Saturday, December 31, 2016

2016: Hitting My Stride

2016 has proven to be an interesting year for myself.  It was a year of many ups, along with many changes.  From finishing my first year of college to earning my black belt, I have changed quite a lot as an individual, especially after black belt grading, in which my old self was shed and out came a new, more lively and outgoing individual, but one who was determined to get the job done, no matter the cost.  However, it has also been a year of tremendous growth for both my writing skills and the blog which has been staying strong since its creation last year.  In an essence, 2016 was the year in which I hit my stride.

When the year began, things were relatively routine, as it began with a month filled with reviews of Wii games, then in early February, I got the letter.  While pulling up my GameFaqs account, I noticed I had received a message back in November from Aaron Elias of Cubed3, asking me if I would be interested in writing reviews for their publication.  After responding to the letter, I got the gig.  Currently, I have seven reviews published at their site, and I plan on continuing to be a freelance writer for them as long as possible.

In fact, this was a year that saw many changes, among them, the summer line-up, which called for two game reviews, one movie review, and one anime review during the months of June and July.  Initially, I had planned on covering television shows both live-action and animated, but I'm only focusing on anime in order to keep things in line with my schedule.  In October, I conducted an interview with Jayme Schmitt and Bishop of DreamScape Reality Productions, which would see publication later in December.  I had a great time doing the interview with the two, but the question that remains is will I continue to do these?  Yes; the plan, starting from 2017 and onwards, is to have one interview done in the summer, and another in the winter, who gets questioned, however, is all on the table.  I have a list of potential candidates written down in a journal, it's just a matter of whether or not they would be up to doing an interview.

Although this year was a great one, there were a couple of missteps.  While my output of reviews was largely consistent, it started to slip during August and went on a downward spiral up until October.  The reason was simple: reality.  The thrill of getting back into school, combined with the added work hours, handicapped my creative processes, as I lacked the urge to write during those months.  As much as I like writing, there are other things I have to do in order to ensure that I can continue with what I do, such as doing strong in school, keeping my job in order to have a source of income, and continuing my training at Purple Dragon.  Things picked up in October with Drive-In of Terror, but even then, I only got four out of the six planned reviews published.  Fortunately, doing the interview got me back into the groove of things, and now things should be stable.

With that said, what's in store for next year?  There are some changes coming to the blog, namely, in the months of August and September, only two reviews will be published as a means for me to focus more on getting back to school and work, without having to feel much pressure about writing, though in October, Drive-In of Terror will return with the slate of reviews on horror-related films and games.  Additionally, there will also be reviews of older games, specifically ones from the PlayStation 2/Xbox/Gamecube era, but don't expect to see any until later in the year.

I'm glad with how much the blog has grown and I want to continue on with what I do.  In the summer, my blog surpassed one thousand views, which I was extremely grateful for, but at the same time, I realized that I have to keep on doing what I do in order to ensure that readers get what they want and that they aren't disappointed by what they see.  Till then, I'll see you in 2017, so long as the Ravager invasion doesn't derail things.

William Lowery's Favorite Games of 2016

As 2016 comes to a close the time comes again in which I rank my favorite titles that I played this year, a feat which was challenging than usual as many games were played, so deciding the favorites was a tricky proposition.  Some these will be of no surprise, while others will, but without further ado, these are my favorite games of 2016.

10. Earth Defense Force 4.1: The Shadow of New Despair (PlayStation 4)
Even though this is a re-release that doesn't stop Earth Defense Force 4.1 from making this list.  While the core game is the same as Earth Defense Force 2025, a number of tweaks, changes, and additions made greatly improve the experience.  These details are minor, such as the graphical enhancements which not only make the visuals colorful, but also iron out the framerate problems and shorten the lengthy load times found in 2025.  Yet other changes are more significant; namely, the addition of an instruction manual that clears out many of the issues in controlling the four character classes.  Combine that with the intense but entertaining gameplay, and Earth Defense Force 4.1 maintains its position as the best in the series to date.

9. House of the Dead: Overkill (Wii)
Whenever a series is given new life, the developers tend to alter the formula as a means to try something new.  In the case of House of the Dead: Overkill, developer Headstrong Games flips the franchise on its head and cranks out an installment that's a far cry from earlier entries.  Taking great inspiration from low-budget B-movies and Quentin Taratino films, the game is loud, violent, and obscene in all of the right ways.  The story is entertaining in its ridiculousness and the presentation enhances the game through its usage of filming techniques such as grainy filters, continuity errors, and missing scenes that add to the feeling you're playing a late-night drive-in movie.  The on-rails shooting, while simplistic, is very delightful in its approach, featuring satisfying gunplay and multiple weapons to unlock and use against the hordes of the undead.  For those who can handle bad taste, this is a good time.

8. Mortal Kombat (Xbox 360)
Fighting games are one of those genres that I should have more experience in, but I don't.  So in playing this 2011 reboot of the long-running series, I had to learn to play smart and not rely heavily on mindless button mashing.  Though accessible to players of all skill types, Mortal Kombat rewards those who grasp its mechanics in order to succeed, much like learning real-life fighting of any form.  The combat is furious and brutal, but incredibly polished, and the game features a wealth of modes to help you improve your technique.  Mortal Kombat for all its intents and purposes, is a flawless victory.

7. Far Cry 4 (PlayStation 4)
Sequels can do one of two things, either take the existing formula and add new mechanics or make tweaks to problems the prior title had, or offer up more of the same, all while polishing up what made the previous entry so great.  Far Cry 4 is a mixture of both of those ideologies; it follows the same structure that Far Cry 3 had and refines the formula to a tee, yet it also adds in a host of new ideas which keeps the experience entertaining through and through.  Liberating outposts and freeing Kyrat from Pagan Min's grasp is very enjoyable, especially with the new weapons, vehicles, and skills that are available to use.  Though the story isn't strong as in Far Cry 3 and Ajay Ghale isn't as compelling a protagonist as Jason Brody or the all-mighty Rex Power Colt, this doesn't stop this fourth installment from being a well-made follow-up to the third game.

6. Mass Effect 3 (Xbox 360)
Mass Effect 2 was a huge surprise for me, it was a game that I had initially not touched, but when I played it, I discovered it to be a compelling experience, and couldn't wait to experience the conclusion to the adventures of William Shepard.  This third installment raises the stakes across the board, as the Alliance and the crew of the Normandy finds themselves coming together in the darkest of times as the Reapers threaten to eradicate all life.  Without the experience of the first two games, the emotional impact Mass Effect 3 leaves in many scenarios isn't as strong, as multiple characters and their arcs are brought to an end here, often with the sacrifice of their lives for the greater good.  The gameplay is a refinement of Mass Effect 2's formula, combat is more fluid and dynamic, with improved level design that offers plenty of opportunities for players to mix up their tactics.

5. Wolfenstein: The New Order (PlayStation 4)
First-person shooters have come a long way since the days of Wolfenstein 3D and Doom, and what Wolfenstein: The New Order does is offer an experience that's old-school in design, but takes many cues from modern-day games, both in story and gameplay.  The narrative is serious but also fantastical, offering a world in which the Nazis rule every nation and more diabolically, have landed on the moon and built a base there.  B.J. Blaskowitz, a man from a past long gone, is not content with what society has become and is determined to end the Third Reich's reign once and for all.  Combat is entertaining yet brutal, featuring a slew of guns for Blaskowitz to use in levels that offer multiple secrets to find and alternate routes to take.  This game, along with another title, show that though the landscape of shooters has changed, sometimes, it's best to go back to basics.

4. Batman: Arkham Knight (PlayStation 4)
During the last console generation, the Arkham series took a character that had a hit-and-miss record with his games, and crafted a quadrilogy of solid, interesting titles centered around the Caped Crusader.  The storyline that began in Batman: Arkham Asylum comes to a close here, with a plot that raises the stakes in regards to its narrative and for the character of Batman himself.  The writing examines what these events do to a man such as Bruce Wayne, which is furthered by the presence of an old face.  The gameplay, too, ups the ante by polishing the well-known fighting mechanics and adding in new maneuvers for Batman to unleash on the criminals.  The introduction of the Batmobile adds a new angle to traversing the environment, solving puzzles, and taking on enemies.

3. Tomb Raider (Xbox 360)
Prior to playing Tomb Raider, the series was one I knew about solely because of Lara Croft herself, but what the developers did here was create a game that can stand out on its as a fantastic experience.  The 2013 title is a reboot, showing gamers how the famed archaeologist got her starts, and as it turns out, it was quite a start.  The narrative highlights the hurdles and trials Croft went through as she has to save her friends and get off the mysterious island of Yamatai.  At the end, she emerges a changed person, someone who is not afraid to take on difficult tasks.  Meanwhile, the gameplay is as compelling as the narrative, offering a great mixture of combat, exploration, platforming, with a dash of puzzle-solving thrown in.  For those that have yet to play this game, I strongly suggest you do so.

