom map building. Instead of 11 levels, Defunct could have had hundreds or thousands of levels from long and casual to crazy hard speedrun challenges.
Multiplayer would also have been a nice addition as well. This could have been head to head races, ghost time-trial races or even local split screen with the simple controls and controller support. If not, the story could have been a bit longer. Most players can complete the story in a few hours with some knocking it out in less than an hour.
One thing the short story and hard to master gameplay has provided is an abundance of speedrun attempts. Defunct has a few dedicated speedrunners who have figured out every hill and slope, shortcut and minor hack in the game and can put together runs of about 15 minutes. Watching a speedrun shows off how stable and exhilaratingly fast Defunct can be. Unfortunately, it’s tough to get these results yourself without significant practice, leaving me wanting a bit more out of the game.
Ultimately, Defunct is a blast to play, and often being on sale for as low as a single dollar it is well worth the short gameplay. Chances are that you will play it through more than once too. I went back to my favorite levels, the hills in the beginning in particular, just to see if I could do a bit better.
For a first game, Defunct is a solid offering. I would be hyped for a Defunct 2, though I would expect a longer story and many more features. If you really like trying to beat your times or going for full-on speedruns, than Defunct is a steal of a deal that will provide endless hours of shaving a few seconds off your time. If you just want a one-off story and fun racer, Defunct still accomplishes this in a short but appropriately priced package.
- Simple but effective use of cartoon graphics
- “easy to learn/hard to master” mechanics
- Amazing value
- Short if you just play it once
- Could have had many more options
- Can sometimes be hard to get the rewarding streaks of speed to last