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.


Friday, March 18, 2022

Call of Duty: World at War's Abysmal PS2 Spin-Off...

Last-gen ports of next-gen titles are an interesting specimen.  When a console reaches its twilights years, first-party companies opt to move on so they can focus on making games for their new systems.  This leaves third party publishers the job of supporting the old systems, usually by releasing ports of their next-gen titles.

These ports strike a chord with gamers because for some, this was the only way to experience the game since they didn't own any of the new systems.  They didn't care how the graphics looked or what features were missing, they were glad to have the new game on their favorite system.

What also made these last-gen versions remarkable was how different they were.  They shared the same name, but offered an experience tailored to the system it was made for.  Noticeable examples include the PS1 versions of Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 3 and 4, or in this article's case, Call of Duty: World at War Final Fronts for the PlayStation 2.

Released the same day as the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and Wii version, Final Fronts was billed as a companion piece to its big brother.  Development duties were handled not by Treyarch but by Rebellion, a studio with as many misses as they had hits.

For every Sniper Elite, Aliens vs. Predator, or Rogue Trooper, there's a Rogue Warrior, Shellshock 2, or The Mummy.  Knowing the studio's track record, Final Fronts could be a last hurrah for the PS2, or about as fun as committing seppuku.

"So, you bought Final Fronts..."

Final Fronts loosely, and I mean loosely, follows the plot of World at War.  It features the Pacific and European theater, as well as the characters Miller, Polonsky, and Roebuck, but how the story plays out is where the two versions differ.

Beginning at a training camp in North Carolina, the game transitions to the Pacific, where the Americans are trying to stop the Japanese by way of an island-hopping campaign.

On the European side, you play as Gunnery Sergeant Alex McCall and Private Tom Sharpe, an American and a British soldier.  They're tasked with eliminating the dwindling German forces in Europe, as well as sabotaging whatever plans the Germans might have left.

Over the span of 13 missions, you push your way deep into enemy territory, overcoming unbeatable odds to stop the Axis menace.  Once the dust has settled, you ask yourself, was it worth it?

And by worth it, I mean, what exactly you were fighting for because Final Fronts' story is barebones.  It meanders about without any real stakes or sense of cohesion.  All the dark and grittiness of the HD version is gone and in its place is an atypical war story.

World at War was a tale of two different factions who shared a common enemy, an enemy who was determined to stop them by any means necessary.  It showed how war is hell and how it can transform a man into a cold-blooded killer.  There was no black or white, only a grey area where violence is the only solution.

The Pacific campaign in World at War followed Americans fighting an uphill battle with an enemy who used their wits and the environment to their advantage.  Men like Polonsky and Miller had no choice but to brave the jungles if they were to stop the enemy.  In Polonsky's case, he was forced to step up and lead his squad through hell and back.

That German has some buns of steel.

None of this is present in Final Fronts.  In this game, Polonsky is a generic military man who doesn't seem stressed out about the enemy or the situation at hand.  The story lacks any sort of stakes of tension.  Characters are put into dangerous situations, but you never get the feeling any of them could die at any second.

Contrast that with World at War, which wasn't afraid to kill major characters to home in on the idea that in war, no one is safe.  The game is at its worst when it's trying to copy World at War's best moments, like the finale at Shuri Castle.

Instead of taking part in an all-out assault that culminates with you trying to bring down the castle, you run through corridor after corridor and fight off a few waves of enemies before the game decides you won, and the credits start rolling.

Things fare slightly better on the European front, but not by much.  The faceless Americans and British you tag along with have nothing on the mighty Victor Reznov, but these sections feel more focused and feature some set-pieces that, while not great, are better than what's in the Pacific levels.

The Final Fronts subtitle suggests it's about World War II's last days, but the game doesn't do much with the concept.  As soon as the European campaign is over, it's back to the Pacific for a crappy recreation of the Okinawa stages from World at War.  The game's three-hour campaign doesn't end with a bang, but a whimper.

It almost makes you wonder if the game was originally going to focus more on the "final fronts" of World War II, until Activision asked Rebellion to tie it in with World at War and gave them the budget of a ham sandwich to make the game.

Sadly, the flamethrower isn't enough to save Final Fronts.

Call of Duty: Final Fronts is functional but unexciting.  Everything works, but it feels so rudimentary, so basic, and cheap.  All the trimmings that made World at War refreshing are absent, and what you're left with is a subpar shooter where everything you do has been done before, and much better.