2. Alien Isolation (PlayStation 4)
Alien Isolation is a surprise; after the release of the controversial Aliens: Colonial Marines, there was much doubt over the future of the franchise in gaming form.  Then comes developer Creative Assembly, a studio best known for the Total War series, who not only creates a title that was leagues better than Colonial Marines, but also one that was a departure from many of the prior games.  Instead of offering pulse rifles and hundreds of xenomorphs to kill, this is all about survival.  Alien Isolation is about thinking smart, deciding when it's safe to move on or when you should hide because there's an alien nearby.  It induces tension in all of the right ways, and excellent sound design lets you know when and where the beast is.  Combine that with a good plot and top-notch graphics which successfully recreate Ridley Scott's vision of the future as shown in Alien, and you have a fantastic title.

Before my overall favorite of this year is revealed, these are some honorable mentions:
  • Burnout 3: Takedown (Xbox)
  • MadWorld (Wii)
  • Onechanbara: Z2 Chaos (PlayStation 4)
1. Doom (PlayStation 4)
Doom is a huge surprise for me, as I did not expect it to make it onto the list, but here it is.  Like Wolfenstein: The New Order, Doom is a throwback to the past, but in all of the right ways.  The gameplay is arguably its strongest point, with fast-paced combat that demands players keep constantly moving, or else they die, but with the vast arsenal of weapons, you are given a fighting chance against the forces of Hell.  Control is quick and precise, and the level design smartly balances time between furious firefights and exploration, allowing gamers to look for hidden secrets strewn about the levels.  Though story is kept to a minimum and the Doom Slayer never speaks a word, the large amount of background information available to find expands upon a world and a corporation with a good purpose, but the wrong direction.  Doom, from beginning to end, never lets up, which is why it is my favorite game of 2016.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Dirty Pair Flash Review

Whenever a company reboots or announces a brand new continuation of an established franchise that features changes in how the characters are portrayed or look, the reactions are often split across the board.  Some will approve of the new approach, but others, especially long-time fans, will cry foul over the decisions made and claim that it is the end of days for the particular series.  2016 has been a testament to the notion, from Paul Feig's all-female reboot of Ghostbusters to Jared Leto's Joker in Suicide Squad, you couldn't go ten feet without seeing a comment or post about how these alterations could spell doom.

Anime tends to skim by such controversy with relative ease, as many established properties frequently see new spin-offs and interpretations announced almost on a daily basis.  Similar to other mediums, not every show works out for the better.  Dirty Pair Flash, a reboot of the original Dirty Pair series, is an OVA that has frequently been met with mixed opinions, some like it, others don't.  For the uninitiated, Dirty Pair, regardless of the television show, OVA follow-up, or multitude of films, follows a pair of women known as Kei and Yuri, who are trouble consultants for the futuristic 3WA, a galactic law enforcement organization tasked with keeping the peace.  While Dirty Pair Flash retains the same concept, the difference is that the titular duo is younger and have just started working for the 3WA.

Dirty Pair Flash is a sixteen-episode series split into three arcs, each one with their own storyline.  The first arc follows Kei and Yuri, two girls who have been partnered up together at 3WA as trouble consultants, neither one likes working with the other, but they must learn to put aside their differences as a man named Waldess plans on unleashing Lucifer as a means to purify the galaxy.  The second arc sees the pair working with a computer expert named Touma who has been assigned to investigate reports of a virus implanted in the mainframe systems of Worlds' World, a full-scale recreation of life in the 20th century that encompasses the entire planet it was created on.  The third arc has no overarching plot, and instead follows Kei and Yuri on various missions that see them contending with a young assassin in training, a corrupt man who runs illicit operations and is involved in a volleyball tournament, plus a parolee who takes over 3WA headquarters as a means to get revenge on Kei and Yuri's boss, Poporo.

Of the three arcs, the first is the strongest as it balances the fun and chaotic action the franchise is known for with a serious-minded story involving a plan that threatens the entire universe.  It also features much character development for Kei and Yuri, through many trials, they learn co-operation is key in all scenarios.  While Waldess makes for a decent antagonist, his hired assassin, Lady Flair, is much more interesting.  For starters, this quick and nimble hitman makes for an intriguing foil to Kei, who's encounter with the woman leads her on a foreboding trail as her obsession with Flair costs Kei's job with the 3WA.  Eventually, she learns that if it is taken too far, Kei might become the one thing she is trying to stop, and as things progress, we find out that Flair was involved with the 3WA, but why she left is best left untouched.

Although quite satisfying, the following one is the weakest and most disappointing of the three.  The concept is promising, having the two contend with fighting crime in an era that is out of touch to what they know about society, but instead, it falls flat on its face.  Many of the scenarios are often boring and not memorable, with the most prominent example being the seventh episode, second in this particular arc.  In it, Kei and Yuri have been sent to a boarding school on the planet since their hotel room was destroyed in the previous episode; when they arrive, the students tell them he place has been experiencing supernatural activity, which they are dubious about.  It sounds interesting, but the reveal and build-up leading up to it has all of the intensity of a Scooby-Doo plot; in other words, it's a hoax.  The best of the five is when they encounter a former 3WA member-turned-con-man named Colby, voiced by Spike Spencer.  As they find out, the man is quite adept at what he does, and Colby easily dupes Kei and Yuri out of their restrain on many occasions, only to get involved in a pratfall that prevents total escape.  This one is easily the funniest of the entire series, largely due to Colby himself, and Spencer's performance.

Though the middle arc ends on an anticlimactic note, the last arc is a step-up from the previous one in many regards.  Since there is no ongoing narrative or recurring characters to worry about, each episode has a self-contained plot, all of which are quite inventive.  The best one is the starter episode, in which a plane Kei is on gets shot down and the only survivors are her and a baby, who is revealed to be the son of a diplomat that recently passed away; therefore, Kei has to ensure the infant's safety as she evades the terrorists that are on the hun.  What stands out the most in regards to this episode is that it is largely focused on Kei, with Yuri only making a couple of brief appearances, as she has to learn and care for the baby.  This also makes many of the action sequences more harrowing, considering who she has with her.

In spite of some of my praise for the leading protagonists; in actuality, this new incarnation of the Dirty Pair is more hit-and-miss compared to the original Kei and Yuri.  With the former, they may have had a penchant for causing lots of property damage, often unintentionally, but they were also smart and fun, in addition to being very attractive.  Granted, Dirty Pair Flash retains the destructive aspect of Kei and Yuri, but in trying to give them their own personalities, the end result is that they often come off as arrogant and occasionally stubborn.  Even after the two have learned about the values of teamwork, they frequently engage in argumentative and violent confrontations, making them more like a bickering couple rather than a pair of justice-deliverers.  Keep in mind, they're not terrible, and as mentioned before, both of them get their chances to shine throughout, but in beween those are several moments which often make the protagonists a chore to sit through and watch.

Aesthetically, Dirty Pair Flash boasts solid animation that still holds up, but the art style is clearly a product of its time, as Kei and Yuri's designs, and all character designs in general, reflect the "extreme" nature of the '90's.  Not to mention, the two leading ladies now have transformation sequences that see them switch into their battle attire, which also doubles as their work clothes, and when these moments do happen, they often come out of nowhere and it fells like the creators only did this because of its popularity in the magical-girl genre of anime.  Also, there are the occasional dips in visual quality, especially during the episode with Colby, which features rather grotesque exaggerated faces.  Though not one of A.D.V. Films' strongest dubs, the voice acting is fine and Kei and Yuri's voices fit their respective personality types.  The one performance that doesn't gel is Jason Douglas and his performance as Touma.  Normally, he plays characters featuring brash and tough personalities, including Leon from Bubblegum Crisis: Tokyo 2040 and Krieg from Borderlands 2, so hearing him voice a soft-spoken hacker seems out of place compared to what he's done prior and now.

Dirty Pair Flash is the very definition of a mixed bag.  When the show hits, it's something that can be viewed as entertaining and a worthy follow-up to the original Dirty Pair, but when it misses, it's flaws hold it back from being truly good, largely due to the inconsistent quality of the three arcs.  As best summarized by the Chief at the end of episode six in the series, "You know, those two girls aren't so bad after all."

