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Nelson Schneider's Video Game Reviews (473)

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Tiny Tina's Wonderlands 3.5/5
Ratchet & Clank: Rift A... 4.5/5
Super Mario Bros. Wonder 4.5/5
The Alliance Alive 2/5
Catmaze 4.5/5
Turnip Boy Commits Tax ... 4.5/5
Seasons After Fall 3/5
Rayon Riddles - Rise of... 0.5/5
World to the West 4/5
MechWarrior 5: Mercenar... 4/5
Streets of Kamurocho 2.5/5
Aeon of Sands - The Tra... 2.5/5
Greak: Memories of Azur 3.5/5
Yaga 2.5/5
Riverbond 3/5
Bug Fables: The Everlas... 4.5/5
Front Mission 1st Remake 1.5/5
Middle-earth: Shadow of... 3.5/5
Bladed Fury 3.5/5
Ruzar - The Life Stone 3.5/5
Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin 3.5/5
Mighty Switch Force! Co... 2.5/5
Aegis of Earth: Protono... 3/5
Torchlight III 2.5/5
Cyberpunk 2077 3.5/5

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Aegis of Earth: Protonovus Assault   PC (Steam) 

Not the Next ActRaiser    3/5 stars

“Aegis of Earth: Protonovus Assault” (“AoE”) is an unorthodox take on the Tower Defense genre that began life in 2016 as a PlayStation exclusive, hitting the PS3, PS4, and Vita simultaneously, before receiving a PC port after a few months. It first caught my eye during an E3 showcase, where it struck me as a potential genre-bending sleeper hit, which would combine City Sim, Tower Defense, and active player engagement with both genres in ways that hadn’t been done before. Ultimately, though, while it is a unique genre mash-up, in every other way, “AoE” falls short of its potential.

Presentation
“AoE” is built in the Unity Engine, yet doesn’t generally have very many of the quirks that tend to burden such games. The visuals are about a 50/50 split between 2D, hand-drawn, anime-style character portraits and user interface chrome, and simple-but-attractive 3D models for buildings, weapon turrets, and monsters. Overall, the game looks decent, but never above-average or award-winning.

Audio is mostly average as well. The game is not fully voiced, but does feature both English and Japanese audio tracks for players who are picky about such things. While some major cutscenes and the rote dialogs that happen all the time are fully voiced, and characters spout a handful of quips and catchphrases during combat, the majority of major story events are only partially voiced. These dialogs use the lazy Japanese shortcut of having characters say one of a handful of quips each time they start talking, even though those quips don’t match any of the text in the related dialog box. In general, though, I found the English dub to be competent, performed by a stable of the usual suspects when it comes to anime dubs. The soundtrack is fine, with a few decent themes, but nothing incredible, memorable, or identity-defining.

Technically, “AoE” is reasonably solid, as in it never crashed on me or threw any error messages, and it supports Xinput natively. However, there are a number of major design issues that point to this being an incredibly lazy PC port. First, there’s no “quit game” button anywhere to be found, requiring players to Alt+F4 out of the game at the end of each session. There’s also no dedicated “save game” button, with the game relying entirely on its auto-save feature, which happens so quickly on a NVME SSD that I never once saw the animated icon pop up to show me when the game was saving. Perhaps laziest of all, though, is the fact that the game’s Steam Achievements are BROKEN, and have been since launch.

Story
In the not-so-distant future, humanity is on the brink of extinction after an event known as the Silent Apocalypse, in which all forms of extant energy production simply stopped working. A new energy source, called Altenite, was brought into play to replace our old way of life, with new versions of old cities built on so-called “Alt-Spots” with large underground Altenite reserves becoming the last bastions of humanity.

At the same time that humanity switched to an Altenite-based economy, these brand new cities started coming under attack by huge, bizarre-looking kaiju-style monsters, necessitating the formation of a global military simply known as Allied Command to push back against the creatures collectively known as The Enemy – The titular Protonovus.

Our hero is a young, anonymous, newly-promoted commander in Allied Command, and has been stationed at the backwater city of Kimberly, Australia, with a third-rate crew of stock anime stereotypes, given the unenviable task of protecting the city from Enemy incursions. Before long, however, Admiral Neumann, the supreme leader of Allied Command, notices that the Kimberly crew are doing much better than other crews around the world, and thus the third-rate backwater crew of misfits is assigned to protect more and more cities across the globe, as their ranks swell with more and more stock anime stereotypes.

I did not particularly enjoy the storytelling in “AoE” for a number of different, but related, reasons. First, the game takes the position of far too many modern animes and mangas (like, say, “Bleach”) by introducing WAY too many characters all at once, and continuing to add more and more names and faces to the cast without really giving any of them a reasonable amount of character development or personality. For the most part, the characters will remain the same exact tropey stereotypes at the end of the game that they were when they were introduced, demonstrating no growth or personal story arcs. Second, the game’s structure lends itself to extreme amounts of repetition, and the cast of characters will run through the same dialogs over and over with no change. Of course, in typical Japanese style, these incessantly-repeated dialogs all take at least twice as many text boxes as they need to say what they’re trying to say. And, of course, there’s no way to skip over these, outside of mashing the confirm button to run through them as quickly as possible.

