Also available on PlayStation 4 and Windows
Earth Defense Force is one of my all-time favorite series. If you've played any of the games, then you know exactly what you're getting here - bad frame rate, sub-par visuals, gloriously horrible voice acting, and thousands upon thousands of giant insects to shoot. It's wonderful and the absolute epitome of "stupid, pointless fun." When I saw that one was coming to Switch, while I wasn't jazzed about the visual style chosen, I was VERY excited to have an entry in the series on my favorite of the current consoles.
As you can probably tell from the Minecraft-esque blocky art style, this is a very light-hearted and often tongue-in-cheek entry in the series. With the exceptions of Insect Armageddon and Iron Rain, none of the games took themselves too too seriously, but this one is pretty up front with the fact that it's not serious. You've got one character who routinely breaks the fourth wall and talks about the script and the game developers and even name drops other games in the series (think the archery contest scene from Robin Hood: Men in Tights); characters who run around in giant panda, koala, and bear costumes; a Twitch streamer character; and the fact that the Earth, sun, and moon are all cubes. No one's mistaking this for a serious game. That's part of the charm, though; the entire premise of the series is ridiculous, and instead of trying to make it more serious like they did to a certain extent with Iron Rain, they totally lean into the absurdity, and it totally works here.
The general premise is that the various aliens from the other games in the series have all invaded Earth again under the command of the mysterious Dark Tyrant, and this time, they've managed to physically tear the Earth apart. Rather than render the chunks of the planet utterly lifeless as would actually happen, it just means that the EDF has to fight across different pieces of the broken Earth, destroying the Motherships to magically reassemble the planet. You can assemble a team of up to four units between whom you can switch freely, and while you start off with just a few units, there are three randomly generated units that you can find and rescue in each mission. If the rescued unit is one that you haven't found before, they're added to your roster; if it's one that you have found before, they gain skill points and, upon leveling up, gain the ability to use a new weapon type. This gives you a strong incentive to hunt down all of the units in need of rescue before finishing the mission. Some of these units are pulled straight from other games and even say (EDF3) or (EDF:IR) beside their names to denote their game of origin. Other units are based on hilarious (and borderline offensive at times) caricatures of their home countries. For example, the representative unit of Mexico is Amigo Brother, and he wears a giant sombrero, a colorful serape, and a guitar on his back; and his special attack is to throw bottles of tequila that act as Molotov cocktails with a special ability that has him pull out a trumpet and start playing to boost nearby allies' attack and defense.
While I absolutely loved my time with it, I do have my complaints with the game. First off, I hate the visual style chosen, and I don't just mean the blocky look; there's this bizarre filter that they use that gives it a rather blurred look almost as if oil or something were smeared on the camera lens. I've seen gameplay of the PS4 and PC versions, and while the blur obviously isn't as severe with the higher resolutions on those platforms, the odd filter effect is still there. It's by no means a deal-breaker, and I was eventually able to look past it, but it's certainly not pleasing. I'm also not a fan of the not-infrequent performance hiccups. It never crashed on me, but it wasn't at all uncommon to see some pretty major (albeit thankfully momentary) frame rate dips at the start of missions and when the action got heavy. I'm also not a fan of the lack of any local multiplayer. I absolutely understand the limited system resources available, especially on Switch, but this type of game just seems perfect for some mindless Saturday afternoon couch co-op. Crack open a few beers (or, in my case, ciders), order a pizza, and slaughter some giant bugs. It does at least support local co-op via multiple Switch units, so that's something, but it's a shame that you can't do old-school split screen even if I understand that the Switch hardware probably would have made this a Herculean effort to pull off.
Earth Defense Force: World Brothers certainly isn't a masterpiece of a game, and it's not even the best of the series, but it's definitely an extremely fun entry and a must-play for fans of the series or fans of goofy games and third person shooters. As long as you don't go in expecting a game with the budget or polish of a AAA studio and are cool with a dumb, silly story, there's a lot of fun to be had here. I hate the visual style they went with, and I wish it supported local co-op, but if you either have other friends with the game or are cool just slaughtering giant insects solo, this is a very enjoyable experience, and it's great to see this series finally grace a Nintendo platform with a release (even if it's not a main series game).
My Rating - C
Star Trek: Elite Force II is the visually impressive but otherwise rather disappointing follow-up to the incredible Star Trek: Voyager - Elite Force. It picks up for the prologue right at the end of season seven of Voyager during the events of the series finale, Endgame, and from there, jumps two years ahead. Despite dropping "Voyager" from the title, it's a true sequel and follows the same characters from the first game (well, those who made it out of the Delta Quadrant alive, anyway).