Final Score 6/10

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Gremlins (1984) Review

Once again, everybody around the world finds themselves encompassed in the spirit of Christmas, a time of celebrating time-honored traditions, spending time with loved ones, and exchanging gifts.  The last aspect is one many look forward to, since we never know what we're going to receive.  It could be a new gadget, clothing, money, or an animal, if so, did you to check to see if there were any rules to remember or follow?  You better make sure, because as our hero of this movie learns, sometimes not remembering rules can lead to unintended consequences.  This is Gremlins.

(WARNING: MAJOR SPOILERS ARE AHEAD) Billy Peltzer (Zach Galligan) is a young man living a good life, he has a job at the bank, a friendly co-worker, and a mom (Frances Lee McCain) and father (Hoyt Axton) he returns to every day after work.  His father, an inventor, has been out of town trying to get his inventions sold to potential investors, even if they aren't exactly perfect.  When he arrives home, he has with him something wrapped up in a box, something alive.  It's a gift for Billy, and after its unwrapped and the box opened, an unusual furry creature pops out.  The creature is a Mogwai and as the father tells Billy, there are three rules that must be followed.  The Mogwai can't be exposed to bright light, especially sunlight, which will kill it, the creature can't get wet, but most importantly, it must never be fed after midnight.

Luckily for Billy, the Mogwai, referred to as Gizmo, is very friendly, but during the next day, when Billy's friend Pete (Corey Feldman) comes over to his house, he accidentally spills water on Gizmo.  This mistake reveals that spilling water causes Gizmo to spawn more of his kind, which initially thrills Billy and his dad, but Billy realizes that the other ones aren't as friendly as Gizmo.  In fact, the creatures have ulterior motives, and one night, they cut the wire to Billy's clock when he isn't looking, tricking him into thinking it's still before midnight.  The next day, after he fed them some chicken, all of them, save for Gizmo, are in cocoons, as is the Mogwai that was left with his former middle-school science teacher. 

While Billy is at work, the father out of town, the mother in the kitchen, and the teacher educating the students, the pods hatch, revealing grotesque creatures.  When the students have left, the one with the teacher kills him, and the others at home torture Gizmo before spreading out around the house; fortunately, the mother dispatches most of them, but is attacked by a straggler, which Billy kills in the nick of time.  The last one, called Stripe, escapes to the local YMCA, and despite his best efforts to find and kill the monster, it jumps into a pool, resulting in a massive horde of Gremlins that threaten to overrun the town.  With no other choice, Billy, with the assistance of his co-worker Kate (Phoebe Cates) have to find a way to stop the vicious monsters.

One of the many reasons this movie works as well as it does is how it's essentially two diffierent films mixed into one.  The first half focuses on Billy living out his life in the humble town of Kingston Falls, even with the presence of Gizmo, the film gives off a feel-good vibe that settles the viewer into a false sense of conformity.  However, once the Gremlins come into play, the movie reveals its true identity, a horror film which balances scares with laugh-out loud comedy.  Gremlins builds suspense well, keeping the monsters a mystery as to what they're like even after they hatch out, and not until the scenes at the school and Billy's house are we revealed their true forms.  Granted, such a bait-and-switch method is bound to scare younger viewers, it did for this one way back when, but the fact that the film-makers handle it so effectively is something older people can appreciate the film for.

Even though the movie is focused on the humans and their endeavors to stop the Gremlins, Gizmo and the titular monsters are too their own fleshed-out characters.  Gizmo can clearly understand what people are doing and knows about the rules and their repercussions, hence his looks of sadness and worry when the new Mogwai spawn and eat after midnight later on, but unlike those Mogwai, he doesn't create problems for his owner like the others do.  In fact, he is the real hero of this picture.  After Billy and Kate get rid of the Gremlins by blowing up the movie theater via a gas leak, Stripe is revealed to have avoided the blast and retreats into the department store he was at to try and find another source of water, which he does in the form of a fountain.  As he starts to multiply, Gizmo shows up and opens a panel, shining light into the room and killing Stripe.

Then there are the Gremlins, as we learn, they're not evil, just rebellious and anarchic, and who greatly enjoy doing what they do.  They also have a strong sense of humor, which is noticeable during scenes set in a bar and a movie theater, as the film shifts from one shot to the other showing the Gremlins partaking in cards, getting drunk, or trying to encourage other Gremlins that are feeling a little blue.  When they head to the movie theater, their behavior is more akin to a large group of rowdy little kids, kids with sharp teeth.  They also enjoy torturing humans for their entertainment, such is the case with an old woman named Mrs. Deagle (Polly Holiday).  In one of the film's highlights, she gets flung out of her two-story house by a deliberately short-circuited chair.

But what about the people who find themselves contending with the little monsters?  They too are equally memorable.  Billy Peltzer is a solid protagonist, the way he treats Gizmo is similar to how most individuals would treat their own pets.  He clearly enjoys his bizarre, new animal and never intentionally breaks any of the rules, they're just accidents that result in unintentional consequences.  Thus, he realizes that it's his job to get rid of what he accidentally caused.  The other characters are memorable, from the xenophobic but funny Mr. Futterman (Dick Miller) to the snarky bank assistant Gerald (Judge Reinhold), the writing and strong performances guarantee that each individual is memorable in their own right. 

Yet, there are two amongst the multitude of characters that stand out, Mrs. Deagle and Kate.  The former because she is a female Mr. Scrooge, she shows no sympathy for those in need, or for most of the town's populace, and she's not afraid to threaten those who get in her way, such as the Peltzers' dog, Barney, who Mrs. Deagle promises Billy that if she got her hands on, she would submit him to a slow and painful death.  Granted, her overall relevance to the plot is minimal, it's hinted early on that she plans to do something to the town, but it's never specified what it is.  This sub-plot and its respective scenes were left on the cutting-room floor, but her death is still one of the most satisfying, if not funniest, in all of cinema.  As for Kate, she stands out for one reason, aside from being played by Phoebe "Moving in Stereo" Cates.  Later on, she gives a monologue in the trashed bank explaining why she doesn't like Christmas, which is because her father died while trying to come down the chimney dressed as Santa.  This explanation is not only sad but the tone of the entire sequence is a huge contrast from what's happened prior and what happens later on, which is why this scene sticks out, but in a good way.

There's no arguing that the effects of Gremlins have held up well, even thirty-two years after its original release.  The puppetry and animatronics for Gizmo and the Gremlins give the sense that these are legitimate creatures running around and interacting with the cast, something that CGI, no matter how fantastic it looks, could not capture the same feeling of.  Not a single frame featuring any of the monsters looks dated, which is impressive in its own right.  What also helps bring the movie to life is the soundtrack, composed by Jerry Goldsmith.  Each instance of music perfectly encapsulates the mood of the current scene, whether it's the cheery, whimsical tracks heard in the opening scenes set in Kingston Falls, or the chaotic sounds of the music that reflects the anarchy being caused by the Gremlins.

Gremlins is a movie that everyone, no matter how old one is, can be enjoyed time and time again and still remain excellent.  It misleads the audience, but in a way that still keeps them engaged even after the film's true nature is revealed.  Also, like all Christmas moves, this one has a message, one that tells us that what we receive should always be handled with care, because it can sometimes result in unexpected repercussions.

Final Score: 9/10

Monday, December 19, 2016

Driver: San Francisco Review Part 2 (Nintendo Wii)

Looking back at the Nintendo Wii, one does notice that whenever a major title was ported over to the system, changes were made to the original game in some shape or form.  While the console wasn't as graphically powerful as the PlayStation 3 or the Xbox 360 and it sported a controller design that was untraditional, companies still found a way to get their games onto the little white system.  Driver: San Francisco on the Wii is an interesting case, even though it shares the same name, setting, and protagonists, the story and gameplay are a completely different beast from the Xbox 360 version.

Taking place before the first Driver, this prequel tale follows rookie officer John Tanner as he goes undercover to try and figure out who killed his partner and mentor, Alvarez.  His investigations lead him to the crime lord Solomon Caine, the man who was responsible for killing Alvarez.  Unaware of who he really is, Caine decides to recruit Tanner into his gang as a means to help him complete various jobs and assist Caine in his grand scheme, which involves provoking the rival gangs the Dogfish and the Dragon Ladies into a massive gang war that will engross San Francisco.  Meanwhile, another officer, Tobias Jones, decides to help Tanner with the investigation, which he is initially hesitant about, but the two learn to cooperate with one another.

