Tuesday, September 20, 2022

The Complete History of Destroy All Humans - Post Mortem

As of September 20, 2022, the Complete History of Destroy All Humans has been out for three days, and so far, it's doing well, better than I expected. The video has over 2,100 views and reactions have been overwhelmingly positive. Heck, the writer of the first two games, Tom Abernathy, live-tweeted his reactions, which was a first!

Now, that the video is out, I've been able to rest, recuperate, and gather my thoughts. This is a post-mortem on the project where I talk about what it took to bring it all together.

Before I start, I want to say thanks for your support. You guys are what pushed me to see this documentary through and make it something special. It had its hurdles, especially in the last couple of months, but I got it done.

Origins

As I've mentioned many times before, I'm a huge fan of "Destroy All Humans." I played the original and its sequel when I was 14 and they blew my mind. Up until then, I had played stuff like "Mario" or "Spyro," stuff mainly meant for kids. "Destroy All Humans" was one of my earliest exposures to games meant for an older audience. It may have been rated T but running around, probing butts as a Jack Nicholson-sounding alien left an impression on my puny mind.

I remember when I first beat the original and unlocked the extras like "Developer Darwinism." I was blown away by all the behind-the-scenes info they showed. This was the first instance where I learned about game development and how a game evolves from its early version to the final product.

I played the later sequels and enjoyed them, but when I learned how bad the reviews were for "Path of the Furon," I remember wondering why the game reviewed so badly, despite how the old trailers hyped it up.

Years pass, I get older, and though my tastes in gaming expand, I never forgot "Destroy All Humans."

In 2020 and 2021, I did a handful of interviews with people who worked on the series, including writer Tom Abernathy and "Big Willy Unleashed" producer Ken Allen. In late 2021, I wrote a short piece about the making of "Path of the Furon" and "Big Willy Unleashed." Both were well-received, and in "Path of the Furon's" case, someone shared it on the Two Best Friends Play subreddit.

Seeing the reactions from the interviews and retrospectives got the juices flowing, and in November, I began outlining the project.

Initial Ideas

The original idea for "The Complete History of Destroy All Humans" was to do a 30-minute video on the series. I was going to do a handful of interviews to get some additional info. At the start of 2022, I decided to expand the project into a five-part series, with a separate video on each game. 

Then, it became a three-part series at the suggestion of Gautier Roux, the man behind the Destroy All Humans Tribute Twitter page. THEN, I decided to go all-out and make it a feature length video. I wanted to test myself as a content creator, and I figured making it feature-length instead of breaking it up into parts was the way to go.

Goals/Vision

My goal for this documentary was to make something comprehensive, in-depth, but didn't overstay its welcome or get bogged by mundane details. There's a documentary on "Spyro: Enter the Dragonfly" on YouTube, and while it has some great stories about the game's troubled development, it lacks structure and features a lot of pointless detours talking about unused assets, music, etc.

I didn't want to make that. I wanted to make something both the hardcore DAH fan could enjoy, but also the average Joe who knows nothing about the games and wants to learn how they were made.

Matt McMuscles' "What Happened?" series was a huge influence. In the span of 15-20 minutes, his videos give you everything you need to know about the bad game or movie being discussed. I applied that mindset to the documentary.

The idea was you could jump in, watch any part of the video, or the whole video, and learn everything possible.

Another influence was "More Brains: A Return to the Living Dead." This is a two-hour documentary about the 1985 horror/comedy "Return of the Living Dead" and it gives you everything you might want to know about the movie's production, plus some stuff you didn't know about. It's two hours long, but it doesn't feel like two hours because it moves along at a swift pace.

I wanted to make this documentary lean, mean, but informative. I sent a 40 min. rough cut to an editor friend of mine and after watching it he said it didn't feel like 40 minutes had passed by.

Research and Interviews

Because this was a documentary, it meant doing research and more importantly, doing interviews. The interviews were one of the vital aspects of the documentary because they helped shape the script. All told, I interviewed 15 people for the project.

How did I reach out to them? Social media. I asked politely if they would be willing to answer questions for the project. Then I wrote the questions, sent it to them, and waited for his/her response.

Their answers helped shape the script and add meat to parts lacking info. For example, the "Destroy All Humans 2" section was the shortest section for the longest while. It wasn't until I got in contact with Kiera Lord and Milenko Tunjic that I got some extra info on the game's development.

In some cases, it led to some surprises, like when I interviewed Don Traeger, the head of Locomotive Games, who revealed "Big Willy Unleashed" was initially conceived as a collaboration with Pandemic Studios.

Like I said, Gautier Roux was very helpful because he provided me with archives of DAH-related material he's found over the years. From concept art to beta images and more, he's cultivated quite a bit, and it made the process of finding interesting/lost DAH material much easier.

With a big project like this, there were challenges; many, many challenges...

Challenges

Because "The Complete History of Destroy All Humans" was a one-man army project, it meant I was doing all the heavy lifting. I did all the outlining, writing, and editing. When I first started working on the project, the idea was I'd script it in the winter, shoot and edit it during the spring, then release it summer 2022.

Yeah, and monkeys will fly out of my butt!

In all seriousness, I was working two jobs at the time. This didn't leave a lot of wiggle room, so I had to either work on the project, or work on videos I had planned for my then-newly launched YouTube channel. No joke, one night at my second job, I wrote questions and sent them to one of my interviewees while I was on the clock. Good thing I didn't get caught.

Eventually, I left both jobs and began working a new job that freed up my schedule considerably. Then, it was full steam ahead.

Missed Opportunities

I didn't interview any voice actors because I didn't want to go through the hassle of contacting their agents to arrange a short interview that may or may not would have happened. It would have been great if I had been able to speak with Grant Albrecht or Richard Horvitz, but it didn't happen.

I also didn't interview anyone who works at Black Forest Games. It would have been nice to get insight from them about the making of both remakes and what they hope the future holds for their studio and DAH, but it didn't happen. Fortunately, I was able to utilize interviews they had already done.

I had thought about including a short bit about the cell-phone games, but in the end, I decided not to worry about them. I didn't consider them essential in the grand scheme of things.

Deadlines

I studied journalism in college, and one thing constantly repeated by my teachers is deadlines are a journalist's worst enemy. Either you make the deadline, or you don't.

I had planned to release the documentary in August, and when "Destroy All Humans 2: Reprobed" was announced for August 30, I thought I'd be able to finish it and release it the day before the game's release.

That wasn't the case.

I had to finish some other videos first, and by the time I could work on the documentary, the game was almost out. I did some late-night crunching to try and finish it, but at a certain point, my brain said, "Delay it. Delay it and tell them when it's done, make an announcement," and I did.

After months of work, the video was finished. Only one problem: our internet is slow. I had to restart uploading a few times until it finally uploaded at a reasonable pace. I apologize for saying it would come out this past Friday when it ended up coming out the day after. 

Had I realized upload speeds would be so slow, I would have had it uploading late Thursday afternoon, that way it'd be almost finished the following Friday morning.

Final Thoughts

Making a video on the history of a video game franchise is no easy task. It requires a lot of planning, writing, revising, and more. This project was a huge test of skill and though it had its challenges, I pulled through and got it done. I had my doubts and concerns, but I'm relieved it's doing well.

However, I'm not going to rest my laurels on this video.

I'm going to keep making videos and pushing myself as a content creator. I have a few ideas in mind for what next year's documentary will be, and I'm taking the lessons I learned from this project and applying it not just to next year's project, but the rest of the videos I make this year and beyond.

