IGN Review of Earth Defense Force 2017
Technically speaking, Earth Defense Force 2017 is not a good videogame. Everything from the visuals to the level design just screams low-budget in an all too unflattering way. Yet, I just spent the past weekend playing nearly 22 hours of the game, most of it with a compatriot playing by my side. I even stayed in on St. Patrick's Day to play it rather than celebrating the Irish in all of us. How does it happen that a game can be so horrible and horribly addicting at the same time? Earth Defense Force 2017 is cheesy, can't sustain a solid frame rate to save its life, and by all accounts should be boring due to its repetition. And yet, the game is fun enough that I'm ready for more.
The premise is simple. Aliens are invading the planet and it's up to the Earth Defense Force to show them we humans won't go down without a fight, just like Will Smith did Independence Day-style. The fighting takes place across 53 stages where the EDF tackles hordes of giant ants, spiders, robots, and even the occasional cyborg dino-mech. The gameplay rides on the idea that throwing overwhelming numbers of enemies at you will create all of the tension and action you could ever need. The only hope is to kill them with one of 150 weapons or a handful of clunky vehicles before they swarm you and end all pathetic human life. Every building and tree can be blown up and knocked down too, but that's about it as far as gameplay goes. This is a straightforward, old-school shooter that doesn't apologize for its lack of gameplay depth one bit. There's no thought here aside from weapon selection. You just shoot.
The success to Earth Defense Force comes in its challenge and progression. There are five different difficulty levels for each stage ranging from Easy to Inferno. The higher levels of difficultly are extremely tough, verging on what feels like impossible when you first begin. But then, you only begin the game with a couple hundred hit points and three weapons. Each time you play through a stage, you can collect little icons dropped by the enemies that give you a single extra hit point or the chance to add a new weapon to your collection. Grab enough armor icons and you'll find that you can weather attacks from bugs on the Hard difficulty. Grab a few thousand and Inferno becomes possible.
Adding to this progression is the semi-random way in which weapons are unlocked. Which weapons you actually get from the floating icons isn't revealed until the end of the stage and it often is a weapon you already have. But when you do get a new and powerful weapon, watch out. Beating more difficult stages increases your odds of landing one of the best weapons in the game, thereby opening even harder levels to the realm of possibilities. Which in turn gives you new weapons to tackle the next challenge. And so on and on until you realize it's three in the morning and you've been playing for 10 hours straight. It's a simple concept, but it's a very powerful one. If you can't beat a level, going back to replay older ones at a higher difficulty to grind out a few extra hit points or collect a new weapon is always helpful and for some reason isn't tedious.
The weapons are all varied enough that they can each be useful in certain unique situations and play styles (at least until you get a more powerful version of them), encouraging players even further to go back and replay levels in hopes of improving their arsenal. The guns, explosives, and bombs all have a nice sense of humor about them too. The Air Tortoise missile launcher is our personal favorite; a slow moving but powerful missile that is utterly useless but simply must be used regardless. Just like the story and dialogue, the weapon descriptions are all tongue in cheek, giving the game a B movie feel.
The only big negative on the gameplay side of things is the odd way the camera occasionally switches on you. To give you a mid-battle update, camera control will sometimes be taken out of your hands and put in a fixed place while new intel comes in. The result is often extreme disorientation with the player firing rockets into the ground and blowing him or herself up.
With only a few enemy designs and even less environments, most of the 53 missions feel like exact clones of themselves, marking a key place this game fails in. One begins to wonder how much effort was put into making the game look good when you see rotating 2D icons littering the field. When the game tells you that the next mission will take place in Europe and you find yourself back in the same opening city that was supposedly Tokyo, then you know. There wasn't much effort put into design here and it shows in every corner. The mechanical monstrosities you fight do look quite spiffy, but on the whole EDF 2017 doesn't look so hot. What's more, the game grinds to a halt anytime things get hectic which only adds to the budget feeling. It doesn't look great and still can't hold a steady frame rate. Not good.
It really is odd, because you can see that Earth Defense Force could be great with a bigger budget. The explosion effects look cool even if they don't use any flashy visual effects. The way the giant robots bounce around from bullets and react realistically to your attacks is awesome. Even the way homing missiles arc towards their targets and buzz circles around them before detonating looks great. But these few cool effects are sitting in a field of poor animations, canned building detonations, ugly bugs, spaceships that just fall through buildings and the ground when they get knocked out of the sky, 2D rotating icons, and weak environmental design. I could go on but I think you get the idea.
The sound, on the other hand, is not a mixed bag. This department is almost universally bad. While the voices heard from AI squad mates often say hilarious things, the implementation is not good. For starters, they can be heard at random even after your squad has been wiped out. Directional audio on a 5.1 system sounds very weird with silence coming from the rear speakers occasionally broken by a loud voice that just sounds out of place. The weapon sounds also aren't done with the same level of expertise 360 owners have grown accustomed to with most of the samples reused far too often.
Earth Defense Force 2017 can be played in a solo mode, cooperatively, or in a battle mode. This latter option is just a 1 on 1 affair and largely ignorable. It just doesn't hold a candle to fighting the swarms of alien bugs. The coop mode, unfortunately, can only be played offline on the split screen. Why? Perhaps the team simply couldn't make the game work online. Or maybe it just wasn't in the budget. Both explanations would make sense, although it doesn't make up for the fact that online play would have greatly added to this title.
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