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