Again, thanks for your support. Seeing you guy's enthusiasm on here, the DAH Discord servers, and other places like Twitter and Facebook are what kept me going and ensuring I saw this to the end.

Sincerely,

William Lowery

Sunday, May 29, 2022

Minority Report: Everybody Runs - Everybody Ragdolls

 

Introduction

In the distant past of the early 2000's, it was common for a big budget movie to receive a tie-in game.  These were made to drum up excitement and sell merchandise.  Love the movie?  Then play the game and experience the movie again in digital form!

However, most movie games were the equivalent of unbuttered toast.  Serviceable but bland.  Some were like buttered toast, tasty and enjoyable.  Others were like burnt toast, charred, tasteless, and better off in the garbage.

This leads to this review's subject, Minority Report: Everybody Runs.  Based on the film starring Tom Cruise, which in of itself was based on a Philip K. Dick short story, Minority Report is set in a world where a special branch of law enforcement arrests crooks before they even commit a crime.

Development duties were handled by Treyarch, the same studio responsible for the Sam Raimi Spider-Man games and every Call of Duty not made by Infinity Ward or Sledgehammer.  Seeing how Spider-Man 2 is the hot, buttered toast of movie licensed games, Minority Report: Everybody Runs could very much be the same...or not.  Let's find out.

Story Synopsis

Set in the distant future of 2054, you play as John Anderton, captain of PreCrime.  PreCrime's job is to arrest perps before they commit a crime.  They're able to do this using PreCogs, genetically modified humans who can predict the future.  Because of PreCrime, the national crime rate has plunged.

After thwarting an attempted murder, Anderton returns to HQ only to discover something shocking.  The PreCogs show him killing an unknown man.  Confused and about to be arrested, Anderton flees HQ in search of answers.  He eventually discovers that this vision is a minority report, meaning it's an outcome not all the PreCogs agree on.

Story, Writing, and Characters

Minority Report: Everybody Runs has an intriguing premise, but the game doesn't make the most of it.  The game makes the classic mistake of assuming you have seen the movie and know what's going on.  If you haven't, then 85 percent of the plot won't make sense.  I understood the basic gist of the story, but the game's choppy pacing made it hard to keep track.

Characters come and go, there are sudden shifts in location from one scene to the next, and much of the film's nuance is lost in adaptation.  I like the idea of free will vs. determinism, but Everybody Runs doesn't slow down to explore its themes.  It's more concerned with getting to the next level so the player doesn't fall asleep.

Don't mind him, he's hanging out.

The video game emphasizes action, which is fine, but it creates a disconnect between cut-scenes and gameplay.  During cut-scenes, Anderton is trying to prove his innocence, but it's hard to sympathize when in the previous level, he was chucking cops off skyscrapers.  By the end, I'm pretty sure Anderton lowered Pre-Crime's employment by 70 percent.

This game may be subtitled Everybody Runs, but it should be Everybody Murders.  Anderton seems to take joy dispatching everyone he crosses paths with, especially the FBI agents sent to monitor his behavior.  Minority Report: Everybody Dies takes an engaging sci-fi thriller and turns it into a schlocky action fest.

Gameplay

There's a wrong way and a right way to play Minority Report: Everybody Runs.  If you play it the wrong way, it's a mediocre brawler with clunky controls and difficulty spikes.  If you play it the right way, it's a hilarious physics simulator that rivals the likes of Goat Simulator and Saints Row.

Minority Report is a brawler.  Over the game's 40 levels, John Anderton punches, kicks, and throws his way to uncovering the conspiracy.  Every now and then, Anderton gets his hands on guns, or a jetpack for some flying.  The tutorial stages teach the player the basics before the story mode lets you off the leash.

Initially, the combat isn't half bad.  There's a surprisingly large move-list, along with several techniques to unlock via the black market.  When an enemy is dazed, Anderton can grab them.  You can then either lay some extra blows, chuck them into the scenery, or throw them off a balcony.  Throwing enemies is the easiest way to dispatch foes; not to mention, incredibly satisfying.

The main enemy is PreCrime.  Occasionally, Anderton fights street thugs or robots, but for most of the campaign, it's the boys in blue.  Some cops are armed with stun sticks, some are armed with guns, and some deploy tiny robots that can swarm the player or explode.  There's also the occasional mall security guard, but these guys are no problem for dime-store Anderson Cooper.

Everybody runs in Everybody Runs.

When Anderton's fists get him nowhere, there are guns.  Weapons include machine guns, shotguns, an energy rifle, a grenade launcher, and a launcher that fires swarms of tiny missiles.  My personal favorite is the puke grenade, which stuns enemies and makes them puke their guts out.

Searching each level for secrets rewards you with money, weapons, or health.  The game encourages you to destroy everything in sight and it's surprising how much destructibility there is.  This only adds to the chaotic nature of the gameplay as you try breaking as much stuff as possible.

On paper, Minority Report: Everybody Brawls doesn't sound bad.  In execution, it's equal parts clunky and frustrating.  Despite the wide assortment of moves at your disposal, the basic punches and kicks are the most effective attacks.  Trying any combos will get Anderton knocked off his feet.

Fighting is more manageable when it's only a few foes, but levels frequently pit you against large groups of enemies where the only choice is to give them the runaround.  Successfully winning fights doesn't come from skill, but from running circles like a headless chicken and stopping to curb stomp dudes in the family jewels.

You have guns, but the game discourages you from using them because ammo is limited.  It's best to save your ammo for enemies with guns.  If you don't take them out first, they will quickly whittle away your health with their bullets.  Most of your deaths are the result of being unable to take on all the enemies the game throws at you.

When the going gets tough, the black market supplies Anderton with weapons, supplies, and upgrades.  Annoyingly, there's a limit on each item, and once it's gone, it's gone.  I knew the black market was shady, but I didn't know they were stingy.

He may claim he's innocent, but the fact he uses cops as meat shields shows otherwise.

Variety is limited in Minority Report: Everybody Quits.  Every mission is the same, kill all enemies, kill all enemies, k i l l a l l e n e m i e s.  The game gets repetitive fast, and the choppy pacing means some levels may take ten minutes to beat, while others take less than a minute.  It gets boring and with how cheap the difficulty is, I'm not afraid to admit I used cheat codes.

I'm not usually one to use cheat codes, but this was an instance where I felt it was justified.

The level design is straightforward, but there are times when it's unclear where you are supposed to go.  A good example is a mission set in the Sprawl, a rundown section of the city.  Anderton needs to find the exit, but it doesn't clearly explain where the exit is.  That's not the problem, the problem is the level design makes it hard to tell what's safe to climb and what isn't.

I spent at least five minutes running around, murdering cops and bums alike, until I looked up that you're supposed to shimmy across some ledges to reach a window.

Minority Report is at its best during the jetpack stages.  Flying is surprisingly smooth and it's fun to plow into cops.  It's just a shame the jetpack is severely underutilized.  I would have loved for some levels where you're flying through the city streets, evading the police while trying to reach a safe zone.

Boss fights aren't the best.  They're either too easy, or surprisingly frustrating.  The second fight against Moseley is especially annoying because he has a sweep kick that insta-kills Anderton.

Breaking the Game

Now, I mentioned there's a wrong way and a right way to play this game.  The wrong way is playing the game as is.  The right way is when you activate the cheat codes, which turns Minority Report from something forgettable into something special.

