XDefiant review: COD meets Counter-Strike

XDefiant is Ubisoft's latest free-to-play shooter with a competitive angle.

Remember when every shooter decided to incorporate wallrunning and a double jump of some description? The genre certainly went through a phase, and Ubisoft’s own Hyper Scape took shooter mobility to new extremes, with ant-sized players leaping across buildings and shooting into the sky. It was fun for a minute, but  aiming at those ant-sized dots as they zip across the skyline got old fast. Hyper Scape was the nail in the coffin of shooters with hyper-mobile toolsets, and was shut down less than two years after launching.

I think it’s important to keep that in mind when talking about XDefiant, because it is the antithesis to that idea of “more mobility equals better gameplay.” I personally think there’s some truth to that statement, but mainstream shooters have gone back to boots-on-the-ground gunplay for a reason. XDefiant, in many ways, feels a bit old school, but I think that’s why I like it.

You can’t go prone, and walls that you can climb up are clearly marked with yellow tarp – when it comes to movement, it feels more limited than even the recent Call of Duty games, where you can dive through windows and hang from walls while taking potshots with your pistol. But XDefiant’s roster feels light, swift, responsive – you might not be rocketjumping and wallrunning, but you can sprint across the map pretty quickly, sliding into cover if you get spotted by a foe.

The gunplay is solid and engaging.
The gunplay is solid and engaging. / Ubisoft

Like Counter-Strike, the limited lanes and lines of sight means that you end up knowing what to expect, in a good way. You formulate gameplans based on where enemies are spawning, where the objective is, what lines of sight or hiding places there are nearby, and the enemies respond by doing everything they can to scupper your plans. XDefiant feels like it was designed to be a competitive shooter – a little bit stale, in other words – but the gunplay makes up for it.

Sprinting down lanes with your pistol, only to slide as you swap weapons to gun down foes – that’s not a play you’re likely to see in Counter-Strike, but XDefiant’s faster pace and characters allow for a bit of buffoonery. While one person going full “Leeroy Jenkins” can ruin the game for everyone in CS, it’s part of the routine in XDefiant, and it can offer some pretty good results. There’s your usual variety of snipers, ARs, SMGs, LMGs, and marksman rifles to play with. It’s a very standard selection of guns recognizable from any “realistic” shooter, and the gunplay generally feels good and responsive – even more so when you’re running the game at 120fps on Xbox Series X or PS5.

This does take a few cues from the Hero Shooter subgenre though. There are five Factions within the game, each taken from a Ubisoft series: The Division, Ghost Recon, Splinter Cell, Watch Dogs 2, and Far Cry 6. It’s fun to remember that this game was originally titled “Tom Clancy’s XDefiant” and that name was probably dropped when they realized that there weren’t enough recognizable characters or factions from Ubisoft’s Tom Clancy games. What were they going to do, include the pilot from HAWX?

Most of the game modes are point-control focused.
Most of the game modes are point-control focused. / Ubisoft

Despite dipping into the Ubisoft library, there aren’t actually any recognizable characters here – no Sam Fisher, what were they thinking? – and the Factions only serve as a way to partition the special abilities, which are unique to each. Each Faction has three playable characters with one available from each at the start (save for Watch Dogs 2’s Deadsec, which requires completing an in-game Major Challenge to access), but it seems the unlockable characters are really just excuses to sell you extra skins.

Unlocking and upgrading weapons is a fair grind, too. New weapons are unlocked by completing in-game challenges, such as getting AR headshots, or a set amount of damage with a weapon type, and so on. This encourages you to be diverse with the weapons you use – helped along with a generous number of custom loadout slots – but even if you rack up kills in games and place top of the board, there’s no guarantee your weapon will level up. You’re likely better off using the in-game default loadouts until you unlock more, as the weapons included in those have attachments that won’t be available for your custom loadouts for several hours of play.

Those hours of play will currently take place on 14 fairly diverse and interesting maps based on “familiar” Ubisoft locations (it might be a while before you get to explore Splinter Cell’s Echelon HQ again), which is a decent number to kick the game off with. It has all the game modes you’d expect too: Escort (push the cart), Zone Control, Domination, Occupy, and Hot Shot (kill confirmed with the highest-scoring player marked on the map). Unfortunately, the three zone-control style modes in the middle end up feeling a bit too similar to one another, and that’s where the repetition can set in.

The Escort game mode is one of the best.
The Escort game mode is one of the best. / Ubisoft

This is a free-to-play game, but luckily all in-game purchases so far are limited to skins on the store and a 50-level battle pass which will take a large amount of game time to actually complete. If you’re willing to grind for the long haul, it might be worth it for you.

Ultimately, XDefiant is free-to-play, so there’s not going to be any buyer's remorse if it’s not for you, but I found it to be a surprisingly competent and enjoyable shooter. It straddles the line between COD’s bold, nonsense plays, and Counter-Strike’s methodical strategy, with a few typical Hero Shooter staples thrown in for good measure. When you’re playing with randoms online it’s almost always going to devolve into that nonsense gameplay, but when I’m playing a multiplayer shooter without a group, that’s exactly what I’m looking for. I’m not sure it’ll change the shooter landscape, but XDefiant is doing more things right than Hyper Scape ever did.

Score: 7/10

Platform tested: PS5

Dave Aubrey


GLHF Deputy Editor. Nintendo fan. Rapper. Pretty good at video games.