Archive for July, 2011

Earth Defense Force: Insect Armageddon Review (PS3/X360)

Posted in PS3, Reviews, Xbox 360 on July 25, 2011 by satoshimatrix

The Bugs Are Back

After years wondering if I’d ever get to see another game in the series, the long awaited Earth Defense Force 4 has finally arrived. With a developer change from Sandlot to Vicious Cycle, Insect Armageddon reimagines the look of the series, but make no mistake, this is still the classic EDF experience at its core.  How did Vicious Cycle fair in their efforts to carry forth the series Sandlot is best known for? Read on.

Building upon the niche foothold it’s predecessor managed to curve in the US, most reviews will undoubtedly focus and compare Insect Armageddon to the Xbox 360’s Earth Defense Force 2017.  However, this title should best be compared with the second game in the series, Global Defense Force  [released only in Europe and Japan], as it shares most in common with that entry.

Story

Sometime in the future, an alien invasion force made up of robots, insects, and well… robotic insects invades Earth. The Earth Defense Force alliance band together to stop them for either the first or fourth time, depending on your perspective. Join the EDF ranks and make your way for the city of New Detroit to rid it of the alien menace.

While the EDF games have never been big on story, Insect Armageddon seems to make no mention of anything that happened in EDF 2017. Parallel dimension or terrible memory? You decide. A minor gripe perhaps, but it could have been so easy for Vicious Cycle to place this game perhaps ten or twenty years after EDF 2017. It would explain the whole New Detroit thing (old Detroid presumably destroyed in 2017?) and also why there are now multiple classes of EDF troops.

Graphics

At least on par with EDF 2017 visually, Insect Armageddon manages to surpass its 360 predecessor in many aspects. Both the PS3 and Xbox 360 versions seem identical without any major glitches in either. Urban environments look much better than in 2017, though sadly this is the only kind of environment present in the whole game. No more underground ant caves, valleys, beaches, ruined cityscapes, and there’s but a single stage that takes place at night. A real shame, but the focus on New Detroit exclusively does allow Vicious Cycle to make the city look far more impressive than was possible in the many environments of 2017.

Although the monster designs are completely different – again – they all look top notch. The Hectors in particular look great, though I honestly miss their 2017 shiny metal designs. Effects look spectacular. It’s clear a lot of care was put into making explosions look as good as possible.

Audio

The audio this time around is honestly a letdown compared to the voice work in the previous three games, especially Global Defense Force and 2017. The older EDF titles didn’t take anything seriously, and this was reflected in the choice of music. Insect Armageddon though seems to put as much emphasis on drama as possible. The game is too new to find any audio sources, but what I can do is pull out the amazing Ops music from Global Defense Force. It’s awesome and puts you in the mood to kill giant ants, spiders, UFOs and robots. Enjoy.

The voice acting is comprised of Steven Blum as Lightening, Cam Clarke as Intel guy, and Parminder Nagra as Ops chick. Even if their names don’t sound familiar, their voices should. If you watch any dubbed anime, tv shows or play almost any modern game, you’ll have heard their voices. All three of them are everybody ever in everything.

Having such quality voice actors in a Earth Defense Force game is a double edged sword: all of the talented voice actors deliver their lines perfectly and effectively, but a B-movie caliber game requires B-movie caliber actors; it’s a damn shame some of the voice actors from 2017 or hell, the PS1 original Resident Evil couldn’t be found to lend their voices.

Gameplay

In case you’re new to the Earth Defense Force games, Insect Armageddon is a third person twin stick shooter where you play as a heavily armed human soldier blasting away at ants, spiders, robots and UFOs. There are hundreds of weapons available, all with the benefit of unlimited ammo. The catch is that you can only carry two weapons into battle at a time. It’s usually a good idea to vary your weapons, but it’s also possible to carry two of the same weapons in battle if you need to quickly change without waiting to reload.

As always, defeated enemies drop random health packs which are used to restore lost HP. Expanding on that idea, you can now collect extra HP packs when you are in full health and convert them to extra armor.

Facing the hoards of Ravagers this time, EDF soldiers now come in four delicious flavors: standard Trooper,

For the first time since Global Defense Force, players can choose to play as a soldier with a jetpack, though unfortunietely the character model is now male, removing the awesome awesome PaleWing soldier class. This “Jet” class in its place has many of the same attributes as the old PaleWing; they are much faster, can fly for short periods via their jetpacks, use unique energy weapons and carry less armor than any other class. The only thing missing are the PaleWing short skirts, but given that the Jet units are now dudes, that’s probably a good thing.

Vicious Cycle can explain the other classes better than I can, so here’s their own words:

Trooper Armor: Trooper armor is the standard loadout for EDF soldiers. It has access to more weapons than any other class, and upgradable abilities that allow it to be a versatile, all-around unit. The Trooper Armor is also the only armor available in Survival Mode.