I laughed my ass off as Anderton crashed into furniture, flew around as a zombie, and beat the final boss senseless with a baseball bat.  The cheat codes turn Minority Report into one of the most hilarious games ever made.  Real life bogging you down?  Play Minority Report and watch a dude turn the bodies of other dudes into his own Katamari ball.  With the press of a button, watch as Anderton Cooper careens into patio furniture.


For all its faults, of which there are many, Minority Report is not short on entertainment.

Visuals and Sound

Graphically, the game looks okay.  Characters and locations get the job done, and there's an impressive amount of destructibility.  Glass shatters, furniture breaks, and rocks split in half after meeting the wrath of Anderton's fists.  Plus, the ragdoll is truly amazing.

Tom Cruise didn't voice Mr. Anderton or provide his likeness, hence why he looks like that CNN guy and has the voice of Mr. Krabs.  Clancy Brown does a decent job with what's he's given.  Clancy makes the character a cocky hotshot unfazed by what's going on and not afraid to crack a one-liner or two.  The rest of the voice acting is serviceable, and its hilarious enemies shout "I'm falling!" as you throw them to their deaths.

Remember, this is a T-rated game that lets you chuck guys off rooftops like nobody's business.

Final Verdict

Minority Report: Everybody Runs meets all the hallmarks of a typical movie licensed game.  Flimsy storytelling?  Check.  Clunky gameplay?  Check.  Controller breaking difficulty spikes?  Check.  It doesn't delve into any of the ideas the film posits, nor are the characters anything but forgettable.

The gameplay shows promise with its fisticuffs and jetpacks, but the moment-to-moment action is unsatisfying.  Nothing says fun like being unable to pull off combos and defend yourself against simple hoodlums.  Playing through the 40 levels felt like a chore, not helped by the game's messy pacing.  It may only take four to five hours, but it's a long four to five hours.

However, once the cheat codes are activated, the gloves are off.  What was once plain and forgettable becomes entertaining and cathartic.  If you don't try out the cheats, you're missing out on what makes Minority Report so enjoyable.

Minority Report: Everybody Runs is like unbuttered toast.  You're eating it and it's alright, but it could be better.  You add some jelly and then it becomes tastier.  This game may be a 5/10, but it's a delicious 5/10.

Final Score: 5/10

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

A Very Big Update

It's May.  The temperatures are getting warmer, school's out, and there's a lot going on that I have to discuss.  From a new YouTube channel to a new project to a new chapter in my life.

YouTube

This year, I launched the GamerGuy's Reviews YouTube channel.  With the power of a desktop computer by my side, I'm able to make videos hassle free.  However, looking up my channel shows three videos and three videos only.  You might also notice a two month gap between the last video and my most recent one.

The reason is simple: I was working two jobs.  One during the day, and one at night.

This left me enough time to write, but not enough to produce videos.  Thus, I put videos on the backburner to focus on writing.  This allowed me to at the very least, take any videos I had planned and still put them out as an article.  It was a tough call, but I didn't want to deliver a half baked video.  The good news is I no longer work a night job, which has freed up my schedule.

Even though I've only done a few videos, it's been an interesting experience.  Making videos is like finding your voice all over again.  It's one thing to write a review, it's another thing to write a review that doubles as a script.  Then, there's recording lines, something I dread.  I go through many takes until I hit upon one that sounds just right.  Surprisingly, the least difficult part is editing, though it probably helps that I outline my videos ahead of time.

The more time I spend doing videos, the easier it will get.  My idea moving forward is to do a simultaneous release where the video and article go up together.  I did it with the Force Unleashed review, and I'll keep it that way moving forward.

On the subject of upcoming videos, I have one in the works that's been a long time coming.

The History of Destroy All Humans

Ever since THQ Nordic revived Destroy All Humans, I thought it would be cool if someone explored the series' history.  Then I realized, why not me?  At the end of 2021, I began writing scripts for The History of Destroy All Humans, a line of videos exploring the making of the cult-classic series.

This is a project I'm excited about.  Destroy All Humans is one of my favorite franchises.  It's been fun yet fascinating learning more about the series through my research and doing interviews.  It's given me a better understanding of game development and what it takes to bring a game to fruition.

Originally, I planned on releasing the series next month, with a trailer in April.  Because I was juggling two jobs, I wasn't able to devote as much time to the project as I had hoped.  Last month, I resumed work on the project, and progress has been smooth.  This week, I finished writing the script for Path of the Furon, leaving only the remakes to talk about.  That script will be finished this weekend.

Like I said, this will be a series.  I was originally going to make it a single video, but when I saw the page count had hit 18 pages, I decided to split it up.  This is good because viewers won't fall to sleep, and I won't lose any sleep trying to edit a two-hour long video.

The History of Destroy All Humans is a passion project.  It's satisfying on a personal level and a professional level.  If I pull this off, this could bring a lot of attention to my work.  We'll see.

I'll upload an announcement trailer next month.  The History of Destroy All Humans is coming to YouTube this August.

Freelance Writing

In March, I applied to a handful of websites looking for freelance writers.  I ended up being hired by KeenGamer.  I'm glad for the opportunity because it'll allow me earn some experience writing for a legitimate website, plus I'll get paid for my efforts.

Moving Out

This is a big one.  At the end of May, I'm moving out of my parents' place.  I've lived in this house all my life.  Even during college, I stayed at home instead of living on campus.  While I'll always have plenty of fond memories, it's time for me to move on.  I'm 25 years old and I can't live in this house forever.  If I do, I need my head checked out.

Even as I write this, there's a mixture of emotions running through me.  I'm nervous, I'm excited, and I'm relieved, relieved knowing I'm about to start a new chapter in my life.  I'll be on my own, charting courses for unknown destinations.  Boldly going where I've never gone before.

I'll still be writing reviews and making videos, but I'll be doing it from the comfort of my own place.

Conclusion

There are three constants in life: death, taxes, and GamerGuy's Reviews.  What started as a pastime has opened up opportunities for me I didn't expect.  It pushed me to be creative, to take risks.  It pushed me to better my writing, make it clearer, focused, and less scatterbrained.  There have been highs.  There have been lows.

Five years ago, I came close to calling it quits.  My work/life balance was out of control and I was jeopardizing myself.  I struggled writing because my brain was fried, but I chose not to quit.  I gave myself a month off to put myself back together, and I came back with a vengeance in 2018.

Will I ever stop writing GamerGuy's Reviews?  Yes, but not for the immediate future.  I'm capable of a lot more, and frankly, I'm just getting started.  Now, that I'm on YouTube, I need to build an audience on there, and in turn, get them to check out what I write.  

As a wise man once said, "You're only given a spark of madness, you mustn't lose it."

Friday, May 6, 2022

Star Wars: The Force Unleashed (Switch) Review

A long, long time ago, in a galaxy not too far away, the future of Star Wars was up in the air.  2005's Revenge of the Sith marked the end of the prequel trilogy and the Star Wars saga.  With no new movies for the foreseeable future, it was up to television, comics, and video games to provide people their Star Wars fix.

There has been a plethora of Star Wars games.  Some good, some bad.  In 2008, LucasArts released Star Wars: The Force Unleashed, a game which asked the question, "What if you could use the Force to pull a Star Destroyer out of the sky?"  The game made headlines for using the Euphoria physics engine and for its story, which was set in between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope.

