There is a flood of faux-realistic first and third person shooters out there this generation. Every one of them constantly leapfrogging over the other in an endless arms race of hyperbolic graphic engines, Michael Bay explosions and the kind of swearing that’ll convert the twelve-year-olds players into disciples of Gordon Ramsay.
Iit’s gratifying to know that there’s a shooter out there with a real emphasis on gleeful, adolescent fun – not about killing racial stereotypes with endlessly insufferable American meat-heads in thinly veiled ‘realistic combat’. Budget title Earth Defence Force 2017, created by Japanese developer Sandlot on the Xbox 360 in 2007, is the perfect remedy for these serious-face shooters.
So here’s the skinny on EDF; Giant frickin’ ants and an assortment of other B-movie clichés have invaded earth! They’re crawling all over our buildings, attacking people, nesting underground and generally causing a ruckus. You, the Earth Defence Force, are there to give them a hearty welcome reception, and send them back to where they came.
Basically, plot is irrelevant here. To save the day, you have some fabulously OTT firepower; some of which can topple skyscrapers with a single round – which is probably more fun than should be allowed. You have silly but loyal comrades with awesomely bad dialogue and voice acting, “EDF! EDF! EDF!” “The giant ants are beating off the humans!” And if that wasn’t enough, you have vehicles that hit hard and are a joy to commandeer; one noteworthy mode of transport is a giant Mech that has the turning speed of a PSone-era Lara Croft, but reduces anything in its general direction to cinders with an explosive firework display.
EDF is a simple game, and makes no effort to hide it: the right trigger fires, the left triggers jumps and dodges, and the right bumper switches to your other weapon (Only two can be equipped at once.) There isn’t even a button to reload. Legions of ants, spiders, UFOs, robots etc. numbering in the hundreds come at you from the ground and sky, and you simply have to kill ‘em all.
Here we have a game that plays out much like a three dimensional re-imagining of classic arcade shooters Robotron: 2084 and Smash TV by people who really like War of the Worlds. While this may not sound terribly exciting on paper, it’s the execution that makes this game such a joy to play. Blast a crowd of giant ants crawling all over a high rise skyscraper with your Goliath rocket launcher, aided by a comedy physics engine you’ll scatter their carcases airborne like a party popper of death, bringing the building tumbling down with them. Destroy one of the laser-cannon toting bipedal robots, and you’re rewarded with an earth-shattering explosion on a nuclear scale. Everything you do in this game is larger than life and incredibly satisfying, much like the Arnold Schwarzenegger films of the 80s.
Your campaign is presented in a basic mission-based structure. Each of the fifty-strong missions accomodating five difficulties throw you in increasingly difficult hotspots as you go on. One minute you’ll be taking pot-shots with your sniper rifle in a ravaged Japanese city – the next you’ll be tearing through underground nests, searing gruesome web-spewing spiders with a flame thrower. The stakes are constantly raised, and the sense of scale only gets more ridiculous. At many points in the game you’ll encounter an enormous mechanized walker (think the AT-AT walkers from Star Wars cranked up to a factor of DEATH.) Its sheer screen hogging bulk dwarfs you and its fire power barrages you with a hailstorm of purple bullet-hell as you try to survive another day. You also have the opportunity to put down a fire breathing Godzilla on yet another rampage through Tokyo’s streets, naturally. EDF takes mischievous pleasure in throwing surprises your way, and pulling the rug from under your feet just when you think everything’s going to plan – it’s a game that revels in the absurd.
One major factor that makes this game so excellent is the almost endless selection of weapons. As you progress your armoury gets more and more stocked with tools ready to cause some collateral damage. Raise the difficulty and even better fire-power can be picked up on the field. You have your ‘standard’ assault rifles, sniper rifles and shotguns, but then things get more ostentatious when you acquire flame throwers, placeable turrets, alien energy weapons and missile launchers that spit out miniature nukes; Comic book stuff – but then that’s what’s so endearing about this game.
The best feature of EDF altogether has to be the split-screen co-operative play. Put Gears of War and Halo out of your mind. For sheer laughs per minute EDF always comes up trumps. To accommodate the other player, the missions get even busier with objects ripe for obliteration. Working together and using the right weapons to complement each other becomes decisive as you proceed from mission to mission.
One co-op moment that sticks in my mind the most is fighting murderous red ants on a beach. Eventually being overrun by the marauders I retreated to a rural fishing village, screaming like a little girl. On an incline leading to the village on higher ground my buddy was fighting them back and I was mashing left trigger furiously and barrel rolling up that hill enough to make Sgt. Peppy shed a tear. It was a scene akin to a Vietnam movie, with Charlie Sheen darting to the extraction point as fast as his legs can muster while under heavy fire.
Fighting off the savage red ants, we ran to the hills at the far end of the map for even more height advantage and breathing distance. We thought it would be smooth sailing from here, but the endless draw distance revealed another fate – over the hills in the far, far landscape red ants scuttled towards us in their droves. Traversing the steep slopes we struggled with, with irritating ease and menace, “We’re so dead,” we mutually agreed. It took us around three minutes to make it to the hills, crossing a bridge, the red ants got to us in about ten seconds. We died cowards.
Long story short; Co-op is brilliant, and an absolute must if you want to get the most out of EDF. There’s even a bare-bones death match mode included, but the fact you can only fight one on one with such shallow game mechanics renders it an amusing distraction at best. There is no online features whatsoever, though I’m not sure if the party-game nature of EDF would translate that well over headsets – regardless, there’s always the upcoming Insect Armageddon to fill that void.
There’s an impression that no compromise was made whatsoever for the playability of this shooter. You can forgive the graphical shortcomings; the lifeless, flat textures, muted colour scheme, simplistic character models and geometry – when there’s so much s**t coming at you. It’s like the developers didn’t even consider the frame-rate and visual fidelity for one moment,
as they threw unimaginable odds at the player instead. The frame rate does suffer at times, particularly in co-operative play, but it’s never too much of a hindrance, and in a sense the slowdown only makes your situation suitably feel all the more apocalyptic. You can appreciate the sheer madness all the more.
Even taking into account the anarchy this title has to offer, the obvious low budget has had a detrimental effect; the menu screens are functional but hardly eye-catching, and get tiresome rather quickly, as you’ll be seeing a lot of them between missions -
and the repetitive music doesn’t help either. A few tongue-in-cheek cut-scenes would have been nice too; the voice-acting is hilarious, I wanted to hear more of it! The environments are expansive, though they aren’t exactly varied – fortunately your screen will be so bombarded with aggressive insect life that’ll you’ll seldom notice.
It’s refreshing to see a game with a blueprint solely concentrated on fun. No broody, cinema-lite story shoehorned in here, and no semblance of seriousness. All you need is a like-minded friend over, preferably one who doesn’t think Snakes on a Plane is complete rubbish, perhaps a few beers – and you’re in for a truly great under-appreciated gem that’ll brighten up any game collection.