If the story to the 360 version was best described as Quantum Leap meets Starsky and Hutch, then the Wii version's storyline is simply Starsky and Hutch, only it's a prequel showing how the two met. While not terrible, the plot is fairly standard material and as such doesn't have any moments during the campaign that stand out as memorable.  For fans of the series, it will be interesting to see Tanner and Jones work together for the first time, but for everyone else, it's something that's simply serviceable.  The one highlight of the narrative, however, is how the story is told.  Instead of focusing on one character, it all unfolds through the eyes of Jones, Tanner, and Caine, each of who has their own goals they want to accomplish, and their personalities reflect the types of missions you will accomplish during the game.

As this is a Wii title, the game does feature motion controls and utilizes a variety of different gestures, most of which are featured in missions only.  Braking and accelerating are odd, as the two functions are mapped to the c and z buttons on the nunchuck, which does feel awkward, but you do adjust to it after some time.  With the exception of one implementation, which I'll explain soon, the rest of the motion controls are fine and are fun to use.  In certain scenarios, you'll use the remote as a radar in order to find locations of interest, and in another mission, the player must put in command inputs that are given via the remote's speaker.

In terms of gameplay, Driver: San Francisco is fairly routine but nevertheless enjoyable.  As in the 360 version, you'll complete missions, both primary and side, and explore the city in order to find the many collectibles scattered around; however, you are not able to possess people for the matter of justice and mayhem, if you want to use different vehicles, you have to go to a garage and select one for use.  As stated prior, each character's personal goals reflects the missions you'll complete in the story.  Jones and Tanner's missions generally involved tailing bad guys to get more information, or finding and taking out criminals and their operations.  Meanwhile, Solomon Caine's tasks generally involve chaos and sabotage, with objectives that will see players destroying property and ticking off both the law and rival gangs.

Even though the three characters lack the ability to possess individuals, they do have access to unique abilities that are unlocked as the game progresses.  These include the ability to use nitro and slow down time in order to weave through traffic and more easily turn corners.  There's also a larger emphasis put on combat in this game via the vehicular attacks and reckless mode.  The former is done by swiping the Wii remote left, right, or forward, but it's rather frustrating to use as your swipes can easily be misinterpreted, causing your car to miss their target or run into a wall or tree.  Reckless mode allows for the usage of guns, and there is a decent assortment of weapons to choose from, including pistols, shotguns, assault rifles, and even a rocket launcher.  In fact, there are a couple of missions which are strictly on-rails, and these are quite fun and provide a break from all of the driving you'll be doing.

Speaking of which, the driving is much better when compared to the 360 version.  It's reminiscent of the PS2-era Grand Theft Auto games, as the steering and handling is loose but very responsive, yet what isn't improved and is actually worse here is the AI.  Generally, the intelligence of both friends and foes is quite incompetent.  Civilian vehicles can be annoying to get loose from if you hit one and enemies can easily get stuck on walls or jammed in traffic.  This was especially noticeable during the final mission, as Caine, while trying to evade Jones and Tanner, got knocked off road and when trying to readjust himself, kept hitting the side of a house.  The only faction that won't give you any trouble are the police, who can be quite aggressive in trying to take you down.

Similar to the 360 version, there is a currency system in place, only here it is traditional XP, and when enough is obtained, you earn a skill point that can be put into one of many categorical upgrades that increase the strength of vehicles, abilities, and firearms.  In addition to the single-player campaign, the game also features a slew of local multiplayer options to choose from.  At any point in the game, a second person can join in as a gunman to assist the player, and there are numerous co-operative and competitive options to choose from.  Even then, there is enough content in the main game to keep gamers occupied, and a variety of in-game achievements can be obtained for meeting certain goals.

Visually, Driver: San Francisco looks decent but lacks polish.  San Francisco is quite sizeable, given the constraints of the Wii's hardware, and the vehicles look nice and sport some nice damage modeling.  Yet, there are noticeable problems; to being with, there are no people present on the streets whatsoever, in spite of all the cars driving around.  This does make the city feel barren, but what's more frustrating is that whenever a character meets up with another to engage in conversation, not a single soul is present.  The developers try to hide this by constantly shifting the camera around a' la Destroy All Humans: Big Willy Unleashed, but is just comes off as laziness.  Fortunately, the story cut-scenes are designed well, as they are presented in the form of comic book panels.  The voice acting is cheesy, really cheesy, as many characters often speak in ridiculous accents or spout off hokey dialogue.  Given how the game is trying to emulate old '70's and '80's cop shows and low budget crime flicks, it does to a certain degree fit the tone of the title.  The music, however, is disappointing, as its soundtrack consists largely of songs from the 360 version, both composed and licensed.

For all of its faults, Driver: San Francisco on the Wii is still an enjoyable time.  Though the story is not as strong here and the gameplay not as creative, it is still solid and offers plenty of fun entertainment.  The Wii may have never received a Grand Theft Auto game on that system, but this is the closest approximation of the series gamers can experience on this console.

Final Score: 7/10

Driver: San Francisco Review Part 1 (Xbox 360)

Whenever someone takes an idea that no one else would try and ends up being successful because of it, others will try to emulate what that person did, with varying degrees of success.  For instance, with the huge popularity of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, D.C. Comics has now realized that they should try the same set-up with their line-up of superheroes, hence why Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice not only pitted the world's greatest heroes against each other, but it also acted as a set-up for the forthcoming Justice League movie, which in turn, will lead to multiple superhero movies that will all tie together in one unified world.  The video game industry is one with multiple publishers and developers that have tried to emulate the success one company got with their title.

Depending on the era, companies have created games within a genre that was currently popular at the time with the hopes it could be a huge hit.  In the '90's, the likes of Bubsy, Croc, and Awesome Possum were created after developers noticed how popular Sonic the Hedgehog and Super Mario were.  The 2000's were all about open-world mayhem, after the success of Grand Theft Auto III, many titles were created in its aftermath to satisfy player's needs of wide-open carnage.  Yet, not all were successful, such was the case with the Driver series.  After struggling to keep the series relevant through the unfinished disappointment Driver 3 and the slightly-better-but-still-average Driver: Parallel Lines, developer Reflections went back to the drawing board and in 2011, delivered a title that reinvigorated the franchise by giving gamers an out of body experience.

Set after the events of Driver 3, the story follows officers John Tanner and Tobias Jones, who are going about their normal police routine when they get a call that a convoy carrying notorious criminal Charles Jericho has been hijacked by none other than Jericho himself.  As the duo try to apprehend the man, their car is involved in a terrible accident that results in Tanner going into a coma.  Within his mind, Tanner learns he has the ability to possess anybody out driving on the streets of San Francisco, unaware that in the real-world, he is unconscious and on the verge of death.  With his new powers, Tanner delivers justice and helps those in need, all while figuring out what Charles Jericho has planned for the city.

Driver: San Francisco's story can be best described as Quantum Leap meets Starsky and Hutch.  Though laden with much drama, the writers know that the idea of being able to possess drivers for a good cause is one that shouldn't be taken too seriously.  During gameplay and the story, Tanner often finds himself in the driver's seat with someone else, since they don't know that their friend has just been possessed by a comatose man, it leads to a lot of hilarious back-and-forth banter between the two individuals.  While the writing keeps events entertaining, it also engages the layer, as the plot tanner tries to unravel gets more intriguing with each new chapter.  Though his adventures in San Francisco are all one giant dream, the set-up results in the introduction of one of the most unique gaming mechanics to date.

At its core, this is an open-world game in which players complete story missions, side activities, as well as acquire a huge selection of cars.  Unlike other genre titles such as Grand Theft Auto, you are always in a vehicle no matter what, to compensate for this, there is the shift mechanic. With the simple press of a button, you can launch Tanner into the sky and take control of any vehicle within his view, and as the campaign progresses, his perspective of the city will be able to go higher and higher, until the whole locale is completely viewable.  Shift is used in a variety of creative ways; for example, when taking down vehicles, the player can ram them, but it's much better to shift out of the current car, pick a vehicle driving on the opposite side, and ram it into the opponent head on.  Such a tactic can even be done during races in order to give yourself an edge on the competition.

Story missions are creative, featuring fun scenarios and ways to test your driving skills.  You'll help a local news channel gather footage of vehicular mayhem by possessing drivers and making them pull off dangerous maneuvers on camera, and in one mission, Tanner must drive a car through alleyways, avoiding the main roads as much as possible in order to reach a location before a serial killer kills his victim.  When you're not doling out justice or unraveling a large-scale plot, the game features a massive amount of activities to partake in.  From races to time trials to dares, gamers can get lost in the massive amount of events and lose track of their progression in the story, which takes around seven hours to complete.  There are also hidden tokens to discover that, when collected, unlock a challenge based off of an iconic driving scene from a movie.