To ensure the game did well, multiple versions were created for next-gen systems, last-gen systems, handhelds, and even mobile phones.  LucasArts handled development duties for the next-gen version, while the Australian-based Krome Studios worked on the Wii, PS2, and PSP ports.  In early 2022, publisher Aspyr surprised everyone by announcing a remaster of the Wii version for Nintendo Switch.


Waggle like it's 2008.

The game opens with Darth Vader landing on Kashyyk.  The Sith Lord is looking for a Jedi hiding out on the Wookee home-world.  He finds the Jedi and is about to execute him when he discovers the Jedi has a son.  Vader murders the Jedi, takes the boy, and raises him in secrecy.  Trained in the ways of the dark side, Starkiller is tasked by Vader to eliminate all remaining Jedi.

Assisting him on his journey is his personal droid Proxy and his pilot Juno Eclipse.  Eventually, Starkiller begins veering from the dark side and onto the path of good.  His actions lead to the creation of a rebel alliance that will fight back against the Galactic Empire.

The Force Unleashed's story does a good job bridging the gap between the prequels and the original trilogy without coming off as fanfiction.  This game may be considered non-canon, but it's a solid tale backed by memorable characters and good writing.

Starkiller's journey from evil to good is what keeps you invested.  He's like Luke if Luke had been raised by Vader.  He believes the Sith is good and the Jedi are weak.  However, when he's assassinating Jedi master Rahm Kota, the seeds of his redemption are planted.  As the game continues, he realizes the dark side isn't what it's cracked up to be.

The level selection reflects this.  You spend the first half following Vader's orders, and then in the second half, you return to each planet to undo the damage you caused.  Starkiller's pilot/potential love interest is Juno Eclipse.  She's there to do her job but after she's arrested by the Empire, Starkiller saves her, and she helps him in his quest.  Just as you think the two are about to fall in love, Starkiller sacrifices himself to save the rebellion.

Rubbing your feet on carpet leads to shocking results.

Proxy is a droid and Starkiller's trainer.  The best way to describe him is that he's C-3PO's psychotic cousin.  When he's not providing detailed information on characters and missions, he's trying to murder Starkiller to fulfill his programming.  Unfortunately, this aspect of the character is absent from Krome Studios' version, which is a shame because his dark humor led to some funny moments in the HD version.

The story and characters are the same between LucasArts and Krome Studio's versions.  However, the latter is based on an earlier draft of the game's script, so it features levels not seen in the LucasArts title.  These include trips to the Jedi temple and a detour to Cloud City.  While this is cool for hardcore fans, the extra levels don't impact the story much.

The Jedi temple levels are unnecessary because they don't add anything meaningful.  Plus, you visit this place not once, not twice, but three times.  At least with Cloud City you are there to convince the planet's leader to join the rebellion, and save him from the bounty hunters wreaking havoc.

My favorite aspect of the story is the locations.  Although you travel to familiar places like Kashyyk and the Death Star, you also visit planets referenced or briefly shown in the films, like Felucia and Raxus Prime.  Raxus Prime is a standout because of its design and atmosphere.  It's a rundown planet built on the remains of droids and starships, so everything is rusty, dank, and decrepit.

I like it when Star Wars shows us sides of the galaxy we've rarely seen, and the Force Unleashed is no exception.

Star Wars: The Force Unleashed is best described as God of War Meets Psi Ops.  You can slash at foes with your lightsaber or knock them around using the Force.  The most unique aspect of this recent remaster are the controls.  The game lets you choose between using a mixture of motion and traditional controls, or just traditional controls.

Travel to Cloud City and stop some bounty hunters.

I played the game exclusively using the former and it was quite satisfying.  Swinging the lightsaber with the right joy-con felt more responsive than it did in the original Wii game.  That version had a hard time reading your swings, so you would flail your remote around and hope for the best.  Not the case here.

Using force push is done by shaking the left joy-con, while other abilities like lightning, repulse, and dash are allocated to the face buttons and triggers.  The game does a great job mixing these two control styles together, and it made me feel like a little kid swinging his toy lightsaber around while pretending to fight stormtroopers or droids.

The gameplay itself is typical hack and slash fare with a Star Wars touch.  There's a wide assortment of abilities and combos to unleash, and it's fun experimenting with your move-set to see what works best.  While the combat is more polished in LucasArts' version, Krome Studio's take is more creative, and in my opinion, more fun.

What also helps keep the combat enjoyable is the diverse enemy roster.  Each planet has its own unique faction, like junk scavengers and scrap droids on Raxus Prime, or native warriors and Rancors on Felucia.  You aren't exclusively fighting the Empire, and the varied roster encourages you to mix up your fighting tactics.

The Rogue Shadow is Starkiller's ship and acts as a hub in between levels.  You can customize your lightsaber, buy upgrades, change outfits, or look at concept art.  There are even cheat codes to input that unlock infinite health, infinite force energy, or access to skins based on legacy characters like Luke Skywalker and Admiral Ackbar.

Each stage features a mini-boss and a boss for Starkiller to face off against.

Though its fun tossing stormtroopers like ragdolls, the gameplay does show its age.  The lock on is spotty.  It often locks on to the the wrong thing you meant to grab or slash.  The enemy AI isn't the brightest either.  I've seen them run into walls or get hung up on objects.  Checkpoints are frequent so even if you die, you won't lose much progress.

The boss fights are serviceable, but it's easy to spam your moves and cheese yourself into an easy victory, and because this is a game from 2008, you use quick time events to finish them off.  Although these sequences are well-animated, the prompts to shake the left or right joy-con in time remind you that this is a 2008 game remastered for 2022.

Star Wars: The Force Unleashed features quite a bit of post-game content, including a new game plus option and multiplayer.  Disappointingly, the remaster lacks the PSP-exclusive bonus missions, but the game makes up for this with its GRAPHICALLY IMPRESSIVE visuals.

Someone should have told Aspyr that Wii games weren't meant to run at 60 FPS.  In all seriousness, I'm impressed with how Aspyr remastered this game for the Switch.  Some of the textures look basic and the facial animations are noticeably stiff, but other things like the lighting and environments look great.

The physics might not be as dynamic as Euphoria, but environments are destructible and there's some satisfying ragdoll when you throw someone into a bottomless pit.  I did encounter some minor glitches.  Enemies got hung up on the environment and the ragdoll sometimes made enemies look like they were having a seizure.

The strangest bug was when an enemy suddenly became invincible, unable to be killed or grabbed with force grip.  Fortunately, this didn't prevent me from beating the level.

The multiplayer roster features characters from the movies and expanded universe.

Again, it surreal seeing this game with crisp graphics and a smooth framerate.  Yet, I think it goes to show how Krome Studios didn't half-ass the visuals and put in the effort to make the Wii version look as good as possible.  After playing it, I started thinking about what other Wii games could be remastered for the Switch.  Anyone up for a Ninjabread Man remaster?

Sound is great.  Lightsabers sound like lightsabers and enemies make satisfying death sounds.  The voice performances are great, particularly Sam Witwer as Starkiller.  This game made him a go-to guy for the franchise as he went on to voice Darth Maul and Emperor Palpatine in future Star Wars projects.  The music is good, relying on a mixture of classic Star Wars tracks and new music to heighten the action.

Star Wars: The Force Unleashed is a solid remaster of its Wii port.  Whether or not you choose to get this version or the readily available LucasArts version boils down to personal preference.  Both games have their strengths and weaknesses.  The Force Unleashed on 360, PS3, and PC is a fine hack and slash but a fantastic tech demo for Euphoria.