Tactical Armor: Tactical armor fulfills a wide ranging support role, and is the only class that can deploy turrets, mines, and radar dishes. Stronger equipment is unlocked as the story progresses.

Battle Armor: Battle armor transforms players into a veritable walking tank. Slow moving and hard-hitting, it comes equipped a portable energy shield and can equip some of the most powerful weapons in the game. Battle armor also can release its entire pool of energy in a massive electric blast, damaging everything unfortunate enough to be close by.

Replacing the tied and true +1 HP armor and random weapon pick up system from the Sandlot games, Insect Armageddon now employs an experience system in place where you gain EXP and currency for every insect you kill. Gain enough EXP and you’re character will level up, allowing them to use more powerful weapons once purchased from the shop using the currency gained from killing the bugs. Powerful enemies still drop random weapons, but by and large you’ll be buying from from the shop instead of picking them up on the battlefield as in older EDF titles.

You can switch character classes before each mission, though you’ll find yourself sticking mostly with a single class throughout the entire game until you beat it. It’s also worth mentioning deployable vehicles such as the Tank, the Mech and turrets return, and they’re all actually useful for the first time in the history of the series.

As always with the series, Insect Armageddon shines brightest when played in co-op. Split-screen is every bit as effective as in previous EDF games; both players are presented with a vertical screen  that allows them to see anything on the y axis, but limits their x axis view. Despite this, the game is great played in this manner – there’s no slowdown to be seen and the addition of the second, human player can really help when battles get heated.

A first for the series, Insect Armageddon also offers online co-op for up to four players. Typically not an online gamer, I had low expectations going in but was shockingly surprised how well the online is implemented, at least over Playstation Network. With the absence of a headset, I never once had to sit listening to  13 year old telling everyone how much better Halo is or listen to some racial slurs. There was also no slowdown, lag, or any other technical problem you might worry about when playing an online game. Matches feel exactly like the offline game, just with your AI teammates replaced with human players who can be dumber or much smarter the AI, depending on who you get to play with. Quickmatches are most excellent as they allow you to get into fry within seconds. You can even do splitscreen and online co-op at once for up to six players. It can get pretty crazy.

The soldiers are great, and the new vehicles are awesome, but these facts alone can’t make up for the fact that EDF: Insect Armageddon is insultingly short, especially compared to EDF: 2017. I have easily clocked in well over 200 hours in 2017’s 75+ missions whereas Insect Armageddon is a mere 15 missions, 2-3 hour romp per play. There are the multiple character classes and higher difficulties, but I can’t help but wish the game was much longer than it is.

On the other hand, the game will support DLC so it might be that Vicious Cycle/D3 intend to micro transact us the rest of the game. Bastards.

Control

An evolution of the older EDF games, Insect Armageddon has nearly identical controls to the previous games, though as it is slightly more complex game than the previous versions, the face buttons are used in tandem with the shoulder buttons. It doesn’t allow you totally customize the controls which I find greatly disappointing.

Here’s the basic controls:

Left Stick: Movement, scroll through menus
D-pad: Unused
Right Stick: Adjust Aim
L1: Hold and push Left Stick to run
R1: Barrel Roll/Dodge
L2: Secondary fire
R2: Fire
□: Change clip
Δ: Activate transponder, revive teammate
O: Change weapon
X: Jump
Start: Pause
Back: Unused
L3/R3: Activate/deactivate scope lens for sniper rifles and rocket launchers

Frustration

While the difficulty options have been reduced from five to only three, Inferno is still as hard as hell. To reduce the frustration of the previous games, Vicious Cycle added in a new revival system.

You can still die mid-battle, but your teammates can revive you. The only way you can fail a mission entirely is if you and all your teammates die simultaneously, which on the two higher difficulties is very well possible.

History

EDF IA is the only title in the series not developed by Sandlot. Sandlot is a small development house in Japan that geared up with D3 Publisher to release a series of budget titles towards the end of the Playstation 1’s life. The Simple 1500 series then moved onto the Playstation 2 where it flourished as the Simple 2000 series, which meant that each game in the series would cost 2000 yen, or around $20 US. Among this series was The Earth Defense Force and later, The Earth Defense Force 2. Both EDF titles and many others from the Simple 2000 series would be picked up by European budget title publishers and released there, but not in North America.

It wasn’t until 2007 when the Xbox 360 remake of the first game that the series made its way to US shores. Because of its obscure history, the game quickly became a cult classic and is somewhat difficult to find today.

Origianl Advertising

Here’s one of the many trailers for Insect Armageddon. This one shows off most of the major beats on why you should be excited to play the game.