Completing missions, activities, and pulling off different driving techniques results in currency that can be used to buy garages, upgrade the size of your ability meter, or unlock one of the hundreds of cars available in this title.  Driver: San Francisco is consistently entertaining throughout, both during the campaign and in exploring the city; at times, the missions can be challenging, but not because they're difficult, but because of how the vehicles handle.  The game's approach to driving is to give the vehicles realistic handling and turning, the problem is that automobiles become iffy to control, and not exacerbating the issue is that certain car types can be a nightmare to handle.  Later missions that involve beating races using a dune buggy or a high-speed sports car can be frustrating to win as they can easily spin out if one is not careful.  This generally resulted in multiple retries until I go acquainted to driving something that felt like it was always on ice.

Visually, the game looks quite good.  San Francisco is a sprawling metropolis brimming with constant activity, yet while the environments and automobiles are well-detailed, character models are noticeably low-res.  On the bright side, the cut-scenes are top-notch and excellently directed, as it mixes the CG graphics with the in-game visuals to successful effect.  A nice touch is that once an interval in the story is reached, a "previously-on" recap is provided to keep you in touch with what's currently happening in the plot.  Equally solid is the audio; although the dialogue and performances are very cheesy, it adds to the feeling you're watching and participating in a cop show.  However, the real highlight of the sound design is the soundtrack.  The composed music is fantastic and the licensed songs are a great mixture of funk, blues, jazz, and rock, with a dash of hip-hop thrown in.

Driver: San Francisco takes a series that had fallen by the wayside and rejuvenates it by adding a truly unique concept.  The ability to shift and possess drivers opens up the door to creative potential, and it makes the acts doing things like racing and eliminating targets more inventive than usual, and with the staggering amount of content, not to mention the split-screen and online multiplayer options, this game will certainly keep your involvement long after the credits have rolled.

Final Score: 9/10

Hold on there, the adventures of John Tanner in Bay City are not quite done yet, as the next part delves into the origins of the wheelman with the Wii version of Driver: San Francisco.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

An Interview With: Jayme Schmitt (DreamScape Reality Productions)

On October 29, 2016, I conducted my first interview for GamerGuy's Reviews.  The person questioned was Jayme Schmitt, who heads a small production company called DreamScape Reality Productions.  Currently, the studio is in production of an independent movie called Black Friday, as well as the web series The Insane Nerd's 101 in Movies, which is currently in its fourth season.  In this interview, I discuss with Schmitt the status of the Black Friday film, plus delve into the IN101M web series, its history, and what can be expected to happen to the show after its fourth season.  Joining Schmitt is his friend/producer or Edward Brown, who goes by the nickname Bishop.  Without further ado, here is the interview.

1. What is "Black Friday?" What's the current status of it? When and how do you expect it to be released?
Answer: Black Friday is an upcoming 2017 horror film.  This is our company's first full-length feature and we kind of got lucky on this one.  We just got our IMDB page up which is actually an honor in of itself.  The film is about an alien takeover and it's along the lines of Shaun of the Dead in that everybody is thinking of but the obvious.  We are in post-production right now which means we're editing, doing sound, all of that really tedious, hard stuff that nobody has fun doing.  We're also doing a little filming here and there and we have a couple of extra scenes to wrap up.  We hope to have the film out in November and the plan is to show it theatrically, starting in my hometown of Dubuque, Iowa at Mindframe Theaters; afterwards, we're hoping to take it out to Pennsylvania and have a couple of screenings in the U.K., and then submit it for a possible film festival and then release it to DVD, Blu-Ray, and Amazon Prime.

2. Right now, the Insane Nerd's 101 in Movies is currently in its fourth season, how many more can be expected?
Answer: As far as I'm concerned, it's one of those things I never thought I would take it far enough, I plan on doing seven or eight episodes total.  Bishop and I have sat down and thought, "What if we kill off the Nerd at this point?"  I want to use Youtube as a branching outlet similar to what Channel Awesome does.  The other reason is because I've been trying to get one episode out per month, but after all of the planned episodes are produced, we will go from there and see what happens.

3. On the subject of IN101M, what led to the creation of that series?
Answer: It was pretty much the result of a lot of things.  I had been interested in film-making since I was ten.  I would record things and figure out the process, and then I found out about James Rolfe (The Angry Video Game Nerd), Channel Aswesome (Nostalgia Critic), and other reviewers of that nature.  And I said to myself, "This is the kind of stuff I want to do."  When I was a kid, I would write movie reviews in a journal, and thinking back to that, I realized it would be a lot easier to format if I were to get it out to the public via the internet.

4. What equipment did you initially start off with, and what do you currently use?
Answer: I had a Kodak 2005 digital camera that shot in 240p and I got by with it for about ten episodes.  For the first twenty-four episodes, everything was edited on Windows Movie Maker and eventually I transferred over to an Avion DHVD, which allowed me to shoot in high-definition.  Later on, I got Adobe Premier Elements, which I have been using for quite  some time.  In spite of the limitations, this set-up gets the job done.  For anybody that's starting out, you're not going to have that perfect first episode, it's all about learning the ropes.

5. At what point in producing episodes of the show did things finally start to click for you personally?
Answer: Early on, I would constantly debate whether I wanted to do straight film reviews or form an actual story over what I do.  The first episodes I did, they were just pure reviews and the views were quite low, but then I covered Rubber, which is the movie about the tire that runs around and chases everybody.  So I got my friend Josh Morgan to bring a tire from the dump and we had a lot of fun messing around with it, but at the same time, it was one of those things that made people laugh, even if it may have been considered jumping the shark early on in the series.  Then, it took a 360 turn and it became about who we could bring in, so when I covered Nightmare on Elm Street, Freddy Krueger was involved.  Therefore, the focus shifted to the situations, rather than trying to worry about a review.  There's also the other aspect of how later on, given the situation I was in, the show also started to feature additional skits.  Now, things have taken another 360 and I have to try and go back to doing pure film reiews.

6. Do you have any favorite episodes or moments?
Answer: Rubber is one of my favorite episodes, as is the Dracula video.  During the filming of our 50th episode, which involved Godzilla: King of the Monsters (1956) and is the only episode to have also been released theatrically, we were shooting at a local pool and during a take I hit my head on the concrete and was unconscious for about fifteen minutes until my producer came over to check on me and said, "Okay you're alive! Let's go do the church scene!"  When we did the church scene, there was a body on the altar because we had finished filming right before a funeral was happening.

7. What's the process for writing out the script like (i.e. deciding on which movie to review, coming up with the storylines, jokes, etc.)?
Answer: Usually what happens is I pick a movie at random.  Everybody thinks I have a list, but no, I literally look at my shelf and see what I have and what would be interesting to cover.  "Hmm, the Nutty Professor (1995), well let's put it in, watch it, and see if here's anything relevant to make fun of."  If I still want to review it I'll then write the script.  Writing is also difficult because sometimes it's about finding that spark which gets me to start.  After I write it, I give it to Bishop to see what he thinks can be improved, plus it helps that he's a stand-up comedian from Chicago.

8. It's interesting to see how the likes of Seasons 3 and 4 put more of an emphasis on story compared to prior seasons, what led to this choice?
Answer: It all boils down to the numbers, that is, the people watching, commenting.  I realize that it's not just people from America watching, but everyone around the world, plus they can get bored, so its tricky finding a balance that will keep their interest spiked because if anything, it's not always about evolution, but also change.  Yet, the changes may have to make you back to basics.

9. Is Season 4 going to be the last one, or will there be more?
Answer: Probably, because I want to try and work on other stuff, but if people ask to want him to come back, there's always a way to bring him back.  The nice thing about doing these types of videos is that anything is possible; in other words, nothing lasts forever.

10. Who or what are your chief inspirations?
Answer: Besides James Rolfe and Doug Walker, I consider Chris Evans (Captain America) to be one because a couple of years ago I was in a tight spot and his Captain America character helped me through.  Also, by watching IN101M, you can see other influences present throughout, such as Shawn Spencer from Psych, which is one of my favorite shows.

11. If someone gave you a million dollars, what are three things you would do with that money? Be creative.
Answer: Jayme: For this one, I'm going to bring in Bishop to help me answer this.

Bishop: I'm really into writing so I would get myself published as a writer and I'm huge into gaming so I would probably take one of my books and turn it into a game because I see many of my stories as being ones that could work as a game.  The last one would be getting a building for his company.

Jayme: I would definitely get a building, that's a definite need, then I would deck the place with girls every single night, no, I'm just kidding.

William: But that's a great idea!

Jayme: Actually, you're right, hey Bishop, don't we have Candi on speed dial?

William: Hey, you don't want to lose sight of your true vision for DreamScape Reality Productions, don't follow the false one!