The Force Unleashed on Switch is a fine hack and slash that makes the most of the hardware it was on.  The graphics may not be as sharp, but its strong art direction and visual flair help this version stand toe to toe with its HD big brother.  Plus, they ironed out the wonky lightsaber swinging, so you can swing your joy-con and not worry about spraining your wrist.  While I enjoy the HD version for its technical achievements, I enjoy this version for its gameplay and controls.

As for the story, it's an enjoyable tale of evil becoming good, and how one man's actions spark a movement against the Empire.  It's a satisfying story that was in no way ruined by an unnecessary sequel that turned a cool character into a misguided simp.

Final Score: 7/10

Friday, April 15, 2022

Evil Dead: The Game: Why I'm Excited, Why I'm Concerned, and What I'd Like to See

 


In the late 1970's, a group of friends set out from Michigan to make a horror movie in rural Tennessee.  That movie was The Evil Dead, and those friends were Sam Raimi, Rob Tapert, and Bruce Campbell.  Though filming took place in freezing conditions and went overschedule by a few years, the result was the ultimate experience in grueling terror.

The Evil Dead spawned two sequels, a remake, a TV series, and Bruce Campbell, king of the chins.  There were also video games.  The first attempt was a Commodore 64 adaptation of the first movie.  The later games, including Evil Dead: Hail to the King and Evil Dead: A Fistful of Boomstick, acted as unofficial sequels to the film trilogy.

2005's Evil Dead: Regeneration was the last time Evil Dead graced consoles, not counting the mobile games and cameos from Ash Williams in Poker Night and Dead by Daylight.  In 2020, Evil Dead: The Game was announced.  An asymmetrical multiplayer experience, Evil Dead: The Game brings together characters and demons from across the franchise into one game.

With the game releasing next month, here are three reasons why I'm excited, three reasons why I'm concerned, and what I'd like to see for the game's DLC.

Why I'm Excited

1. Respect for the Source Material

Developer Saber Interactive has touted the game's authenticity, and judging by what's been shown, the developers have nailed the look and feel.  The roster of playable characters includes Ash Williams.  Not just any Ash Williams, mind you, but all four of his film and TV incarnations.  That's more Bruce than you can handle.

In addition, side characters like Cheryl from The Evil Dead, Annie Knowby from Evil Dead II, and Lord Arthur from Army of Darkness will be playable.  Nearly all the original actors came back and reprised their roles.  On the villain side, gamers will get to play as Henrietta from Evil Dead II, Evil Ash from Army of Darkness, and Eligos from Ash vs. Evil Dead.


The trailers have teased many nods to the franchise.  For example, Deadites can create traps like a box full of little Ash's, or a box with Ash's severed hand, which will temporarily distract the player.  During gameplay, you play as the roaming, evil force, and the movement effectively mimics Sam Raimi's camerawork.

Additionally, survivors will chat during gameplay, and people who played the game said they noticed many callbacks, and I imagine there will be plenty of Easter eggs hidden for fans to find and geek out on.

Fan service is fine, but what about the gameplay?

2. The Premise Sounds Fun

As mentioned, Evil Dead is an asymmetrical multiplayer experience.  Four people play as the humans, one person plays as the Deadites.  The humans need to find the Necronomicon and use it to stop the Deadites.  As the evil force, you must use your powers to stop them.  This set-up will be familiar to those who played Friday the 13th or Dead by Daylight.

What makes Evil Dead: The Game unique is the survivors and demons are split into classes.

When they touted how you can play as different characters from the movies, one thing I immediately wondered was, "Why would I want to play as anyone other than Ash?"  Fortunately, the factions give a reason to play as characters like Scotty, Pablo, or Kelly.

The factions are Leaders, Warriors, Hunters, and Support.  This provides an incentive to try out the roster since different characters occupy different classes and have different abilities.  This is also a clever way to feature four playable Ash's because each incarnation occupies a different class.


As is the case with games like Dead by Daylight or Left 4 Dead, cooperation is key to survival.  If you want to find the book and put an end to the darkness, then you need to work together.  This isn't like Friday the 13th where you could team up or let things devolve into chaos.

On the demonic side of things, each of the three Deadites has their own class and abilities.  Game Informer released a video showcasing Deadite gameplay, and as the evil force, you need to collect energy to do things like summon minions, set traps, or do things like possess players or control the head Deadite.

Unlike Jason Voorhees from Friday the 13th or the killers from Dead by Daylight, you're not an unstoppable force.  Managing your resources and knowing when to attack the survivors is important.  Plus, Deadites like Henrietta or Elegos can be killed.  You don't want the humans to win, so play smart.  Play S-mart!  You got that!

3. Single Player

When the game was announced, it was multiplayer-only.  Not long after, Saber delayed the game for extra development time and to add a single-player component.

This is good because single player will allow people to familiarize with the mechanics, or play the game by themselves because their human companions acted like a bunch of primitive screwheads.  Either way, single player features a handful of missions, as well as an offline version of the multiplayer, complete with bots.  Plus, missions let you unlock skins and other free items.

Why I'm Concerned

1. Will the gameplay grow stale?

One problem with a lot of multiplayer-focused licensed titles is the staleness factor.  When you're doing the same thing over and over with little variation, it gets mind-numbing.  The worst case example is Predator: Hunting Grounds.  They spent more time and money getting Arnold Schwarzenegger than they did creating interesting gameplay.

Evil Dead: the Game doesn't look like it will fall into the same trap.  With multiple characters, classes, skill trees, plus solo and multiplayer options, there's enough to keep players busy.  However, we'll see a few months after release if it's still enticing new gamers, or if it's been forgotten.

2. The Lack of Marketing

Evil Dead: The Game isn't being put out by a AAA company.  In fact, this is the second game of publisher Boss Team Games.  That's fine, but up until this month, both the developer and publisher have been mum on the game.

We're one month away from Evil Dead's release, and only now are we getting more coverage, including a cover story in Game Informer and a press event later this April.  Prior to this, there was a pre-order trailer and two gameplay trailers, all of which came out several months apart from each other.


Not every game gets a boatload of media coverage, but I'm surprised how only now is the game being properly shown off.

3. Performance

Games like Friday the 13th and Predator were infamous for the long wait times in between matches.  When everyone's wanting to be the Predator or Jason, expect to stare at the main menu screen a long time.  This isn't accounting for the rampant glitches and other issues that plagued both titles at launch and continue to happen to this day.

Hopefully, Evil Dead: The Game doesn't suffer from these issues.

What I'd Like to See

The game has potential to be good, or at the very least, decent.  A $20 season pass is available for the game, a season pass that promises more content at regular intervals.  The Evil Dead franchise offers a plethora of possibilities when it comes to characters, locations, or even modes.

I've seen a lot of demand for characters from the 2013 remake, or for characters like Bobby Jo and Jake from Evil Dead II.  The launch game features one map, a gigantic map, I might add, but it'd be great to see Arthur's castle or Ash's hometown from the TV series as selectable locations.

As for modes, one idea I had was what I like to call "Dead by Dawn," where the humans must hold out until dawn while the Deadites try to possess all the survivors and swallow their souls.  You could set this mode in a small portion of the map and punish players with instant death if they try escaping.

Since characters from Army of Darkness are in the game, why not a survival mode set in Arthur's castle?  You need to protect the Necronomicon from the army of darkness using any means necessary.  This mode could let players drive the Death Coaster, Ash's modified Delta 88.