After an unwanted stint as a Starfleet Academy instructor, Alexander Munro (you don't have the ability to play as Alexandria Munro this time) is recruited by Captain Picard to join the crew of the USS Enterprise-E and start up a Hazard Team there. From there, you stumble onto a plot to create bioweapons that can destroy whole empires and, of course, must work with your team to stop it through both Rambo-esque overt assaults as well as Bond-esque covert missions. On paper, this game is an improvement over the original in every way. Unfortunately, the execution falls a little bit short.
The first thing you'll notice is how dramatically improved the graphics are. It's still nearly 20 years old, but it holds up well provided that you tweak the game files to force a 1920x1080 resolution (or higher if you prefer; I've read that it can go up to 1440p and still work well, but my monitor is 1080p, so that's what I forced). The array of weapons is pretty awesome, as well, with most being based on weapons from the first game but a couple being genuinely interesting new weapons. It's also cool to see more alien races to fight and environments in which to battle. Of course, the highlight of the game is the voice acting of the legendary and divine Sir Patrick Stewart as he reprises his immortal role as Captain Jean-luc Picard.
With everything the game has going for it, then, it's disappointing that it just doesn't perform as well as once might hope. The story is good, and it definitely feels like Star Trek, but it feels like Star Trek: Insurrection whereas the previous game felt like Star Trek: First Contact; it's good, but it's not great. Likewise, the combat just doesn't feel quite as fun. Weapons are nicer, and environments are more diverse, but it just doesn't feel as good, and I have no idea why. Both games used the Quake III engine, although Elite Force II did use some tweaks to the engine. I seem to be in the majority for that opinion, too, as even years after the release of Elite Force II, the first Elite Force was always far more popular online for both its single player and its multiplayer.
Star Trek: Elite Force II is a good Star Trek game and a good shooter, but it fails to live up to the standard set by its predecessor. It's definitely a lot of fun, and I thoroughly enjoyed my seven or eight hours with the game, but it just doesn't have that special feel to it that the first game did. It looks way better, has much better and more challenging boss battles, and should be the superior game, but it's just not quite as fun. Still, though, it's absolutely worth the $10 asking price on GOG, and I have absolutely no problem recommending it to Star Trek fans and fans of old school FPS alike.
My Rating - B
Also available on PlayStation 2 and Mac OS
For literally my entire life, I've been a massive Star Trek fan, and when I first got into online PC gaming, it was through Star Trek games. One of the two Star Trek games that really got me into competitive multiplayer was a Quake 3 based game called Star Trek: Voyager - Elite Force. For pretty much my entire time in middle school and a good chunk of high school, I sank hundreds of hours into this game between the single player, the multiplayer, and the prolific modding community. When GOG added a ton of Star Trek games from the Activision golden age recently, I basically just offered up my credit card to them. While the game's now old enough to buy alcohol in the United States, it's surprising how well it still holds up minus the outdated resolution support.
Elite Force takes place sometime during Voyager's sixth season. Seven of Nine is already part of the crew, and most of the major Delta Quadrant species are either outright mentioned in the single player or at least playable skins in the multiplayer. You play as either Alexander or Alexandria Munro (depending on if you choose a male or female character) and are second-in-command of a special Hazard Team that Tuvok created to handle especially dangerous away missions. As Voyager is voyaging around the Delta Quadrant on its long journey home, a mysterious probe shows up, beats the hell out of the ship, and then transports it to some mysterious sector of space when it explodes. A dampening field pretty much knocks out all of their ship systems (except life support) and auxiliary power. From there, you play through a few dozen linear levels as you investigate where you are, what brought you there, what's keeping you there, and how to get out.
The game definitely shows its age visually, especially where supported resolutions are concerned, but thankfully, the modding community has stepped into alleviate some of that. While it's not perfect and can leave some of the models (most notably weapons) looking just a little wonky, I did find a mod that polishes the textures a bit and forces a pretty decent 1080p resolution. On top of performance mods like that, there are a veritable buttload of map, character, and weapon skin mods for the multiplayer. There are also mods that add an entirely new fan-made single player adventure as well as total conversion mods available.
