Game: Earth Defense Force 2017 Portable
Publisher: D3 Publisher, Namco Bandai
Available on: PS Vita only
Amidst the current catalogue of high-budget, AAA titles, it’s sometimes difficult to remember that video games are intended to be fun. Modern games are so often all about the bombastic set-pieces, the celebrity voice talent and the merchandising. In fact, it’s refreshing to pick up a game and not be immediately inundated with glossy cut-scenes, Hollywood-style titles and Nolan North. I’m not saying it’s necessarily better; it’s just refreshing.
But kidding aside, Earth Defense Force 2017 is a game that knows it’s a game. It doesn’t think it’s a movie, or a piece of artwork to be studied and dissected, or an interesting slice of social commentary – it knows exactly what it is, and is completely unashamed of it. It’s a game about shooting giant insects and mechs at point blank range over and over again because it’s fun. If you’re a newcomer to the series and you’re waiting for me to tell you I’m downplaying the complexity of EDF and it’s really much deeper once you scratch the surface, you’ll have a long wait. It really doesn’t get any deeper than that – but it’s incredibly playable as a result.
Earth Defense Force 2017: Portable on the Vita is a buffed-up port of a game first released on Xbox 360 in 2007, itself a follow up to the PlayStation 2 title Global Defence Force. Known in Japan as Earth Defense Force 3, EDF 2017 was Japan’s third biggest selling Games on Demand title in 2009. Quite possibly owing its popularity to the subject matter that influenced its development – giant B-Movie-style invaders, over-the-top destruction and knowingly-hammy writing – EDF 2017 is unafraid to wear those influences on its olive-drab sleeves and revel in them.
The story behind all the running and shooting is incredibly generic, and offers little more than a coherent reason to repeatedly blow the aforementioned giant insects to squishy hell. In 2013 (that’s this year, so be warned) humankind makes contact with an advanced alien race who appear – at first glance – to come in peace. Of course, this is before they start positioning enormous motherships above all of our cities and raining giant black ants on the panicking populace. Before long, Earth is overrun, global militaries are in disarray and hope hangs in the balance.
Enter the EDF, a specialist military unit designed with a single task: combat the alien menace head-on, before it’s too late. Set primarily in Japan (although given the stripped-back aesthetics it could be any country, anywhere in the civilised world), Earth Defense Force 2017: Portable sees you commanding a nameless soldier of Storm 1, the EDF’s primary strike force, in defence of the city. A third-person shooter with a heavy emphasis on strafing and diving to avoid enemy attacks, EDF 2017 outfits you with around 150 unlockable weapons and the total remit to destroy anything and everything, and demands that you shoot stuff. Lots of stuff.
Graphically speaking, it’s very basic, even with the “enhanced” visuals of the portable version. Character models are blocky, environments are sterile and there’s next to no texturing whatsoever. It’s so aesthetically bland that calling it “last-gen” is actually redundant, the no-frills visuals are simply in keeping with the rest of the game. Also, less graphical strain means that it can fill your screen with house-sized bugs, giant robots and collapsing buildings and not only manage a comparatively-impressive draw-distance, but it can do so with no slow-down or stuttering. The sound is also fairly minimalist, the serviceable voice-acting mostly boiling down to either a female newsreader who acts as a kind of guide by telling you what the aliens are doing at any particular moment, or the looped shouts, hollers and occasional horrific, agonised screams of your Storm 1 squad-mates. There is a likeably-cheesy score that kicks off when a mission starts to get hairy, but it’s all a bit guitar-based and generic for my tastes. It’s the kind of incidental music that you don’t even realise is playing as you blithely lay waste to all that you survey.
Each of the 60 missions will give you a straightforward task such as repelling an enemy advance, wiping out all the aliens in the area or destroying the orbiting motherships. Before every mission you’re given a choice of two weapons from a huge bank of unlockable gear, and EDF 2017 caters for violent appetites of every kind, offering assault rifles, flamethrowers, grenade-launchers, guided missiles, shotguns, sniper rifles and RPGs, with several variants of each to pick from. Although never truly tactical, your choices will affect how you approach each mission and, more importantly, how much damage you do, both to the invaders and the surrounding cityscape.
Earth Defense Force 2017 doesn’t get bogged down in the pettiness of morality or realism. Annihilating entire city blocks to kill one errant ant, or express-delivering rocket-propelled munitions into the ear of an unlucky squad-mate are punishable by no more than the expenditure of a round, and there’s a cathartic thrill to the spray ‘n’ pray gameplay, especially given your infinite supply of ammunition. There are five difficulty levels ranging from Easy to Insane, and the greater the challenge the better the rewards as green crates dropped by enemies unlock random weapons. Playing on higher levels will cause better weapons to drop, and so repeated farming is encouraged.
There are vehicles scattered through various levels, more common as you approach the second half of the game, but the handling is universally awful and even the increased firepower and protection are no trade-off for the unwelcome drop in movement speed. This game thrives on charging around like a heavily-armed wrecking ball, launching rockets almost blindly into the advancing mass of giant ants and jumping spiders and laser-powered mechs. Even on higher difficulties, the onus only switches to hanging back a bit more and improving your strafing.
The first of the two big additions to the PS Vita version is the inclusion of Palewing, a female EDF special operative equipped with a jetpack and various enhanced weaponry, able to take to the skies and attack from above. You will need to finish all 60 missions to unlock her, but that won’t take more than a few hours on Normal thanks to the short length of each. Being in the air instead of on the ground changes the game considerably – so much so that a second playthrough doesn’t ever feel like a chore, which in itself is impressive considering the relatively repetitious gameplay. Happily, Palewing handles well, and applies yet another thick layer of bonkers to an already towering stack of crazy.
The second addition is the new multiplayer, adapted from the Xbox 360 version to feature 4-player online co-op. It genuinely increases the excitement and immersion just by allowing you to work together with other humans, as opposed to obliterating the partner AI in due process of purging the alien scum from the streets. Being able to play multiplayer on the go is one of the biggest draws of the Vita, and although EDF’s online element doesn’t offer much in the way of variety, it does ramp up the fun considerably.
VERDICT: Earth Defense Force 2017: Portable is the kind of game designed to be played in small, bite-sized chunks rather than marathon sessions. A minimalist approach to visuals and audio compliment the no-nonsense gunplay of the main game, while the multiplayer offers more of the same but with friends. The difference between this game and others of its ilk is that EDF 2017 knows exactly what it is and what it wants to be, and makes no apologies for it. It’s a game about having fun, charging around a miniature sandbox wherein the only toys are guns with infinite ammo, destructible scenery and lots and lots of enemies to shoot.
The biggest problem is the price. Asking a whopping £34.99 for this title is simply too much – this is the slightly enhanced port of a six-year-old game that was hardly cutting edge when it was originally released, and even with the solo and multiplayer modes adding longevity and replayability, charging the same price as a new AAA-title seems a little suspect. However, that being said, EDF 2017 is incredibly enjoyable and very playable – just don’t go into it expecting a great deal of depth.