"Say hello to the 21st century!"

Who knows what Saber Interactive has planned, but these are some suggestions courtesy of a 25-year-old guy with too much time on his hands.

Closing Thoughts

I hated horror movies as a kid.  I found them too scary, too frightening.  Years later, I came across a copy of If Chins Could Kill, Bruce Campbell's autobiography, and read his stories about making the Evil Dead movies.  This motivated me to track down the films and before I knew it, I was a horror fan.

Evil Dead games have had their ups and downs.  For me, I see this new title as a chance to introduce the cult series to a new generation.  This was the case with Friday the 13th as it exposed a lot of people to the gory world of Jason Voorhees.  If the gameplay is good and the fan service is plentiful, then this could be the surprise hit of 2022.

Bruce Campbell may no longer be playing Ash on camera, but video games let him reprise the role with none of the physical hassle.  The same goes for all the other actors who returned for this game.

Only time will tell if the game is groovy, or if it's dead by dawn.

Wednesday, April 13, 2022

Tiny Tina's Wonderlands (PS4) Review


Intro
Believe it or not, I couldn't play M-rated games until I was 17.  While some parents were more lenient with what their kids could play, my parents weren't.  In their mind, games like Grand Theft Auto and Call of Duty were how sociopaths were born.

Because of this, I missed out on games like Borderlands.  I had read about Borderlands in various gaming magazines and the premise intrigued me.  A first-person shooter where you collect guns?  That's awesome!  When I finally turned the big 1-7, I went out and bought as many M-rated games as I could, including Borderlands and Borderlands 2.

My excitement waned as I got my ass kicked repeatedly.  I didn't realize Borderlands was both a shooter and an RPG, so imagine my surprise as my level one character died over and over trying to fight level four enemies.  Luckily, I was patient, and once I grasped the game's FPS/RPG mechanics, I was hooked.

Borderlands was the brainchild of Gearbox Software.  The Texas-based developer cut its teeth on Half-Life expansions and PC ports of console games before finding success with Brothers in Arms and Borderlands.  The latest entry, Tiny Tina's Wonderlands, is a spin-off set in a fictional tabletop game.


Story Synopsis
Taking place between Borderlands 2 and Borderlands 3, the game follows Tiny Tina, an explosives expert enjoying a game of "Bunkers and Badasses" with the space pirate Valentine and his sidekick Frette.  "Bunkers and Badasses" is a fantasy RPG, and the player, also the character you play as, joins the trio for a game.

In the world of "Bunkers and Badasses," an evil warrior called the Dragon Lord seeks to rule the Wonderlands.  With the help of Princess Butt Stallion, the Dragon Lord is imprisoned, and all is well in the Wonderlands.  Unfortunately, the Dragon Lord is freed by his skeleton army, and now the player must stop the Dragon Lord before the Wonderlands is consumed in darkness.

Story, Writing, and Characters

Years ago, Gearbox made a DLC for Borderlands 2 called "Tiny Tina's Assault on Dragon Keep."  The DLC was a fun send-up of tabletop games and the fantasy genre.  With Tiny Tina's Wonderlands, the developers take the idea of a fictional fantasy board game and run with it.

From a writing perspective, it's better than Borderlands 3.  Well, mostly better.  Borderlands 3 felt like it was written by a 40-year-old who spent way too much time on Reddit.  Tiny Tina's Wonderlands feels like it was written by someone who plays a lot of tabletop games, and I mean that in a positive way.

I love the interplay between Tiny Tina, Valentine, and Yvette.  Their banter feels natural, and it sells the idea this is a group of friends hanging out and having fun.  As the one hosting the game, Tina acts as an unreliable narrator.  When she's not narrating your quest, she's changing the scenery or bending the rules to make things easier or harder.

This leads to some clever sight gags.  A sunny mushroom forest becomes a dank mushroom forest at a moment's notice.  Characters might suddenly turn from evil to good, or be given incredibly elaborate backstories for no reason, other than Tina thought it was cool.

No one in the Wonderlands is safe when Tiny Tina is the game master.

The funniest bits are the interactions with But Stallion.  Butt Stallion is a diamond unicorn and ruler of the Wonderlands.  What makes these scenes funny is how everyone can understand her whinnies and tell the player what she's saying.  Plus, it's not every day you play a game where you get knighted by a diamond unicorn, yet the game plays these absurd moments as straight as possible.

Since this is a spin-off, you don't need intimate knowledge of the series to understand the story.  A few familiar faces like Claptrap and Brick show up, but that's it.  The Dragon Lord, Wonderlands' antagonist, is delightfully smug.  His personality is shades of Handsome Jack, but I like how he's aware that he's the creation of a hyperactive teenager.

As much as I enjoyed the humor, not every joke sticks the landing.  The game loves making pop-culture references and spoofing popular media.  Take, for instance, a mission where you help a tribe of trolls called the Murphs.  Get it?  It's the Smurfs.  The bad comedy would be excusable if the dialogue wasn't so relentless.

Characters are always talking.  It doesn't matter if it's the hero, the villain, the civilians, the enemies, EVERYONE IS TALKING.  Again, there are some genuinely funny moments, but they are drifting around in the overflowing sink that is the game's dialogue.

Gameplay

The best way to describe Tiny Tina's Wonderlands is its Skyrim with Guns.  Take a fantasy game, give the wizards and warriors guns, and you have Tiny Tina's Wonderlands.

For the uninitiated, Borderlands is a looter shooter.  You slay enemies to earn XP and cash, search chests for loot, and complete a lot of quests.  Tiny Tina's Wonderlands is no different.  Yet, when the looter shooter formula is mixed with fantasy RPG elements, the results are fascinating.

Instead of choosing a predetermined character and their class, Wonderlands lets you create your own character and choose your own class.  The character customization is robust.  You can modify their height, hairstyle, gender, voice, etc.  There are six classes to choose from, each with special abilities like being able to summon minions or unleash a spinning barrage of melee attacks.

Each class has a secondary ability, a feature introduced in Borderlands 3.  However, Wonderlands goes one step beyond Borderlands 3 when it comes to character building.  Halfway through the campaign, you unlock the option to choose a second class.  From there, you are free to either continue building your current class or swap to the one you unlocked.  I love how versatile and experimental this new system is.

Instead of three separate skill trees, Wonderlands opts for one universal skill tree for each class.  This makes the classes more focused, in my opinion.

In previous Borderlands games, you picked a class, that was it.  If you wanted to try a different class, you had to start from scratch.  By letting you mix and match how you want to play, it encourages creativity and rewards you with a stronger, deadlier warrior.

Navigation is another element that's been overhauled.  Fast travel is still an option, but traversing the Wonderlands itself is done by navigating the board game.  It's fun to explore and look for secrets like dungeons, shrines, and shortcuts.  Just be sure to punch any enemies that get close unless you want to get pulled into a random encounter.

Combat is identical to Borderlands 3, but since this is set in a fantasy game, certain aspects have been tweaked. Instead of grenades, you use spells.  Spells vary in their abilities.  Some spells let you cast a bolt of lightning, some let you unleash a barrage of projectiles, some conjure a shield, and others summon a meteor out of thin air.  In addition to guns, there are crossbow variants that deal extra damage.

Melee combat, something of an afterthought in previous entries, is fleshed out.  There are melee weapons like swords, maces, and clubs to find and equip.  Melee is a satisfying alternative to guns and spells.  It's fun to smack enemies around and watch them fly.

