Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Earth Defense Force 4.1: The Shadow of New Despair Review

With every new console era, publishers will take their titles, both old and recent, and give them new life on the latest systems.  This concept has been most prevalent in the seventh and eighth generation of consoles; often, the enhancements a game is given are minimal at best, as most of them receive a boost in performance in order to match the hardware specs of the console it's being ported to.  At first glance, Earth Defense Force 4.1: The Shadow of New Despair is a simple re-release of 2014's Earth Defense Force 2025, but underneath the hood are a slew of additions and tweaks that make what is arguably the best installment in the series a smoother playing experience.

Eight years have passed since the fearful invasion of the Ravagers in 2017; in that time, humanity has recovered and used its experience from the attack to better strengthen the firepower and strength of the Earth Defense Force.  With new weapons and infantry divisions, the alliance is better capable of holding off the alien forces, should they ever return.  Then, in 2025, what is just a minor incident with giant ants slowly unravels into a full-scale clash as the Ravagers have come back, and like the Earth Defense Force, they have learned from their encounter with mankind and are armed with new creatures and machinery.  With no other choice, the Earth Defense Force leaps into action to ensure that Earth does not succumb to the extraterrestrial menace.

In spite of the elaborate summarization, Earth Defense Force 4.1's plot is simplistic in set-up and structure, and more the better because of it.  While serious in nature, the over-the-top nature of the situation and dialogue heard throughout each missions reminds us that a game where hordes of creatures are killed with a bombastic arsenal of guns and different characters should not be taken seriously.  It's campy, but not to the point that it's self-aware, and like Earth Defense Force 2017, the radio conversations give players an insight into the events unfolding elsewhere across the globe and to also delve into certain moments and characters from the 2007 game, particularly Storm One and what happened to him after the war.

With the jump to the PlayStation 4, Earth Defense Force 4.1 brings with it a host of various improvements and additions to the core experience, many of these details are miniscule, but make a big difference in the grand scheme of things.  The four classes, the Ranger, the Wing Diver, the Air Raider, and the Fencer, are easier to control thanks to the instruction manual that comes with the game.  With it, understanding the nuances of each character is much easier since you no longer have to figure things out on your own, or rely on the information provided in the loading screens.  Additionally, recovering from attacks is streamlined and quicker to do as tapping the roll button at the right time allows your character to get right back up.

All eighty-five missions from Earth Defense Force 2025 are in this game, yet many have received a change in location and an increase in the number of enemies and allies present in each one.  However, four new stages have been added that focus on the Earth Defense Force's endeavors to stop a new monster known as Erginus, a giant, Godzilla-esque dinosaur that can leap massive distances and shoot lightning from its mouth.  The Earth Defense Force decides to use the Vegalta mech, whose movement is incredibly slow, but it is capable of throwing punches and other techniques to deliver massive pain on the opposition.  The fight against Erginus culminates in all-out battle where squads of the Vegaltas go up against herds of the beasts in a clash that would make Guillermo del Toro proud.

Outside of these adjustments and others, including the ability to recover lost health for your teammates by picking up recovery items and order commands to your squad, this title still offers the best action in the series to date.  The selection of foes includes returning bad guys such as the giant ants, spiders, Hector robots, gunships, and dropships, but they are joined with a host of new enemies including giant bees, dragons, and new variations of the gunships and robots, and the huge roster will certainly keep gamers on their toes.  The campaign is long, taking around twelve to fourteen hours to beat, and though the non-stop shooting can get tiresome, which is something the series has long struggled with, powering up the four characters and unlocking new weapons derides the monotony.

Visually, the jump from the Xbox 360 to the PlayStation 4 not only allowed the developers to put more enemies onscreen, but it also helps iron out the technical issues prevalent in Earth Defense Force 4.1's original release.  Load times aren't lengthy and instead are short and quick, and framerate drops, which have been an issue in prior entries, are minimal to non-existent here.  Voice acting retains the cheesy nature of the dialogue from past games, with plenty of funny lines to be heard throughout, and the music's intense, action-packed compositions help enhance the onscreen chaos.

When you look past the added bells and whistles, Earth Defense Force 4.1: The Shadow of New Despair retains the position of being the pinnacle entry in the series.  While the new content isn't enough to entice those who already have Earth Defense Force 2025, the improvements and changes made to the gameplay and visuals will.  It's an experience that offers plenty of entertainment for both veteran players and newcomers.