The official servers are, unfortunately, all down for Elite Force, but there are a still a good number of player-run servers up. Of course, these are filled almost exclusively with bots, and if you're cool playing with bots, you're probably better off just setting up your own custom match offline, but still, it's nice to see that there's an option if you and a friend want to find the same bot-infested server and play together. The multiplayer is mostly your basic deathmatch, team deathmatch, or capture the flag; although there are a couple interesting ones like the one-life gladiator matches and the one-shot-kill disintegration matches. At one point, I was basically unbeatable at Elite Force online. Of course, this point was a solid 15 years ago, but still, the point stands that I was a virgin-tier pro gamer at once upon a time.
The story in the single player is surprisingly solid for a licensed game, and Raven really showed that they knew what they were doing here. I'm not gonna say that this is the best Star Trek game ever made, but it's definitely in the top 3. I'll admit that a lot of my fondness for this game probably is nostalgia, but I absolutely adore it. Even playing the multiplayer by myself with bots is immensely enjoyable for me, and going back through the single player was the best kind of trip down Memory Lane. The single player may only be five or six hours long, but it's a damn fun five or six hours. If you're a fan of late 90s/early 2000s PC shooters, I strongly recommend this game; if you're a fan of Star Trek: Voyager, this game is an absolute must-play. For only $10 on GOG, this game is absolutely worth it.
My Rating - A
Also available on Switch
Atlus really excels with games that pit teenagers against Armageddon, and 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim from developer Vanillaware is yet another fantastic exemplar of that. The game is intentionally enigmatic at the beginning, being told from 13 different perspectives over five different eras, and that makes a bit hard to really get hooked on at the start, but if you stick with the game long enough for a single narrative to start to coalesce, you end up with a fantastic story full of plot twists, intrigue, and mysteries that don't get fully revealed until the very end.
Without going into enough detail to spoil anything, the game starts with invasions by kaiju that apparently possess the ability to travel through time, destroying one version of the same city after another in different period across time. Built to combat these kaiju are the Sentinels, giant robots that certain people can pilot. Each of the 13 characters from whose perspectives the story is told is one of those certain people (hence the title), and over the course of the story, they awaken to their potential as Sentinel pilots. I know that, just from that synopsis, it sounds *very* stereotypically anime, but like a Russian nesting doll, each time you think you've figured out what's going on, you discover that there's another layer beneath that complicates your understanding of the story and contradicts the revelations you've experienced. It's a wild trip that really challenges your understanding of reality and reinvents itself multiple times throughout the story.
13 Sentinels is main divided into two main sections, Remembrance and Destruction. Remembrance is principally a visual novel although not totally kinetic like Muv-Luv or When They Cry; you can walk around to a certain extent although the game limits that pretty strictly based on what's going on, and there's some very light puzzle solving needed to progress. There are some mild branching paths as well, but this isn't done in a player-choice way since you need to play through all of the paths to progress; it's more just different parts of that story segment. Destruction, on the other hand, is an over the top real-time strategy combat mode where you control the Sentinels in battles against the kaiju. Destruction has some RPG elements as you can accumulate "Meta-Chips" that can be spent to unlock and upgrade Sentinel weapons, unlock major combat abilities, and upgrade Sentinel stats. You'll end up bouncing back and forth between the two as there are progression requirements that need to be filled once you hit a certain point; you'll need to do a certain amount in Destruction to unlock the next part of a character's path in Remembrance or vice versa.
Because of how the storytelling is done, my interest in the game was kind of like putting a car in neutral at the top of a hill; at first, it will start rolling super slowly and just creep along, but soon there's enough momentum built up that gravity takes hold, and the car starts to roll faster and faster. That's how I was here. I was absolutely not captivated by the story for the first couple hours as I just felt lost and in the deep end, so to speak, with no clue what was going on. As I stuck with it, though, and the pieces started to fall into place, it became wildly addicting, and I just had to know what happened next and what mystery was going to be solved with the next Remembrance section. I like it when games immediately hook me, but if that's not going to happen, this is slow-but-increasingly-intense burn is definitely the way to go.
13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim is a hell of an experience, and it's definitely one that I strongly recommend. It's very anime, so if that style isn't your cup of tea, this might not be for you, but if you either like or don't mind the anime style and enjoy a good mystery that gets slowly unraveled bit by bit over time, this is absolutely a game to check out. Being an Atlus published title, it will probably rise in price physically, but if you can either find a good price on it physically or don't mind digital downloads, this is definitely a solid game that you don't want to miss.