Borderlands games are known for their extensive arsenals, and Tiny Tina's Wonderlands is no exception.  Enemies drop loot, chests are filled with loot, and completing quests earns you loot.  Be sure to keep a look out for 20-sided dice, which give you a chance to roll for even more loot.

Loot includes guns, shields, as well as rings, amulets, and tunics that grant buffs like increased gun damage or reduced cooldown for your ability.  A rarity scale determines how valuable items are.  The rarer the gear, the more powerful it is.  Brighthoof is the game's hub.  Here, you can accept additional quests, customize your character, reclaim any lost loot, or buy capacity upgrades.  If you sack is full, you can sell your gear or deposit them into a safe.

That's what we call a loot-splosion.

Going back to combat, the enemy roster isn't the usual bandits, skags, and robots.  The primary enemy is the Dragon Knight's skeleton army, but there are also thieves, goblins, mushroom men, pirates, cyclops, landsharks, and dragons.  Certain enemies are more susceptible to elements like fire and corrosion.  Freeze is the most damaging element since it's capable of slowing down and immobilizing most enemies.

Difficulty-wise, I'd say Wonderlands is on par with previous Borderlands games.  Choosing the right skills and the right guns betters your chance of survival.  If you go down, you have a chance to save yourself by killing an enemy before time runs out.  The combat is fun but repetitive.  For most of the campaign, you fight skeletons and once you've dismembered one spooky skeleton, you've dismembered them all.

My biggest problem with Wonderlands is the side quests.  The side quests aren't bad.  On the contrary, they are cool and take you to places you won't explore during the story.  Plus, some of the situations are amusing, like a mission where you help a villager woo someone by summoning a goblin, dressing it up, and getting it to recite a love poem.

The reason I'm 50-50 on them goes back to the writing.  With how relentless the dialogue is, completing some of these quests felt like a chore.  I wouldn't mind saving a town stuck on a beanstalk if Brick wasn't constantly reminding me about killing the source of the beanstalk.  Your mileage may vary on your tolerance for chattering chatterboxes, but for me, it was nails on chalkboard.

Beating the game took around 15 hours.  Completing the story mode unlocks the option to pick a new secondary class and an arena called the Chaos Chambers.  The Chaos Chambers let you fight waves of enemies.  In between rounds, you may pick modifiers that make fights easier or harder.  Your reward for enduring the chambers is crystals for buying rare gear.

It's not a fantasy game if there aren't any dragons.

The Chaos Chambers will feel familiar to those who remember the Circle of Slaughter arenas from previous games, and I think it's a great way to earn some loot and farm for experience.  If nothing else, you can complete any side quests you missed or hunt down collectibles like scrolls, dice, or marbles.  Borderlands games thrive on replay value, and Tiny Tina's Wonderlands offers plenty to keep you busy.

Graphics and Sound

Visually, the game's art direction is stellar.  I love the look and feel of Wonderlands, particularly the environments.  You'll explore medieval villages, sunny coastlines, gothic castles, and frozen tundra.  There a lot of little details to appreciate, like the pieces of food littered on the game board or how if you look closely in some spots, you can spot other locations far off in the distance.

I played the game on PS4 and while the game ran well, I did notice some texture pop-in when loading into a new area, plus some framerate dips during intense firefights.  Towards the tail-end of the game, I noticed my shields were always at half capacity.  I'm not sure why this happened, but I imagine patches will rectify these issues.

The voice acting is great and features some star power in the form of Andy Samberg, Wanda Sykes, and Will Arnett.  All three do a stellar job voicing their respective characters, and the rest of the performances are good.  The dialogue might be non-stop, but at least no one is phoning it in.

Closing Thoughts

I was pleasantly surprised by Tiny Tina's Wonderlands.  I expected plenty of looting and shooting, and the game delivers on both.  What I didn't expect was how integral the fantasy element would be.  What could have been a back of the box gimmick is a fully realized component.  After four games of exploring the wild west of space, it was refreshing to explore the Wonderlands.

The gunplay is familiar, but the additions like spells, melee weapons, and expanded character building help set Wonderlands apart and not feel like a copy and paste job.  Building your ideal warrior is made more satisfying with the option to swap between character classes, giving you a greater level of freedom than before.

All these skeletons wouldn't look out of place in Army of Darkness.

The meta-narrative of playing a game within a game means plenty of amusing sight gags and fourth wall breaks.  When the writing is good, it's good, and when it's bad, it's bad.  It's a step above Borderlands 3 because my eyes weren't constantly rolling from the cringey comedy or obnoxious characters, but the endless chatter wears you down.

Despite this, Tiny Tina's Wonderlands is a refreshing take on an established franchise and shows how unfamiliar concepts can be mixed with a familiar idea to create something remarkable.

Final Score: 8/10

Sunday, March 20, 2022

Earth Defense Force 2017: A 15th Anniversary Retrospective

 


Let's journey back to 2007.  It was a time when MySpace was all the rage, YouTube was in its infancy, and blockbusters like Spider-Man 3 and Transformers dominated the box office.  2007 was a year which saw many great games like Bioshock, Super Mario Galaxy, and Earth Defense Force 2017.

Earth Defense Force 2017 was an oddity.  It was the third game in a series few were aware of.  The box art was unremarkable, and it released for the low price of 40 dollars.  Plus, it looked less like an Xbox 360 game and more like a high-res PS2 game.

It looked like junk, but what people didn't expect was that it was entertaining junk.  Earth Defense Force 2017 holds a 69 on Metacritic.  Critics praised the game for its bug-blasting action but criticized its shoddy production values.  IGN's headline stated, "Somebody please give these guys a bigger budget."

When I was 15, I got an Xbox 360 for Christmas and two games to go along with it.  Those two games were Destroy All Humans: Path of the Furon and Earth Defense Force: Insect Armageddon.  I had heard about Earth Defense Force through Classic Game Room and how amazing Earth Defense Force 2017 was.

The following summer, I found a copy of 2017 at my local GameStop.  Although I liked Insect Armageddon, I loved Earth Defense Force 2017.  With the game turning 15 this year, let's look back on Earth Defense Force 2017 and why it's one of the greatest games of the 21st century.

I don't think they come in peace.

The Earth Defense Force was a budget title released as part of Japan's Simple 2000 series.  Simple 2000 was a line of budget releases encompassing many genres including shooters, RPGs, mahjong, and more.  The Earth Defense Force did well enough to receive a sequel, Earth Defense Force 2.

Neither game received a western release out of reluctance by Sony America.  In an interview with Polygon, series producer Nobuyuki Okajima explained, "They didn't want cheap games, or games with bad graphics, or games with unstable framerates, and so on."  However, Earth Defense Force and its sequel were released in Europe as Monster Attack and Global Defense Force.

In 2006, developer Sandlot and publisher D3 released Earth Defense Force 3 for the Xbox 360.  One year later, this third entry was released in North America as Earth Defense Force 2017, and as they say, the rest is history.

In the distant future of 2013, a radio wave is picked up by Earth's satellites.  Theorizing that this signal was sent by an alien lifeform, the Earth's nations band together to form the Earth Defense Force.  This group is tasked with protecting the planet from potentially hostile invaders.  Fast forward four years to 2017, where a huge spaceship is spotted floating above a Japanese city.

Earth Defense Force 2017 won't win awards for its plot or characters, which are minimal.  However, one of the game's greatest strengths lies in its storytelling.