First, the good.  The controls are solid.  Taking a cue from its HD brother, holding down the iron sights snaps your aim to the nearest target, and it's incredibly responsive.  The gunplay works, plus it has the flamethrower, and you can't go wrong with the flamethrower.

Sadly, this is where the positives end because the game is littered with problems great and small.  The levels are linear and short.  There are no branching paths and very few opportunities to flank the enemy.  You move from corridor to corridor, trench to trench, killing enemies like it's a WWII-themed shooting gallery.

Most missions consist of destroying targets, clearing rooms of bad guys, or holding off enemy forces for a set amount of time.  It's insanely repetitive and the times you do get to do something different are few and far between.  Of the 13 levels, the ones set during the Pacific theater are the worst.

In World at War, fighting the Japanese was a whole new ballpark.  They staged ambushes, rigged up booby traps, and hid in the trees to snipe you.  It was a welcome change of pace from fighting Germans since their tactics were so different.  Here, they act like mindless goons.

They stand out in the open and shoot you, that's it.  Occasionally, they'll try to banzai charge you, but this attack lacks any threat because all it does is mildly hurt you, compared to World at War where you had a split second to react before your intestines were skewered.

I think 400 rounds is more than enough.

They do spring up from spider holes, but only once.  Their behavior is about the same as the Germans, but at least the Germans remembered how to use cover.  In general, the AI is terrible.  I saw enemies run around in circles, tiptoe out in the open during heated firefights, and allies shoot at walls instead of the threat in front of them.

The only positive is enemies are nowhere near as grenade happy, but this doubles as a negative since you can hide behind a piece of cover and pick them off with ease.

Even the weapons feel downgraded.  Final Fronts is rated T for Teen, so the blood and guts are absent.  That's not the problem.  The problem is all the guns feel the same.  There's very little reason to swap out firearms because they function alike, plus the ammo count is ridiculously high, so ammo management isn't much of a concern.

Guns that were in World at War like the flamethrower feel less like an ultimate tool of destruction and more like a plastic toy.  The flamethrower has all the power of a fart, and the bad graphics make it look like you're spraying Cheeto dust rather than roasting things.  You have smoke grenades, but there's not much of a point to using them give the dumb behavior.

A tank level is something, better than nothing.

The European campaign isn't as boring, but that's like saying getting stabbed is better than being blown to bits by a grenade.  Sprinkled amongst the routine shooting sections are scripted sequences where you run from a tank or launch an ambush after detonating an explosive with the sniper rifle.  You even get a tank level.  It's on-rails, yes, but anything is better than shooting wave after wave of goons.

In addition to its weak gameplay, bad AI, and paint by numbers design, the game is short, real short.  I died a handful of times and even then, beating the campaign took barely three hours.  This would be excusable if there was extra content, but there isn't.

There's no multiplayer, no zombies, no Ukraine girls knock me out mode, nothing.  You could replay the campaign on a higher difficulty, but don't expect much of a challenge on either Normal or Veteran.  Previous Call of Duty's featured multiplayer and bonus features, not to mention better gameplay.  The fact this package is so barebones is kind of insulting.

Graphically, Final Fronts is not a looker.  Character models are basic and blocky, the framerate frequently dips and hitches, and some of the levels look like they came from a PS1 game.  The weapon and reload animations look decent, but that's because this game runs off a modified version of the Big Red One engine.

On the plus side, the glitches are amazing.  Enemies tend to ragdoll like crazy before becoming lifeless and during this intense escape from an occupied town, this happened.

The voice acting is alright, but the sound mixing makes it hard to tell what the characters are saying.  Kiefer Sutherland reprises his role as Polonsky but sounds incredibly bored.  Though if you ever wanted to hear Nathan Drake or Crypto from Destroy All Humans do a British accent, try Final Fronts.

Call of Duty: World at War Final Fronts is abysmal.  As a companion piece to World at War, it doesn't add anything interesting to the source material.  Setting the game during the war's final days could have made for an interesting experience, but what we get is a formulaic shooter that's also a poor imitation of its HD brethren.

The gameplay is stale, flat, and though there's the occasional flash of promise, it's quickly buried beneath the repetitive objectives and bland shooting.

Final Fronts' quality is shameful considering previous Call of Duty games on the PS2 featured more content and better production values.  The whole product feels like a knock-off made by Majesco, not something released by Activision for 40 bucks.