Jayme: Alright, seriously though, there are other things besides the building, though the strip club would be a good idea.  With that being said, I would also use the company as an outlet to get my name out there and deck the whole place out with equipment.

Off the Record

1. Why do you like the Godzilla series, what do you find appealing about it?
Answer: Back in 2001 or 2002, my father took me to the video store and Godzilla 2000 was sitting on a shelf and we picked it up and he told me we will take this home and watch it, after seeing it I really enjoyed what I had witnessed, but I didn't realize that there were more movies besides this one.  So it became one of those things were I was like, "Wow I've got to find out more about it, I've got to track them down, I've got to watch them, I've got to own them, and then I've got to make fun of them," joking about the last one, though.  The 1998 Godzilla movie, the Roland Emmerich one, had its own website at the time and it had a link to information on the Toho films, and there also the Crestwood Monsters books at my library, which is also how I found out about other monsters such as Dracula and Frankenstein, which led into horror films.  It was because of Godzilla 2000 and King Kong (2005) that I wanted to be a film-maker.  It's something I wish more people knew about but it has enough of a following that it does have some awareness surrounding it.

2. How big is your movie collection?
Answer: Although I did sell many of them off, as it stands now, it's about 684, and that includes DVD, VHS, and even LaserDisc and Beta, who the heck even owns those?

3. What's your deal with the 1980's "The Blob" remake?
Answer: I found out about the Blob through the Crestwood books and at the time my family had Dish Network and access to the Starz Network package.  I was about five or six at the time, and the 1980's Blog was on one of the channels that night and I didn't realize that it was the '88 film, I thought it was the '58 one with Steve McQueen.  So I'm begging my father to watch it, even though he tells me its stupid, unaware that the movie is rated R and I may have nightmares becaus eof watching it.  So I watch it and I'm scared s**tless, a movie where a guy gets pulled down a kitchen sink headfirst scared me so much that I slept on the couch for the next few years.

William: But you used that to shape the Insane Nerd character, similar to James Rolfe and E.T. (Atari 2600)

Jayme: Looking back at it years later, I realize that its a movie with the'80's written all over it and its fine, but the joke of it is that the Nerd looks back to his childhood at that one movie which scared him all those years ago.  In fact, I wrote a script centered around it that would have been an IN101M movie but we got involved with Black Friday.  There was going to be a joke in which the Nerd thinks it's so great because it scared him so bad that nothing else could come along and top it.

4. Who do you prefer, Marvel or DC?
Answer: Marvel, hands down.

William: Why?

Jayme: First of all, it's because I grew up wit Marvel Comics around the house, if it was DC, I would have been an avid fan of them.  That doesn't mean I dislike them.  I like Batman and his rogues' gallery of villains, plus Superman and the Flash, but Marvel struck a nerve with me in what they did with their Cinematic Universe.  I feel like every time I buy one of their movies I feel like I'm buying an actual comic book.

5. If you had access to a time machine, would you prefer to travel to the past or the future?
Answer: I'd rather not bother with the future because if I knew what it looked like then I worry I would screw it up even more.  With that said, I'd rather go back into the past.

Bishop: Future.

William: Why the future?

Bishop: The past doesn't really interest me that much and I would rather go into the future because I would like to see what happens with technology and what not.  No one wants to go back to the past.

Jayme: You're not concerned about what your future will look like?

Bishop: No.

William: What if something bad happens to you in the future and you want to avoid it?

Bishop: The only thing I need to worry about it whether or not I'm Batman in the future.

For more information on DreamScape Reality Productions, here's a link to their website:

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Revisited: Earth Defense Force: Insect Armageddon

Over the course of this year, I've revisited many titles originally reviewed in 2014, offering updated and much more thoroughly explained opinions on the games covered back then.  The last game to be reviewed in this series is one that holds much personal significance; in 2011, I officially leaped into the seventh generation of consoles when I received an Xbox 360 for Christmas.  The two games I asked for?  Destroy All Humans: Path of the Furon and Earth Defense Force: Insect Armageddon.  The choices might seem odd, but at the time, I was rather obsessed with the former and after reading about Earth Defense Force in different issues of  Game Informer, I figured this then latest entry in the franchise would be a good starting point.

At an unspecified point in the near future, the Earth is once again dealing with an invasion from the Ravager species.  This invasion is much smaller, however, as the aliens have set their sights on New Detroit, which may or may not have been built by OCP.  To combat the encroaching threat, the Earth Defense Force has been deployed across the town.  One of the units out on the field is the Lightning unit, headed up by Lightning Alpha; by working together with the fighting forces, Lightning and the Earth Defense Force might a chance at fighting off the Ravagers, or not.

Like other titles in the series, Insect Armageddon's story is simplistic and uncomplicated, yet the cheesy nature of the events happening is toned down in this installment.  The general tone makes this game feel more like a summer popcorn flick rather than a low-budget B-movie; in other words, the action is intense and fun, with multiple firefights pitting you and your squad against swarms of giant insects, robots, and gunships, but the campiness of it all is lost in exchange for a more sophisticated nature.  That's not to say it is completely gone, certain aspects, such as the dialogue, retain the over-the-top nature found in the likes of Earth Defense Force 2017 and 2025, but the lines elicit a different type of humorous reaction, one of genuine laughs, rather than unintentional ones.  One other thing the other two titles did well, establish their universe through radio chatter, is also lost here; the conversations heard in each stage make it unclear as to how many times the Ravagers have invaded Earth, and whether this invasion is part of a large-scale attack.

Earth Defense Force: Insect Armageddon retains the core concept of the series: shoot and blow up giant bugs and robots with big guns, but how you go about it is different from other entries.  To begin with, there are multiple character classes to choose from, each of which has their own abilities and advantages.  The classes are the soldier, tactical, flight, and battle armor; the soldier is the standard EDF soldier, and though he has no special abilities, he has access to all weapon types.  The tactical class is similar to the soldier in design, except this class is one that deploys turrets, mines, and radars to even the odds.  The flight class is very much like the Wing Diver of 2025 in that it is capable of flying and its weapons are energy-based.  Lastly, the battle armor is all about heavy artillery, and he is equipped with a shield that can block enemy attacks.

Each is class is fun to use and unlike in Earth Defense Force 2025, the tactical and battle armor classes are useful in both single-player and multiplayer, not just the latter.  However, how you make these classes more powerful is very different in Insect Armageddon.  Every unit has a maximum amount of health that can be replenished by dropped health packs, and new guns can be acquired from fallen enemies, but a level-up system is how you'll obtain most of your weapons, as higher levels feature better firearms that can be purchased with points obtained during the campaign.  The stages you'll have to complete in order to obtain currency/XP have also received a change in structure, even if the changes do lead to major problems, but more on that later.  Each level now features objectives to complete, which generally involve killing all enemies in the current zone of the stage, planting charges on anthills and other structures, or activating a transponder beacon found on a crashed dropship.

Unfortunately, this design choice amps up one of the problems that has persisted throughout the series: repetition.  Instead of each stage taking five to fifteen minutes to beat, they now last fifteen to thirty minutes; as a result, the usage of objectives can make the act of killing ants, spiders, and robots not only repetitious, but also boring.  Plus, the game is criminally short, a first-time play-through will only take three to four hours, and how much you'll want to replay the campaign with the different classes and on higher difficulties is hindered by the number of stages, as the game has only fifteen total that are spread across three acts.

On the flip side, the selection of enemies you'll face are varied.  Besides the giant ants and spiders, which later come in metallic covering that makes them harder to kill, there are the returning Hector robots, gunships, and dropships which come in new variations and adjustments in how they're defeated.  Also, the vehicles in Insect Armageddon handle much better that the ones in Earth Defense Force 2017, and the introduction of a sprint and dodge button makes traversing the wide environments and evading enemy attacks much easier to do.

Visually, the game is a step up from Earth Defense Force 2017 in terms of quality and performance.  The graphics have more polish and the framerate is stable a good portion of the time.  Yet the look and design of the environments is generic, since the game takes place in different sections of one city, the locations blend together and none of them, save for a few, stand out from one another.  Fortunately, there aren't as many glitches as there were in Earth Defense Force 2017, save for the occasional bug that may or may not leave you speechless.  The voice acting is competent and as stated earlier, the one-liners spouted by your allies are funny, just not in the same way that the ones from Earth Defense Force 2017 were.

Earth Defense Force: Insect Armageddon retains the fun offered by other installments and it has a lot of great ideas to flesh out the gameplay.  At the same time, however, it lacks the scope and charm of Earth Defense Force 2017 and 2025, and certain quirks the game has dilute some its entertainment.