Final Score: 7/10

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Rock Band 4 Review

In 2005, Guitar Hero opened up the gateway to an idea many only thought was just a myth that concept being one in which we could be a professional guitarist and play our favorite songs through the power of a plastic guitar and a television screen.  Soon, the rhythm-music genre surged in popularity, with Guitar Hero and its competitor Rock Band ruling as the kings of the genre.  Yet, like most successful musicians, the genre experienced a fall from grace as a result of over-saturation, which led to diminishing sales and interest.  After five years of silence, the two iconic franchises returned in 2015, looking to reignite people's interests.

Even though there is a career mode and an additional story option available, plot is fairly slim in both modes; instead the focus shall be on the guitar bundled with this title.  As someone who has only been familiar with the Guitar Hero guitars, using Rock Band's version was both equally familiar but polarizing at the same time.  Though well-designed and sturdily built, the strummer used for playing notes felt unusual due to the lack of audio feedback every time it was flicked. It makes you fell like you're floating on air, which was frustrating at first, but the nuisance quickly diminished the more I spent time with the instrument.

Rock Band 4 does not deviate heavily from its core concept, so in spite of some new additions and tweaks, this is still the Rock Band we know and love.  Regardless of whether you're playing solo or with friends, the gameplay involves playing or singing music in time with the notes that come scrolling down or across the screen.  The selection of instruments includes the guitar, bass, drums, and microphone; playing well means a high score and star rating, but missing notes and failing to keep in tune with the song ensures that the odds will be against you.  There are five difficulty modes to choose from, easy and medium are best recommended for novices unfamiliar with playing the instruments, but for those looking for a challenge and a way to strain your fingers or vocal chords, hard, expert, and the added brutal mode will test your skills.  If the situation starts to look dire if you are playing "Halls of Valhalla" on expert guitar, deploying overdrive, which is acquired by playing highlighted sections of a track, can be used to keep yourself and other players in the game, so long as everybody plays well.

There are a multitude of modes available to choose from, including career, Rockudrama, quick-play, and many more.  Career sees gamers taking their custom band across different venues in order to build up their success and reach the big time.  Progression is based off of the number of stars that are accumulated in each venue, and when enough are earned, you can progress onward to the next act of the campaign.  An alteration made from prior entries is that one can decide which path the band takes at certain intervals in this mode.  The end choice affects what cities can be played at, the rewards earned, and whether additional cash or fans are earned for each performance.  While minimal in the grand scheme of things, this option means that no career play-through shall be the same. This notion also applies to the new option of being able to take requests from the audience or vote on the songs that shall be played at the venue.

In addition to career, there's a brand new story mode, added via the Rivals expansion, called Rockudrama.  It follows the same structure of career, except your band's history is now presented in the form of a documentary showcasing their rise to fame and fall from glory.  While similar in design to career, the major difference is that before each performance, gamers can wager stars to determine whether they will receive bonus experience, or lose some if they fail to meet or surpass the required number of stars.  It's a fun selection, with most of the entertainment stemmed from the interviews of people associated with the band, as many of them are very humorous.

Performing well in career earns the player cash and fans, the former of which is used to buy items including clothing and instruments for your characters.  Unfortunately, Rock Band 4 is slim on options in regards to designing the perfect rocker.  With no height and body options to choose from, it means all characters, whether created or not, look like late 20's,early 30's people who don't eat enough and are rather slim.  Regardless, the game's visuals are solid and stylized enough that the graphics aren't too cartoonish.  Although the animations for your bandmates as they play a song often look like they are not matching up to the rhythm of the tune, and the crowds that are present in each performance lack in activity and are barely animated.

However, the soundtrack of this fourth installment is a mixed bag.  Though the selection of songs is varied, encompassing a wide selection of decades and artists, including the Who, Rush, the Protomen, the Outfield, and Van Morrison, the problem isn't necessarily the quality, but the fun factor, as some selections are chore to play on certain instruments.  Think of it this way, what would you rather do, sing Bruno Mars' "Uptown Funk," or play the barely prevalent guitar?  Luckily, for those who have issues with the main set-list of this game, the extensive library of downloadable songs offers plenty of choices to pick from to satisfy one's musical needs, provided you have the money to buy them.

Rock Band 4 is both a welcome return and a good starting point for newcomers to the series.  While it doesn't break new ground for the genre as Rock Band 3 did, what the game does offer is fun and entertainment through its well-polished gameplay and selection of songs.  With simple-to-learn but difficult-to-master mechanics and a variety of modes, this new installment in the venerable series is a great time.

Final Score: 8/10