Those morbidly curious to see how a game like World at War translates to the PS2 are better off trying out the Wii and DS versions.  At least with the Wii version you get the original campaign, minus one level, while on DS, you get Pacific, Russian, and British campaigns, not to mention it's on the DS, the real man's way of playing Call of Duty.

If you want a good PS2 World War II shooter, play Call of Duty 2: Big Red One or Medal of Honor: Frontline.  If you want to learn more about WWII history, visit a museum or read a book.  Either of those options is better than playing Final Fronts.

Final Score: 2/10

Saturday, March 12, 2022

Call of Duty: World at War (Xbox 360) Review

Call of Duty is a series you either love or despise.  You either dig its explosive action, or you think its a big, fat cow Activision has proudly milked since its inception in 2003.  Personally, I like Call of Duty, but I don't love it.  I've played most of the games and enjoyed them, but at the same time, I realize there are far better options when it comes to first-person shooters.

Although new Call of Duty games are as inevitable as death and taxes, back in 2007, the series charted a new course with Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare.  Up until then, it was a World War II series that gave Medal of Honor a run for its money.  With Modern Warfare, it reinvented the franchise and revitalized people's interest in military shooters.

With its globetrotting campaign and addictive multiplayer, Modern Warfare gave military shooters a shot in the arm, and the game was a worldwide phenomenon.  Although people assumed this meant the end of World War II shooters, this wasn't quite the case.

Treyarch, who had previously developed Call of Duty 3 and the underrated Call of Duty 2: Big Red One, would give World War II its swan song with Call of Duty: World at War.  Rather than have players storm the digital beaches of Normandy for the umpteenth time, World at War explores the United States' efforts in the Pacific and the Russians' fight in Europe.

Somebody order a flamethrower?

World at War follows Private Joseph Miller and Private Dimitri Petrenko.  One is a marine fighting in the Pacific, the other is a soldier in the Russian army.  Miller and the men in his unit are taking part in an island-hopping campaign with the intent of freeing the Japanese's grasp on the Pacific.

Miller's squad includes Corporal Roebuck and Private Polonsky.  During a raid on Peleliu Island, their commanding officer is killed, and Roebuck becomes squad leader.  Roebuck guides his men through Peleliu and Okinawa, where they storm Shuri Castle, a fortified position filled with Japanese soldiers and mortar crews.

The Russian campaign follows Petrenko, who narrowly cheats death and finds an ally in the form of Sergeant Victor Reznov.  Reznov has been hunting General Heinrich Amsel and with Petrenko's help, he succeeds in his goal of killing the Axis general.

Three years pass, and the Russians successfully push the Germans back into their homeland.  Reunited with Reznov, the two participate in a large-scale operation to liberate Berlin from Axis control, a mission that takes several lives, but also leads to the fall of the Axis in Europe.

From the opening title screen, World at War strikes a chord different from previous World War II games, Call of Duty or otherwise.  The game is dark, gloomy, and shows us how World War II was a brutal fight where both the good guys and bad guys didn't hold back.  In war, there is no black and white, only a grey area where violence is the only means to an end.

Previous World War II shooters and even ones that came after World at War tend to treat the conflict as an action spectacle where America is the hero, and the Axis is the villain.  Not the case here.  The Russians and Americans are as relentless as the Japanese and Germans are.  That's the best way to describe the game, relentless.

The Pacific levels show the Americans fighting an uphill battle with an enemy that's smarter than they expected.  The Japanese use tactics like banzai charges, surprise ambushes, and camouflage to catch Roebuck and his squad off guard.  This adds tension to the in-game action knowing the enemy could pop up at any moment and try to skewer them.

After their CO is killed, Roebucks finds himself in an uncomfortable position.  His squad is relying on him to get anything done, and the environment is a hot, humid jungle where making progress is harder than it should be.  You want to see them succeed despite the odds they're faced with.

The writing does a good job at getting you invested in these characters.  Treyarch knows how to write likable characters, and then kill them when the player least expects it.  My only issue is the Pacific campaign feels more episodic compared to the Russian campaign.  It's not as overarching as the Russian campaign, and while I like Roebuck, he doesn't match the mighty Victor Reznov.

The Russian campaign is a tale of revenge.  When the Axis tries invading Russia, they stir up the hornet's nest that is the Russian army, which includes on Victor Reznov.  Reznov views the Axis as an evil that must be squashed, no matter how many lives are lost.