Earth Defense Force 2017 is both a fantastic shooter and a brilliant radio drama.  Intel regularly chimes in with updates on how the fight against the Ravagers is going in other parts of the world.  It gives you a good idea on the scope of the invasion and tells you how dire things are without directly showing you.

The dialogue is cornball, but what makes it brilliant is that everything is played straight instead of trying to be self-aware.  You can tell these voice actors are giving it all, which makes the one-liners like "Do you like death?  Then die!" that extra bit memorable.

I also like how we're never given a clear explanation as to who or what the Ravagers are.  All we know is they are a race of creatures bent on destroying Earth.  Some of the dialogue provides clues to their motivations, but the rest is left to the player's imagination.

Special mention must be given to Storm One, the EDF soldier you play as.  Storm One gives the likes of the Doom Slayer and Master Chief a run for their money with regards to his badassery.  He single-handedly takes down numerous waves of insects, mechs, spaceships, and even the mothership.  Plus, he can survive falls from thousands of feet in the air, physics be damned.

Where Earth Defense Force 2017 really shines is its simple but fun gameplay.

This is one of the game's smaller firefights.

Earth Defense Force 2017 is as basic as it gets.  Each mission is straightforward: kill all enemies.  There are no escort missions, no stealth missions, no fetch quests, all you need is kill.  Its design is rudimentary, but there are a lot of nuances that give the gameplay an immeasurable amount of charm.

As Storm One, you can move, shoot, dodge roll, and jump.  There is no sprinting, so be ready to dodge roll to reach the next objective.  At the start, you only have a basic assault rifle and rocket launcher.  Killing enemies drops loot including armor, health, and weapons.

Health restores health.  Armor increases your overall health, and weapon pick-ups unlock new guns.  The weapon variety is staggering.  There are machine guns, shotguns, sniper rifles, missile launchers, grenade launchers, FLAMETHROWERS, and much, much more.

Remember, this game came out in 2007, two years before Borderlands popularized the idea of the looter shooter.  Some guns have special quirks, and weapons that might seem useless are useful for certain stages.  For example, the "Bound Gun" fires bouncing bullets, which are handy for the tight, cramped cave levels.

The game's 53 stages take you through cities to the countryside to the caves.  What's cool is how destructible these environments are.  Everything but the ground you're standing on can be destroyed.  Buildings, fences, cars, nothing is safe from the Earth Defense Force.  Any other game would penalize you for causing such wonton destruction, not the case here.  You can even murder your allies and get away with it.

Earth Defense Force 2017 features a varied selection of foes.  There are giant ants, giant spiders, mechs, gunships, dropships, a giant walking fortress, and a wannabe-Godzilla thrown in for good measure.  The game introduces new enemies at regular intervals to prevent the action from getting stale.  Certain creatures, like the walking fortress or not-Godzilla, act as boss fights, and they also highlight the game's massive scale.

The game does a great job at conveying scale.  Although there are only a handful of environments, each one is massive, allowing the developers to set missions in different parts of the map to give off the illusion you're somewhere new.  You frequently find yourself taking on massive groups of insects and other invaders, and it gives off the feeling of being David taking on Goliath, a small man facing a gigantic threat.

One rocket, grenade, or missile is enough to level a five-story building.

The action is chaotic, but it never becomes tiring.  A first-time playthrough will take around five hours, and at 53 missions, the campaign doesn't feel bloated, nor does it feel short.  As much as I like Earth Defense Force 4.1 and Earth Defense Force 5, I feel the campaigns are a bit too long, especially the fifth game.  Earth Defense Force 2017 is a satisfying journey, but we're only scraping the surface in terms of its content.

Earth Defense Force 2017 features five difficulties: Easy, Normal, Hard, Hardest, and Inferno.  Clearing the game on Normal or Easy means you beat the campaign on that particular difficulty.  Easy, Normal, and Hard aren't terribly difficult, but be ready to farm for armor to survive Hardest and Inferno.  The reward is worth it as beating the campaign on higher difficulties unlocks special weapons.  Going the distance and beating the game on Inferno unlocks the Genocide Gun, a weapon so powerful it makes the BFG-9000 it's bitch.

I should also mention Earth Defense Force 2017 is an excellent couch co-op game.  In an era where online multiplayer is the way to play, it's great knowing there's a series that champions split-screen co-op, including 2017.

As great as the game is, it is, pardon the pun, buggy.

The biggest crime is the lack of an autosave, which would be excusable during the PS2 era, but here, it's inexcusable. Picture this: you beat the game on Inferno and unlock the coveted Genocide Gun.  The next day, you boot up the game to test your grand prize, only to realize you forgot to save.  Cue the banshee yelling.

A handful of levels feature vehicles, including a speeder bike, a tank, a power suit, and a helicopter.  Except for the bike and the tank, the others are awful.  They're slow, they're sluggish, and trying to use them is a waste of time.  The bike is a glass cannon, but it's great for making a speedy getaway.  The tank controls decent enough, though the lack of an aiming reticle is distracting.

Finally, the AI isn't the brightest.  EDF soldiers can't hit the broad side of a bug and will gladly keep shooting enemies even when they're dead.  Ants and spiders like to roam away from the action, which makes sense, they are bugs, but it's not fun to roll around hunting for the few stragglers.

Earth Defense Force, the only game where shooting robots in the junk is a viable strategy.

Earth Defense Force 2017 is both visually stunning and unappealing.  Textures are basic, animations are stiff, and though the framerate is stable 75 percent of the time, it turns into a slideshow the other 25 percent.  Also, physics do not exist.

When you shoot a spaceship out of the sky, it sinks through the ground.  Don't worry, this doesn't hurt you!  Shooting Hector robots causes their arms to spaz out, which is handy since their cannons won't harm you as much.  Killing insects causes their bodies to crumple, but their bodies are physical objects that you can't pass through, so you need to wait before they disappear.

Yet, there's something oddly appealing about the graphics.  What it lacks in polish, it makes up for with scope and ambition.  Sandlot is a developer that will gladly take so-so textures in exchange for cramming as much action onscreen as possible.

Although video game voice acting has come a long way, nothing will beat the majesty of Earth Defense Force 2017's dialogue.  This may be a game about shooting bugs and robots, but the actors treat the situation as serious as possible.

The EDF soldiers might be dumb, but they're armed to the teeth with one-liners.  The music is phenomenal.  It's a kitschy, B-movie soundtrack that feels right at home with the sci-fi/kaiju nature of the game.

Defending Earth with force is better with a friend.

I like Earth Defense Force 4.1 and Earth Defense Force 5 and how they improved upon and added to the series' formula, but I will always love Earth Defense Force 2017.  There's a beauty to its simplicity that's hard to describe.  People describe the game as "so bad, it's good," when it's really a good game that looks like a bad one, if that makes any sense.

Look past the generic box art, the muddy graphics, the lack of autosave, and you have a solid run and gun shooter.  The core gameplay is easy to pick up, difficult to master.  It's a game that isn't afraid to pit you against large hordes of enemies, knowing that if your trigger finger is on point, you will survive.

The game is rough around the edges and lacks many modern features, but all that doesn't matter considering how fun the action is.

Earth Defense Force: Insect Armageddon might have introduced me to the series, but Earth Defense Force 2017 turned me into a fan.  It's one of my favorite games of all time and deserves to be played by everyone.  Grab an Xbox 360, two controllers, a friend, and prepare to dive into the awesomeness that is Earth Defense Force 2017.

EDF! EDF! EDF!