The plot itself is generic and none-too-interesting, revolving around heavy-handed environmentalism metaphors that have been rut-worn in Japanese media for decades already. Perhaps worst of all is that, alongside the almost complete lack of character development among the game’s over-large cast of characters, there’s absolutely nothing to speak of when it comes to the ending sequence.

Overall, “AoE” takes about 30 hours to complete, but a lot of that feels padded by the extreme repetition in the dialog and some unfortunate gameplay design decisions. I typically found myself listening to podcasts while playing, since the dialog was almost never anything new or interesting, and I was generally bored with it about half-way through.

Gameplay
“AoE” is a unique mash-up of the City Sim and Tower Defense genres, tasking the player with the creation of a city that will grow over time as refugees and migrants flood into a place of perceived safety, while also tasking the player with the defense of said city. Unlike most Tower Defense games, however, “AoE” doesn’t feature static defense turrets and predictable enemy movement patterns. Instead, the game’s central gimmick is that each city is a series of 5 concentric circles, with 4 rings of land surrounding a command center at the core. Each of the 4 rings can be rotated independently, with barricades on the outermost ring providing protection for the guns, missiles, lasers, and other offensive weapons on the inner three circles. Enemies can come from any direction at any time, necessitating the player to rotate the relevant defenses to face the biggest threats as they come. Furthermore, each command core can be fitted with one or more Ultimate Strike Weapons, which can be aimed and fired by the player manually once an energy meter fills up during each mission. There is an odd focus on combos in the Tower Defense mechanics, though, and I’m not talking about using two different weapons together to get an extra effect. Instead, lining up two or three of the same weapon type in the three inner circles allows them to merge into bigger, better, longer range versions of themselves.

There are a fairly small number of distinct enemy types, and half a dozen different bosses that can appear semi-randomly at the end of a mission. Each of the game’s different cities specializes in a different color of Altenite crystal, which enemies drop when killed, and each different defense type or upgrade the player can develop in the R&D Lab requires a specific amount of specific colors of crystal, along with money. Money is earned by collecting taxes from the residents of each city, with higher populations generating higher taxes after each mission, but also requiring more wasted real-estate on apartment complexes instead of gun turrets. Fortunately, there are ways to mod gun turrets and other non-residential buildings to allow people to live in them.

Missions in “AoE” are mostly just procedurally-generated affairs where the player is given a rough ‘level’ of difficulty and up to three types of enemy unit that will appear the most. Sometimes, usually due to story beats, there will be ‘Order’ or ‘Request’ missions that provide extra rewards to the player, but generally don’t feel at all different from standard missions. Indeed, my single biggest criticism of “AoE” from a gameplay perspective is that none of the individual missions are actually memorable or interesting. It’s just fending off waves and waves of mostly-the-same monsters over and over again, with few gimmicks – occasionally a group of Healers or a Shell-Former unit will appear with the normal enemies, with Healers needing to be downed all at once to keep them from reviving each other and Shell-Formers giving every other active enemy damage-reducing shields.

The City Sim side of the game largely revolves around keeping the population of each city “happy,” which brings in more new residents after each mission. Happiness increases when the city successfully fends of enemies, receives new residential buildings, or when the player chooses to put on a public “event” using a building like a park, factory, etc. Happiness decreases when the city takes damage during a mission – which becomes devastating if a residential building gets biffed – or when the player simply ignores a city for too long because their attention is needed in a different city to advance the plot. Furthermore, each city has a single power-plant that provides power, which the player must upgrade over time to adequately supply the increased power draw from both more and more weapon installations and more and more residential buildings.

The discrete gameplay mechanics, on their own, are interesting and reasonably well designed. However, there are some significant balance issues in the Tower Defense mechanics, making triple-merged missiles an incredibly overpowered way to protect any city with little other effort. I also found that constantly having to rotate all three rings of the city to keep merged defenses together was rather annoying and tedious. All of my city defense builds ended up being identical, and there was never a point where I didn’t want to rotate all three inner rings at the same time, but there’s no option to lock them together in any way. Even city-building and R&D in the late game starts to feel poorly-tested and cumbersome, with late-game residential building upgrades actually decreasing the number of people who can live there compared to the leveled-up mid-grade residences that exist in the later cities when the player is given access to them, requiring some tedious fiddling around to avoid population and power-grid issues. Then there’s the R&D Lab itself, which unlocks a new unit for each experience level the player’s commander gains and two new upgrades for the command center for each population level the city gains… but the late-game units and upgrades all require hideously-rare types of Altenite, with no real way of hunting it down aside from praying to RNGesus. I spent several hours on the last damned mission that should have been one-and-done, simply because I didn’t have the right colored Altenite to craft a mission-mandatory upgrade, and couldn’t get it to drop from random missions.

Overall
Going into “Aegis of Earth: Protonovus Assault,” I had some faint glimmers of hope that this might be the first great genre mash-up since “ActRaiser.” Unfortunately, with the bloated cast of stock characters, unoriginal narrative, and excessive padding through extreme repetition, it fell well short of its potential. It’s not a “bad” game, but its writing could have used another editorial pass to cut out the bloat, and its gameplay could have used some tweaking to make individual missions feel more unique and less repetitive.

Presentation: 3/5
Story: 2.5/5
Gameplay: 4/5
Overall (not an average): 3/5

 

 


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