Call of Duty: World at War's story isn't groundbreaking, but it explores the psychology of war and what it does to the human mind.  In Reznov's case, it makes him merciless with a capital M.  He shows no mercy and doesn't think a single Axis life should be spared.  Take for instance a moment where you come across a subway entrance where a squad of Germans are cornered.

You can choose to kill them, or let your troops burn them with molotov's.  Choosing the former causes Reznov to comment on how Demetri sets an example other Russians should aspire to.  Dimitri might be silent, but Reznov is impressed with him, and by extension the player, with how well he does in combat, not to mention his ability to survive perilous situations.

Call of Duty is often criticized for having campaigns that are the gaming equivalent of popcorn flicks, but World at War tries to make a point, and it mostly succeeds.  It's not Spec Ops: The Line levels of deep, but at the end, it motivates you to want to study World War II, and learn how the horrors of that war can teach us to avoid making the same mistakes now and in the future.

The Japanese soldiers do not fool around.  You should always try pushing forward, less you want
to end up on the end of a bayonet.

On the surface, Call of Duty: World at War's gameplay is nothing new.  If you played any COD game released after Modern Warfare, the gameplay feels familiar.  Aiming down the sights is quick and snappy, the guns look and feel solid, and there's a flamethrower, and you can't go wrong with a flamethrower.

Look underneath the hood, and you'll notice several tweaks and enhancements to give the gameplay its own zest.  With two campaigns come two types of enemies to fight, the Germans and the Japanese.  Fighting the Germans is nothing new.  They're tough but behave the same as they have in other World War II shooters.  They shoot, take cover, flank, and love to pepper your position with grenades.

Fighting the Japanese is a whole new ballpark.  They hide in the grass, use banzai charges as a last attempt, and climb into trees to snipe your position.  The banzai charge alone is enough to make you jumpy, not to mention give the kamikazes from Serious Sam a run for their money.

The weapon roster is a mixture of familiar and new.  On the Pacific side, there's the Thompson, the M1 Garand, the flamethrower, the bazooka, as well as Japanese weaponry like the Type 100 and Type 99 rifles.  The Russian campaign features German mainstays like the MP40, Kar98K, and the STG 44, plus Soviet guns like the Mosin Nagant and PPSh-41.

Each gun has its advantages and disadvantages.  Rifles like the M1 Garand and Mosin Nagant are great for medium to long range, while the Thompson is more useful for mid to close range combat.  The weapons aren't 100 percent accurate when shooting, which adds a feeling of authenticity that comes off as natural not forced.

The level design is linear, but not railroaded.  The game tells you where you need to go and lets you figure out how to get there.  While the four-to-five-campaign is filled with lots of shooting, the game makes an active effort to mix things up as much as possible.

The first level in the Russian campaign is about stealth and patience.  Dimitri and Reznov must sneak by enemy patrols and use the sounds of passing planes to mute out their gunfire.  At one point, they are pinned by a sniper hiding in a hotel.  On Normal, you only need to kill one sniper, but on Veteran, you need to eliminate three snipers.

In a series known for its "shoot first, ask questions later" mentality, its surprising to see World at War try something different and pull it off so well.  A couple of vehicle levels give you the chance to pilot a B-17 bomber and a Russian tank equipped with a flamethrower.

Did I mention this game has a flamethrower?

The campaign takes between four to five hours to beat.  It's short, but every moment is well-paced, and I never got the feeling that no level was too short or too long.  Heart of the Reich is hard, yes, but it's the final mission, so storming the Reichstag isn't going to be a cakewalk.

The gameplay isn't perfect.  While the AI is good, you will notice how scripted their behavior is.  During the final assault on Shuri castle, a new batch of allies conveniently shows up when your current squad dies, and this repeats until the castle is brought down.  Little moments like that don't happen frequently, but it does break your immersion.

"Vendetta" is the highlight of "World at War's" campaign.

Once the campaign is over, there's multiplayer and zombies.  I'm not going to discuss multiplayer since I'm not interested in a mode populated by frat boys and 12-year-olds with too much free time on their hands, so let's talk zombies.

Playing this first incarnation of zombies feels surreal.  Those only familiar with the mode from later entries might be surprised by how basic the original zombies is.

Your only objective is to hold out against as many waves of the goose-stepping undead as possible.  Points are earned from killing ghouls and boarding up windows.  You then use those points to buy guns and unlock areas.  Every now and then, zombies drop power-ups like double points, insta-kill, or a nuke that wipes out all onscreen foes.