Overall

Good

  • Vicious Cycle seems to have understood Sandlot’s vision and has duplicated most of what made their EDF games so great while fixing many technical issues.
  • New enemy designs look great
  • Tons of variety between the four character classes
  • Online co-op is lag free and a ton of fun
  • Split-screen co-op returns as good as it’s always been

Bad

  • An extremely short campaign that’s matched only by Monster Attack’s. What’s the deal? Does Vicious Cycle plan to micro-transaction me into getting a longer campaign?
  • Somewhat lengthy load times
  • The music isn’t anywhere near as good as the previous games
  • The voice acting is a double edged sword: its well produced by compliant voice actors, but EDF is suppose to be a B horror movie

Conclusion

Earth Defense Force Insect Armageddon was one of my most anticipated games of the year. Now that’s its here, it managed to live up to most of my expectations and in some cases exceed them. Not only does it proudly carry the name of the series, but it also manages to correct many of the flaws of the older versions, and hey, it’s playable online.

Earth Defense Force Insect Armageddon feels very much like Global Defense Force – and that’s a very good thing. I just wish the game was longer, but who knows, maybe they’ll offer more missions as DLC sometime in the future.

I recommend picking this one up if you’re a fan of the series, but if you’re new, play 2017 first.

Data
Platform: Playstation 3/Xbox 360
Genre: Third Person Shooter
Release Date: July 11, 2011
Developer: Vicious Cycle
Publisher: D3 Publisher
Also from the developer: Eat Lead: The Return of Matt Hazard, last gen’s Robotech games
Also try: Earth Defense Force 2017, Global Defense Force
Game Length: ~2-3 hours per campaign
ESRB: T
Buy/Skip: Fans should buy it, newcomers should try EDF 2017 first

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Retro Duo NES Audio Correction Tutorial

Posted in Mod Projects, NES, Retro Gaming, Tutorials on July 19, 2011 by satoshimatrix

Thinking of buying a Retro Duo or already own one? Hate the off-pitch sound the system produces when playing NES cartridges? You’re in luck – the audio can be fixed to sound no different than the real hardware.

For this tutorial you will need the following

  • Clean work space
  • Star screwdriver
  • Cup to place screws in
  • Retro Duo system
  • Small amount of solder
  • Solderiong Iron
  • 1x 2.2Kohm resistor
  • 1x  0.1uf ceramic capacitor (104)

As always, I take no responsibility for any adverse consiquences of preforming this mod. I am not resonsible if you destroy your system, burn your house down, or begin to enjoy Michael Bay movies. You have been warned.

1. Flip over your Retro Duo and remove the four star screws in the four corners. If you have never disassembled your Retro Duo before they may be a little stubborn, so keep at it.

2. Remove the screws and store in your bowl. All of the Retro Duo’s screws are identical in size and shape, so don’t worry about mixing them up.

3. Flip the console so it is facing up once again. Gently lift and remove her top. [thank you Nintentoaster tutorial] There is a small LED board that indicates when in 8-bit or 16-bit modes. You can unscrew this if you wish, but it is not vital.

4. Ignore the large SNES board entirely unless you feel the need to unscrew it to work on a completely flat area. Your focus should be on the small NES daughterboard on the back, secured by two screws at either end of the cartridge slot. Remove them and gently lift up on the board so it is virtual. As mentioned, you can solder in this position, but if you feel uneasy completely unscrew the board and lay it down flat.

5. It’s time for soldering. Plug in your soldering iron to allow it a few minutes to heat up. Gather your solder and the two components you will be adding.

You’ll need a common 0.1uf ceramic capacitor and a 2.2Kohm resistor. The resistor has the striping red/red/red and the ceramic capacitor can easily be identified by its “104” marking.

Both components can be found on the cheap from any electronics supplier, but I personally recommend scavenging parts from old electronics you might have lying around. Both of these parts are commonly found on old VCRs and other household electronics. Simply desolder the old components and reuse. I wholeheartedly recommend every hobbyist have at least one scarp VCR for parts. Their massive motherboards are goldmines for these kinds of components.

 

6. It’s time to solder. I unfortunately made this tutorial long after preforming the mod, so I only have after images to show. Solder the resistor and the capacitor as shown. Don’t worry about polarity – resistors do not carry polarity and it does not matter which way you place ceramic capacitors as these types of capacitors have no polarity either. It is for this reason you shouldn’t use an electrolytic capacitor for this application.

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

7. Once the components are in place and secure, place the board(s) back in their positions and screw them down. If you unscrewed the LED board, take care not to overscrew it – you can actually puncture the top of the casing doing this.

8. Put her top back on and rescrew the four corners. Test it out and you should be in business!

That’s it folks. Check out my Retro Duo videos to see just how good the audio can sound once you preform this simple mod!