My Rating - A
Also available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Android, iOS, MacOS, and Windows
Empires of Angels IV may be the most recent entry in a series that's been around for nearly 30 years, but most of us in the West had never heard of it before this entry. Don't feel bad; while the series dates back to 1993, this is the first time it's made the jump to consoles, and if I'm not mistaken, the first time it's left China. The best way to describe Empire of Angels is Baby's First Fire Emblem made entirely out of waifus. It's a strategy RPG with (for the most part) really simple mechanics, but literally every character in the entire game is female, and while I could be mistaken, I'm pretty sure the smallest cup size in the game is C (yes, the character bios seriously have their bra size listed). In fairness, though, if it weren't full of fanservice for the sake of fanservice, would it really be EastAsiaSoft?
The story of the game, while nothing special, is perfectly fine. You're soldiers in an empire's army tasked with investigating why people are turning into "Namtars," darkness-touched people who become crazed and violent. From there, you meet a whole cast of waifus with diverse designs, backstories, and abilities, and while the story never gets "gripping" per se, and the ending is a bit lackluster, the interactions between the characters was enough to keep me playing. In the narrative scenes between battles, there's a very nice drawn art style used whereas in battle, a chibi style is used for the characters models that reminds me a bit of a lower effort SD Gundam except with boobs instead of robots. The whole game looks a bit bland for a 2021 release, truthfully - not bad by any means but also nothing that the PS3 or Xbox 360 would have had much trouble pulling off, either.
In addition to the main missions, there are a plethora of side missions that flesh out the characters' backstories, personalities, and relationships with one another as well as unlocking their final class upgrade. There are also side quests to unlock new abilities for your summonable pet unit as well as repeatable random battles you can use to grind money or experience although there's not much need to grind either as the game's difficulty curve is pretty fair, and there are no shops in which to use gold. The exception is if you're trying to do every character's side quests; I found myself stuck with a level 20 character who had to solo a side quest with a level 50 opponent. That definitely required a lot of monotonous level grinding. Thankfully, the music is pretty great for the most part, so while the level grinding is arguably even more dull than in most SRPGs since there's no benefit to racking up gold as well as experience, the nice soundtrack makes it a little more tolerable.
I do need to give a shoutout to my buddy, Joshua French, though for giving the game's script a MUCH needed retranslation before the English release. In the opening cinematic, you can see the somehow-worse-than-Google-Translate quality of the original translation since that cinematic was coded so that he couldn't fix it, but he retranslated the entire script for the rest of the game, and the difference in quality is astounding. Aside from a couple of SUPER minor issues that anyone who's not a grammar nerd wouldn't even have noticed, it reads as if it were originally written in English, not Chinese. The story may not being anything special, but you wouldn't even be able to tell what the story was supposed to be if it weren't for Joshua's hard work.
Empire of Angels IV is a solid middle-of-the-road game for the most part. It's totally playable and pretty enjoyable, but it's definitely nothing that will stand out that much. The fact that EVERY character is an anime waifu is novel, but as far as story and gameplay go, it's pretty average. The combat is fun, but it's not going to have you addicted the way Super Robot Wars, SD Gundam, and Fire Emblem will; it's the kind of game of which you'll probably play a mission or two and then switch to something else for a while. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but you'll probably play this as a side game or pallet cleanser between other big, narrative driven games. It's definitely fun, though, and at just $20, I have no problem recommending this to fans of SRPGs or pointlessly big breasted anime waifus.
My Rating - C
Also available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Xbox Series X, and Windows
Maneater is one of my favorite games of all time. I love it so much that I own it on Xbox One, PS4, PS5, and Switch (I'll get it on Steam eventually just to have it there, too). When I heard that it was getting DLC, then, I was ecstatic. Unfortunately, Truth Quest isn't currently available on Switch, and the devs have made no mention of a Switch release in the future, but if you have a PlayStation, PC, or Xbox, this is a must-play for all shark fanatics like me.
Truth Quest takes place just a few months after the base game, and so you have to have cleared the base game to play the DLC. It raises the level cap from 30 to 40, adds three or four new organs, and adds a new jaw/body/head/tail evolution set. It also grants you access to a new area, a top secret government base. The narrator has been fired from his TV show hosting job since the end of the base game and has started a new life as an internet conspiracy theorist streamer who sells bogus nutritional supplements to fund his site. Imagine Alex Jones but with the voice of Jerry Smith from Rick and Morty.