The longer you survive, the more aggressive and numerous the undead get.  It's simple, but fun.  It reminds me of old-school arcade games like Robotron 2084, where the only goal is to earn the highest score possible.  It's a stark contrast to how later games turned this mode into "I Can't Believe It's Not Wolfenstein," what with the emphasis on crazy abilities and hidden lore.

Sometimes, less is more.

Despite being 14 years old, the game has held up visually.  Yes, there is brown and grey a plenty, but it uses its drab colors to show how war is bleak an turns once thriving cities into ghost towns.  The gunplay is gory, but not excessively violent.  The framerate is super smooth, and I didn't encounter any game-breaking bugs.

Sound is excellent.  The voice cast is bolstered with A-list talent, including Kiefer Sutherland as Roebuck and Gary Oldman as Reznov.  Neither one phones it in and overall, the voice acting is good.  Weapons sound powerful and the music is diverse.  There's rocking guitar, haunting choirs, and epic orchestral pieces, all used to set the mood appropriately.

Gehirne!  Gehirne!

Call of Duty: World at War breathes new life into World War II shooters, a genre that had been beaten to death thanks to iterative sequels and too many games clogging the market.  Mixing top-notch gameplay with solid storytelling, World at War shows us the darker side of war.

This was a time when a horrendous evil threatened to stomp out all that was good and for the rest of the world, there was no choice but to stand up and fight.  The writing delves into how war affects the mind, and what lengths men will take to defend themselves and their country.

It's not entirely original as it does borrow heavily from movies like Flags of Our Fathers and Enemy at the Gates, but considering how stale World War II games had become, World at War's attempt to deliver something more thought-provoking is commendable.

The gameplay is familiar, but with enough changes to make it feel refreshing.  It's intense, difficult, and features enough unique set-pieces to keep the shooting from becoming boring.

Call of Duty: World at War is something both the hardcore, Monster Energy drinking Call of Duty fan will enjoy just as much as the person looking for a good military shooter.

Final Score: 8/10

Sunday, March 6, 2022

Graphically Impressive: An Interview With minimme


10 years ago, game reviewers like The Angry Video Game Nerd, Somecallmejohnny, and Classic Game Room were the shows people flocked to see someone discuss retro games.  In the years since, a new generation of YouTubers has arisen to start their own shows where they review and discuss the games they grew up with.  One of those people is Peter, who you probably know better as minimme, a.k.a., that channel with the Cars game reviews.

With over 208,000 subscribers, minimme has garnered popularity for its videos, which focus on licensed games and lesser-known titles from the sixth and seventh generation.  His style is best described as "laid-back but informative."  His videos are a great way to learn about the forgotten titles of the past, but there are many unanswered questions to the man behind videos about "Quantum of Solace" for the PS2 or "Speed Racer" on the Wii and DS.

I had the chance to speak with Peter and discuss the origins of his channel, how he honed his unique style, and more importantly, why he photoshops himself and Tony Hawk onto the game characters.  I want to thank Peter for taking time out of his schedule to do the interview.

1. What led you to become a YouTuber?

During high school, I was really into video games and game reviews.  At the age of 16, I watched a lot of YouTube shows like Classic Game Room and an Australian show called Good Game.  I liked those two shows because they were very laidback and in the case of Classic Game Room, I loved how Mark Bussler, the host, reviewed a lot of games people had never heard of.

Those two shows spurred me to start up my own YouTube channel.  I also did it as a way to practice public speaking since I wasn't the strongest public speaker.  Although now, public speaking isn't much of an issue.

2. Who are your influences?

I already mentioned Classic Game Room and Good Game.  Those two were the biggest influences.  Another one was a YouTube channel called Super Bunnyhop.  I really like the host's delivery style.  It's very clear cut and straightforward.

3. At what point in making videos did things start to click?

I started making videos in 2012, back when I was 16.  Those first videos were awful and I have since delisted them.  I made a handful of videos throughout 2012 and 2013 but dropped off in 2014 an 2015.  My creative energy tanked and I didn't start making videos again until 2016.  I decided to do a list video called "Five GBA 3D Games" or something like that.  Either way, that video took off and decided to a follow-up video not long after.

As I continued, the views started skyrocketing.  They went from around 400 views on average to upwards of 20,000, my subscriber count also went from the hundreds into the thousands.