Final Score: 6/10

This marks of the end of Revisited, although there were some titles left that I wish I could have re-reviewed, including the Dead Rising games , save for the third installment, and Grand Theft Auto III, its best not to dwell on the past too long and instead look ahead to what's in store.  Also, I recently contributed a submission to Cubed3's Top 20 Wii Games, the entry talking about one of my favorites, No More Heroes.  Here is a link to the countdown:

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

007 Legends Review

James Bond, a character known by many and one who has left a major impact on the pop-culture landscape.  Initially created by Ian Fleming, James Bond's popularity was kick-started by 1962's Dr. No; since then, there have been multiple movies made centered around the British secret agent.  Not only that, but multiple actors have portrayed the man, and each one brought their own take of the character to the table.  In 2012, the 50th anniversary of James Bond was celebrated by not just Bond helping the Queen of England parachute into the London Olympics, but also through the film Skyfall.  To coincide with the release of the movie, publisher Activision and developer Eurocom released 007 Legends, a game with ambitious means of celebrating fifty years of Bond.

007 Legends begins during the opening of Skyfall, in which Bond is chasing after a man named Patrice with the help of his partner, Eve.  Bond and Patrice are struggling against each other on a speeding train, and when Eve is forced to take a shot at the two with the hopes of killing Patrice, she accidentally hits Bond instead, who falls off the train and into the raging river below.  From there, Bond flashes back to previous missions based off of five films from the franchise, which are Goldfinger, On Her Majesty's Secret Service, License to Kill, Die another Day, and Moonraker.  In an epilogue to these events, only available via DLC, Bond, after recovering from his near-death experience, tracks down Patrice to finish what he had started at the beginning of Skyfall.

On paper, the concept of this game, retelling the plots of five different movies under one narrative, is ambitious and promising one, but how 007 Legends executes this idea is haphazard, to say the least.  Unlike the previously reviewed Lego Indiana Jones, which retold its plots in a way that could be easy to follow for both fans and non-fans, this title recaps the tales in a style that will leave those unfamiliar scratching their heads as to who these people are and what exactly they intend to do, and for those who have seen these movies, they will be frustrated by how much was cut out in recapping them.  Because each section starts at the one-hour mark of their respective movie and skips all the way to the final act, a large chunk of plot details and moments are left out, elements which are critical into providing further information on the situation.  Worse, the game ends rather abruptly at the end of the Moonraker section, which is made more painful by the fact that the required DLC is no longer available to download, unless you own the Wii U version.

Lastly, how Daniel Craig's interpretation of Bond is implemented into these films feels lazy.  Whereas the Goldeneye remake updated both the setting and tone to reflect this version of the secret agent; here, they updated the settings to modern times, but not their mood.  As a result, how Bond acts constantly flip-flops throughout the campaign; one moment, he's saying, "Time to face gravity!" while dispatching Gustav Graves in Die another Day, the next he's out for revenge for the assassination attempt on Felix Leiter in License to Kill.  It's these jarring shifts in personality which further the notion that the game was rushed out and the writer did not have a chance to polish the script.

007 Legends' gameplay utilizes many of the same mechanics found in 2010's Goldeneye while adding in some additions and making changes to already-established ideas.  The end result is a game that takes two steps forward, but also two steps back.  In each mission, Bond will not only have primary objectives to complete, but also secondary ones; in Goldeneye, failure to complete every objective resulted in the difficulty being automatically lowered, fortunately, this is no longer the case in this title, which alleviates some of the pressure of completing missions. 

To help complete tasks, Bond has his smartphone, along with a few new gadgets; the smartphone is used most frequently during multiple investigative sequences in which he has to find clues relating to what the villain is planning.  The phone can scan for finger prints and has an electromagnetics filter for spotting hidden buttons and other devices.  Besides the smartphone, there's also a laser wristwatch and a pen-dart to use, which is capable of knocking out or distracting foes.  These aspects, along with the ability to customize firearms and unlock special perks for Bond at upgrade cases found in each stage, show signs of promise, but the remainder of the gameplay squanders this potential through multiple problems in its design.

Combat isn't as well-polished when compared to Goldeneye; in that game, you could freely choose between being noisy or using stealth for most of the missions.  Here, more of an emphasis has been put on the former, as Bond frequently partakes in firefights that make the game feel more like a third-rate Call of Duty clone.  There are times when you are allowed to use stealth, but it's rather frustrating to use due to multiple reasons.  To begin with, stage designs are more complex, with areas featuring multiple floors and vantage points; also, enemies now have a line of sight that fills up the more your visible a' la Far Cry.  The problem is that the level structure can make it hard to tell where they are, meaning you can be going about your sneaky business, only to notice the detection meter filling up, yet you don't know if the thug spotting you is nearby or not.

Of course, the foe might be doing this because it noticed a body, which leads into the biggest issue with stealth.  Since bodies no longer disappear upon death, they stay where they are and you can't do anything to try and hide them, so you have to stay alert and hope that none of the guards discover their knocked-out/deceased comrade.  At times, Bond is put into areas where stealth is the only option, and if he gets spotted, it's an instant mission failure, but these are relatively painless since the rooms are simple, making it easy to keep track of where everyone is.

Besides shooting, investigating, and sneaking around, some missions feature a vehicle section or boss fight to partake in; though these sound fun, like everything else about the game, it's not too good.  The driving is very simplistic; most of the time, Bond drives down barren roads with little-to-no action, save for the skiing section in On Her Majesty's Secret Service.  The boss fights are another story; simply put, they're a joke.  Each encounter plays out like a James Bond version of Punch Out, minus the challenge or thrill; all the player does in these parts is punch the villain or henchman in predetermined spots as they barely react to your blows.

Aesthetically, the game looks competent but nothing about the visuals stands out.  Environments are generic and unmemorable and other facets, such as explosions and ragdoll physics, look weak and at times, laughable.  The audio is equally average; most of the guns sound like peashooters and the voice performances are all over the place.  Even though his likeness is present, Daniel Craig does not voice Bond, and the actor who does constantly shifts from trying his best to phoning it in.  The remainder of the voice cast is decent, and while the likes of Goldfinger, Blofeld, and Sanchez are not voiced by their original actors, Toby Stephens and Michael Lonsdale, who play Gustav Graves and Hugo Drax respectively, return to their original roles and are the highlights of the cast.

It's a shame 007 Legends turned out the way it did, as the concept is rather brilliant.  Sadly everything about the game feels rushed or not implemented well.  Out of all the movies recreated in this product, the highlight is Moonraker, which is surprising, given how it's considered one of the more far-fetched entries.  The zero-gravity shoot-outs in the space station and in outer space are creative and how Eurocom had the right intention, but not the right amount of time.

Final Score: 4/10

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance Review

With every long-running franchise that exists today, a general consensus is abound to arise as to what is expected from that given property.  Grand Theft Auto: open-world mayhem charged with much satire, The Legend of Zelda: dungeons and fantasy, Metal Gear Solid: tactical stealth mixed with philosophical discussions of anything and everything.  Yet, there are times when the creators decide to branch out and experiment with different ideas to see if they work, such is the case with Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance.  Initially starting development under the team for all Metal Gear games, Kojima Productions, the project shifted over to Platinum Games due to the studio's lack of experience with the genre they were focusing on  Instead of featuring the methodical stealth the games are known for, this spin-off is about pure, high-octane action.

Set four years after Metal Gear Solid 4Revengeance follows Raiden, the protagonist of Metal Gear Solid 2, who is currently on assignment protecting an African senator.  Unfortunately, the mission is botched when the senator is kidnapped by the Desperados, a rogue private military company led by Samuel Rodriguez, and when Raiden tries to save the senator, he is killed.  Worse, when Raiden tries to go after and stop Rodriguez, he is nearly killed and the group escapes to terrorize another day.  After this incident, Raiden is brought back into action with a heavily augmented body that is more agile and efficient compared to his original cybernetic body.  With a goal to get revenge on Rodriguez, Raiden sets out to dismantle the Desperados and their diabolical plans, plans which involve harvesting the brains and organs of young children with the purpose of turning them into cybernetic soldiers.