As far as gameplay goes, it's pretty much just more of the same but with some really cool bosses like an electric great white shark and a poison orca. You also get a conspiracy nut hidden in each area of the base game (plus three in the secret base) to find and eat, five new hunter bosses, some extra side quests, and a set of time trial races to complete. It's more or less everything I wanted from a Maneater DLC, and while it's not super long - it probably took me something like seven or eight hours to complete everything - it's a lot of fun and pretty reasonably priced at $15.
Unfortunately, the game isn't perfect. I didn't encounter many issues, but there are some major bugs where achievements are concerned. I did EVERYTHING in the DLC, but four of the trophies are bugged and didn't unlock for me, and unless they're able (and willing) to fix it with a patch, I'll have to play the entire game plus DLC over again to get those trophies. That's a major pain in the ass. It started with the fifth DLC hunter boss - as soon as she spawned, the trophy for beating her unlocked even though I'd not even attacked her, and the game crashed. I reloaded, tried to fight her again (since it was a mission objective), and it crashed about three minutes into the fight. I repeated this two or three times before it actually let me beat her. After that, it refused to unlock the trophies for beating the final boss, completing all objectives in the DLC area, completing all time trials, and completing all DLC objectives. As you can see, those trophies, while totally doable, would be a major pain to replay for.
The glitched trophies aside, I had an absolute blast with Truth Quest. I definitely can't give a perfect score due to the glaring problems with the achievement QA, but I still thoroughly enjoyed all of my time playing until I hit those bugs. Hopefully they'll be able to fix that without forcing me to replay everything, but if you're reading this and haven't finished Truth Quest yet, be aware that those trophies can bug out, and if the posts I've seen online are any indication, they frequently glitch for people. If you don't care at all about achievements, though, then you really don't have much to worry about as that one hunter fight was the only instance of crashing that I encountered. If you enjoyed the base game, you'll love this. The humor alone makes this DLC worth buying and playing.
My Rating - B
Also available on PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Switch, and Windows
Modern Doom - both Doom 2016 and Doom Eternal - are about as good as fast-paced FPS gets. What The Ancient Gods DLC brings to Doom Eternal is basically a whole third modern Doom game as it's a roughly 10 hour experience when you put Part One and Part Two together.
Without getting into too much story stuff so as not to spoil it for anyone who cares about the story and hasn't played the DLC yet, the Doom Slayer basically sets out to kill Satan which will automatically destroy every demon outside of Hell. That's the basic premise. To do this, he has to find Satan's soul which has been conveniently turned into an easy-to-carry rock. Of course, nothing is ever as easy at it seems when it comes to the forces of Hell, but that gets a bit spoiler-y, so I'll just leave it at that.
Part One mostly feels like just more of Doom Eternal - which is fantastic - but Part Two really kicks things up a notch with some intense fights. If you loved the Marauder enemy, then you're in luck because they're heavily featured here. If you didn't love the Marauder enemy (like me; I hated them), then buckle up because they're heavily featured here. Fortunately, while the Marauder makes frequent appearances, there are countless other less frustrating enemies to rip and tear. Be ready and on your A game when you go into this, though; while I am admittedly terrible at most video games, I had this set on easy and still found it to be pretty challenging.
My only real complaint with the DLC (other than the fact that there are Marauders, and that's just because I'm bad at Doom) is that the final boss in Part Two felt rather anticlimactic. It's less that it was too easy per se - he heals himself whenever he damages you, so he's plenty frustrating until you get a feel for his attack patterns - but it just felt too formulaic to me. You're on a flat plane, and the entire battle just consists of dodge, dodge, attack, dodge, dodge, attack so on and so forth. There are no platforms or portals or obstacles or anything to try to use to get up behind him, and you can't just unload on him with the minigun willy-nilly. Figuring out his pattern and getting a feel for dodging his attacks also makes it a fairly simple affair that just starts to feel more time-consuming than anything else.
All things considered, I don't think Doom Eternal's The Ancient Gods DLC is perfect, but it's damn close. It's definitely peak Doom for the most part with only a few bits feeling more frustrating or disappointing than fun to me. The DLC feels like it wraps up most of the story set up in Doom 2016 and Doom Eternal pretty well, so I'll be curious to see if the next game finds a way to continue the story or if they go for an alternate universe or something. If you're a fan of Doom, then The Ancient Gods is a must no matter how much you may dislike Marauders, and if you like fighting the Marauders, then playing this is a no-brainer.
My Rating - A
I'm a teacher.
And I like to play video games. I like to collect video games. I like to talk about video games, and I like to write about video games. During the day, I teach high school history; during the night, I spend my spare time gaming. Then I write about it.