4. How do you decide what games to discuss?

I don't have a spidey-sense when it comes to deciding the games.  I play a handful of games from a list I make, and of those titles, if any of them strike me as unique and easy to write about, I make a video out of them.  I don't do games that would make for a generic, boring video.

5. Were there any videos you had planned but chose to scrap?

There were plenty of games I started but then quit because I got bored or I thought was terrible.  Recently, I played The Saboteur.  That game has a cult following because it was Pandemic Studio's last title, and it's an open-world WWII game that utilizes a black and white art style.  I played it for five hours and thought it was terrible.

For some reason, it wasn't clicking for me, and since I didn't want to stir up a hornet's nest by making a negative review of a beloved game, I decided to can it.

6. Are you surprised by the success of your channel?

Yes.  When I started making videos again, I initially thought I was going to do only list videos since those were so popular.  Instead, I decided to take a dramatic shift and focus on obscure or forgotten video games.  It brought a lot more attention to the channel than it would have gotten had I stuck with the list videos.

7. Why do you think people are so interested in seeing videos on licensed games or forgotten games of the 6th/7th generation?

It's gotten to a point where nostalgia dominates the market.  Back then, people didn't care as much for these kinds of games.  They received a short review by IGN and were thrown by the wayside.  Now, that people are older, there's an element of interest in wanting to explore the older console generations and see what weird oddities they can dig up.  

I also think it's because games are costing more to make and are so similar.  Developers and publishers are less likely to try something new when they can rehash the same thing over and over.  Companies were more experimental and willing to take risks.

8. In your opinion, what separates a good licensed game from a bad one?

It's how much time they spend in development.  A lot of movie licensed games were rushed out to meet a deadline, and you notice it in a lot of games.  I think when the games aren't tied to a release date or receive a lot of input from the filmmakers, then you have something that's better.

A good example is the Avatar game.  The developers worked on that game for three years and though it's not perfect, it has a lot of polish and interesting ideas.  Another one is King Kong, which was made by Michel Ancel and had Peter Jackson's involvement.  

With those games, you can tell a lot of work and passion went into them, and the result is something better than what we normally got with most movie-licensed games.

9. Do you think licensed games have gotten better or worse?

They've gotten way better.  You need to remember that for every good one, there's at least 10 bad licensed games.  Time, money, and technology have played a huge factor, and as a result, we've gotten some gems like the recent Guardians of the Galaxy game, plus there are upcoming titles like the IO Interactive Bond game.

Licensed games generally get a bad rep, and rightfully so, but they have an underdog value to them, even if they are terrrible.

10. What are your thoughts on long-dead franchises and older games being revived through remakes and remasters?

Personally, I think it's easier for companies to remake something familiar than something new.  You don't have to spend as much money plus it's a name people remember from when they were younger, and those die-hard fans will come out of the woodwork to sing the praises of a series if it's announced it's getting a revival.

It strikes me as laziness.

11. How has the gaming industry changed?

The gaming industry as we used to know it is a lot different now.  Budget games no longer exist, and by budget games, I mean titles like Secret Service or Serious Sam.  They were made on the cheap and released for $20.  If they were lucky they became their own franchise, like Serious Sam, but many didn't.  You saw a lot of weird titles fly under the radar, titles that gained a niche following by those who played them.

Indie games have replaced budget titles.  The AAA gaming industry is slowly becoming more consolidated, and because budgets are increasing, companies aren't taking as many risks.  They would rather play it safe than be original.

12. If you weren't making videos, what do you think you'd be doing?

It's a question I never want to think about, but I probably would have tried doing something with my degree in programming, like become a game designer.  Either that, or do something with cars because I'm a big fan of automobiles.

13. What advice would you give to aspiring YouTubers?

When I'm working videos, I always ask myself is this something I would click on, watch, and enjoy.  You want to make videos that satisfy you on both a creative and personal level, in my opinion.  You also want to try grabbing people's interest, albeit not in a clickbait way.

If you're a smaller channel, you have a lot more freedom with a smaller audience because you can try different things and see what sticks compared to bigger channels like mine.  You want to make videos that clearly have a lot of effort and passion into them versus something that feels like it rolled off an assembly line.

Bonus Question: Where did the idea come from to photoshop yourself into the thumbnail?

Ha ha.  They started as a Photoshop battle with friends to see who could make the dumbest looking thumbnail.  I'm not sure how the Tony Hawk thing happened.  I just liked "Where's Waldo-ing?" him into images as an Easter egg.