Whereas the stories of prior Metal Gear games were in-depth, philosophical affairs that tackled multiple issues within lengthy cut-scenes, Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance is a more scaled-back endeavor.  The themes explored during the narrative extend to how far cybernetic implants should be taken and the morality which arises from this matter, as well as what constitutes a good society, which comes into play late in the game.  Additionally, the cut-scenes are generally quick and to the point, with lengthy ones few and far between.  Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance is akin to a summer blockbuster, heavy on the action and spectacle, but light on subtlety.  It sounds like a detriment, but this and the game's over-the-top nature help this title stand apart from the other entries as its own entity.
Eschewing the stealth focus of the Metal Gear Solid titles, Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance is a fast-paced, hack and slash title that lets you feel what its like to be an unstoppable cyborg ninja.  Raiden is capable of slicing foes with finesse and efficient timing using a slew of attacks and combos; initially, Raiden only starts out with just his sword, but as he eliminates the Desperados, he can acquire their weapons for usage later on.  By acquiring credits, or BP, you can upgrade Raiden, his unlocked weapons, and buy special outfits to wear during the game; in order to get the most BP, however, players will have to get good at properly timing attacks, dodges, and unleashing his special ability.

Though the gameplay follows the same beats of other genre titles such as God of War and Bayonetta, one mechanic that helps the title stand out is blade mode.  By holding the left trigger, time slows down, allowing Raiden to more fluidly cut his foes, and if you slash a bad guy in a certain spot, he can perform a Zandatsu, which involves yanking an enemy's energy source out and harvesting its power.  Larger and armored enemies require more abuse before they can be sliced up, but successfully using this ability is satisfying.  Equally satisfying are the boss fights, which often require memorizing their attacks in order to determine when and where to strike.  For example, in the boss fight against Desperado teammate Sundowner, he frequently puts up a shield that must be sliced in a certain direction via blade mode in order to expose him to your attacks.  These encounters are often large in scale and rather challenging, yet equally rewarding at the same time.

While Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance is thoroughly entertaining, certain gameplay mechanics occasionally detract from the thrill of it all.  Even though you are constantly facing enemies head-on, there are times when the game forces you into using stealth; it's understandable that Platinum Games would try to keep this aspect of Metal Gear intact, but the stealth feels tacked-on and can be frustrating to pull off due to the finicky nature of the context-sensitive attacks.  More annoying, however, is countering attacks.  In order to counter a foe's move, the analog stick must be moved in a certain direction while pressing the primary attack button, but the input often fails to respond, which means taking damage and losing the chance of a high rank once the fight is over.  Lastly, the thrill and rush of Metal Gear Rising ends too soon, as the game only lasts around four to five hours.

From a technical standpoint, the game runs smoothly and the visual style is both energetic and bland.  Character models and environments look solid, but the stages, ranging from factories to cities to military bases, all look generic and are rather unmemorable.  Meanwhile, the voice acting is good, with the over-the-top performances of the Desperados standing out as the highlight, and the music is an interesting mixture of slow, orchestral beats and fast-paced, electronic rock music which helps raise the intensity of combat and boss fights.

Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance succeeds in giving players the chance to feel like an unstoppable yet skillful killing machine through its frenetic but familiar combat.  It may be on the short side, but its action packed story and ridiculous nature lets us see a side of Metal Gear not seen before, one that is of pure adrenaline.

Final Score: 7/10

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Drive-In of Terror: Onechanbara: Z2 Chaos (PS4)

Every now and then a movie is released with a concept so ridiculous, one has to wonder what the creators were thinking when they came up with this idea.  Look no further than the Syfy Channel's Sharknado series for proof that it's possible to take a far-fetched scenario and not only make it a reality, but also a success.  In contrast, video games and their fantastical premises such as a plumber jumping on sentient mushrooms and turtles or a space marine fighting aliens are relatively tame when compared to what the film industry offers.  On rare occasions, though, a game comes along with such a ludicrous se-up that it can't help but attract the attention of the gaming community, such is the case with Onechanbara Z2: Chaos.  The premise: a group of scantily-clad women work together to fight the undead.

Throughout the history of mankind, there have been two warring factions: the Baneful and the Vampirics.  The two have frequently fought against each other to see which race will come out on top, but there has been no clear victor, as of yet.  In modern times, the Baneful faction consists of the sisters Aya and Saki, and the Vampirics consist of Kagura and Saaya.  The four are fighting it out with each other when a mysterious woman named Evangeline shows up, causing them to stop fighting momentarily.  Then, the floor beneath them crumbles, causing the group to be separated from each other.  After being split up, all four reunite and meet with Anna of the Z.P.F., Zombie Punitive Force, who informs the women that numerous zombie outbreaks have been reported around the world and must be dealt with before things get worse.  Therefore, Aya, Saki, Kagura, and Saaya head out to stop the forces of evil while uncovering Evangeline's plans for global domination.

Though it has a complex backstory, in actuality, Onechanbara's story is a campy and nonsensical narrative.  As this is a sequel to Onechanbara Z: Kagura, which was never released in the U.S., the game assumes players are familiar with the events of the prior entry and it doesn't do much to explain who these characters are and why they are initially hostile towards each other.  Worse, as the game progresses, story becomes an afterthought, so events are hastily wrapped up without much build-up, yet what saves the narrative from being a total mess is the game's style and writing.  There is much creativity present in regards to the world this game establishes and the four girls are entertaining protagonists.  Although the concept might not be everyone's cup of tea, the tongue-in-cheek writing serves as a firm reminder not to take things seriously, which is reinforced by the exchangeable banter of the girls heard during each mission.

Onechanbara: Z2 Chaos' gameplay will feel familiar to those who have played a Dynasty/Samurai Warriors game, or Sengoku Basara, as the formula is similar to those titles, but its pacing and mechanics keep it from being a total copycat.  Each stage sees the player controlling one of the four heroines as they run around slashing up zombies, werewolves, and other monsters with an assortment of weapons and attacks.  Whereas other titles of this genre only let you control one protagonist throughout the campaign, Onechanbara allows players to swap freely between any of the four girls at any time, and each one has their own moves and special traits to prevent any similarity.  For example, when controlling either Aya or Saki, the two are capable of performing a counterattack when the dodge button is pressed at the right moment.  As enemies are killed, blood will fill up on their weapons, and if too much gets on there, then they can get stuck in foes; fortunately, blood can easily be sheathed off by pressing the R1 button.

Additionally, killing bad guys with the currently selected character fills up the ecstasy gauge; when filled, this allows an ecstasy combination to be released, which is a devastating area-of-effect attack.  Certain enemies, such as the mud-men, can only be hurt by ecstasy attacks, meaning players will have to make sure some energy is available if these foes show up.  There's also the stain gauge, which fills up as foes are slaughtered.  Once full, it can cause one of the girls to transform into their berserker form that's capable of annihilating anything and everything caught in their path.  The catch is that health gradually degrades over time, albeit very slowly, but there are special items that can be obtained to regain lost health or decrease the amount of blood currently in the stain gauge.

Performing well in combat and defeating bad guys will net yellow orbs, which can be used to unlock new moves, weapons, and items at goddess statues strewn about each level.  Onechanbara: Z2 Chaos is loaded to the brim with content, featuring many goods to unlock such as costumes, concept art, etc., as well as multiple modes to keep yourself busy with.  After beating the story, a higher difficulty option is unlocked to test your mettle with, and mission mode, which is the game's challenge mode, sees you completing different goals under certain parameters.

As much as Onechanbara: Z2 Chaos is a lot of fun to play, there are several glaring issues, the biggest of which is its repetitive nature.  Though the combat is entertaining, the non-stop slaughtering starts to become very routine as you progress through the story mode; also, it's easy.  While the selection of enemies is inventive and unique, most of them can be taken down with relative ease, especially when a character's berserker state is active.  The only foes that might give you some trouble are the boss fights, but even they tend to lack challenge, although the game does utilize quick-time-events rather well during these encounters, as the player is required to swipe the touch pad of the PlayStation 4 in different directions in order for the girls to turn them into Swiss cheese.

Onechanbara's sense of energy carries over into the graphics, with bright, colorful visuals and inventive character and creature designs, and the framerate stays smooth at all times, even when there is much onscreen activity.  Yet, it goes without saying that the game's blatant and shameless fan-service will not appeal to everyone.  Many of the selectable outfits are quite provocative, and with dialogue including such lines as "Stop dragging your tits around," this is one of those titles where you have to be willing to accept its bad taste, similar to House of the Dead: Overkill.  Speaking of which, the voice acting is deliberately cheesy and more the better because of it, and the music, while heavy on the techno, is quite energetic.

In many regards, Onechanbara: Z2 Chaos is similar to the likes of the Earth Defense Force series, Saints Row, and House of the Dead: Overkill in that it knows what it is and gladly relishes in its absurdity.  The game is far from perfect, as evidenced by its convoluted story and repetitious gameplay, but its frenetic, stylistic energy that permeates throughout keeps this title consistently entertaining, and the amount of content to unlock will keep you busy for quite some time.

Final Score: 7/10