As archaic and clumsy as it can be, Earth Defence Force 2017 succeeds because it is a ridiculous chunk of dumb fun. Pop quiz: You’re running about with a maximum of two guns, collecting two-dimensional power-ups, wildly smashing up giant space bugs, UFOs and robots. On occasion you’re required to destroy a massive boss of some sort. I’ll give you a clue: this game isn’t Super Probotector.
Sandlot Games’ Earth Defense Force 2017 might as well be a game designed in 1997 for the SNES or Mega Drive, of course don’t get it confused with Super Earth Defence Force for the SNES. This game however has taken a form of gaming that hasn’t truly been popular for over a decade, yet delivered a game that is in no way as good as its predecessors. Sandlot haven’t taken that template and built something excellent, they’ve made something bug-riddled (no pun intended) and terrible. I can’t tell you any reason why I’m still playing this game other than its fun. Let’s run with the Super Probotector (Contra 4 to most of you – ed.) analogy for a while, and see where we get with it.
Okay – so take your basic run-and-gun formula and realise it in shoddy, awkward 3D; take all the bad guys and multiply them all by a thousand, and whilst you’re at it – make them giant ants; to finish, don’t update the design or controls one bit. Now we’re talking Earth Defence Force 2017. The game is relentlessly difficult, riddled with problems and filled with glitches but there’s something about the idea of senselessly running around a city, exploding everything in sight that appeals to the old-school gamer in me. The fact that this game is £17.99 new appeals to the cheapskate in me. You might still however have a hard time convincing your mates to come over and play what would have been a poor game on the PS1, on your Xbox 360.
It would be a lot easier to tell you Earth Defence Force has no story. This is almost true, but the truth of the matter is the story is summed up in about three lines in the manual. Aliens decide to pay a quick visit to Earth for what amounts to a six-billion-course intergalactic buffet – if video games have taught me anything it’s that all aliens are bad news. Somehow the governments of Earth saw the alien menace approaching, so put together a crack-team of alien fighters known as the Earth Defence Force, and put them immediately to action. Now could be the time to point out that when you start the game The EDF have only one choice of gun and that your compatriots are woefully undertrained to fight enormous cosmic ants. Pfff, governments.
When the aliens do arrive, they do so initially in the form of enormous, ten-foot long space ants; dropped out of huge mother ships fifty at a time, or burrowing out of the ground in major cities around the world. The line-up soon expands to include spiders the size of Transit vans, UFOs and gigantic bipedal robots with laser guns for arms. The fact that none of these creatures has one thing in common makes the entire premise more laughable than a late-night TV movie. Your guy doesn’t seem to give a crap about that though – he’s the stoic, silent type you see. He’s quite content just to awkwardly jog about the city shooting everything that moves; never questioning, never even uttering a word. See how I said your guy? He doesn’t even have a name! In Earth Defence Force 2017 you play a guy!
Earth Defence Force 2017 boasts(?) 53 missions in the game, each and every one involving annihilating space ants. Well OK, on some missions there’s no space ants. But there is one mission where you fight a giant Queen Ant. The settings for the missions are myriad – some are set in the countryside, others in the cities. Some are set in mammoth underground cave networks that the extra-terrestrial buggers are using as nests. The underground missions are pretty neat. You’re typically just hosing down abundant levels of ants in a tunnel, with remarkable levels of slowdown. Once you get past the fact the game runs at eleven frames per second when there’s seven thousand ants on screen, you’ll grow to love it. Here’s my top tip: get the bouncing ammo. Stand still. Hold the trigger down for nine minutes. Win level.
Actually that leads me fairly neatly into the weapon selections. There are over 150 individual weapons in Earth Defence Force 2017, most of them are rubbish. Some of them are brilliant, like the bouncing ammo gun or the Air Tortoise – a missile that moves so slowly it defies physics; you can actually walk faster than the missile flies. You don’t need to think about the weapon selection, seeing that all you’re planning on doing is laying waste to whatever foul beast gets within your targeting reticule. Finding the best weapon combo is a fun part of the game. Some people prefer mines, others missiles. Just find what suits you best and go with it. We play with shotguns a lot – shotguns and rocket launchers.
EDF also includes vehicles, and every one sucks! The tank is the best of the bunch, being pretty hardy with a powerful but hopelessly inaccurate gun. The helicopter is entirely inoperable, the super-robo-mech-suit can barely move at all and the jet-bike is the fastest way to shoot yourself ten miles away from the action and into a wall. Have fun walking back by the way – the bike beelines at 1,000mph into a building the next town over and explodes, that’s its special ability. Your best bet is to slog it with the grunts, even though your heart tells you to mount the vehicles whenever possible.
Footslogging it is hardly perfect however. Shooting is OK, but your guy moves like a marionette. The dodge feature is a nice idea, but is nothing shy of clumsy. Once the proverbial hits the fan and you find yourself attempting to traverse a mess of collapsed masonry, rubble and ant corpses; being mobbed by hundreds of angry space spiders whilst chrome UFOs bombard you with rainbow laser beams becomes a pretty stressful experience. If you’re not vomiting or swallowing your tongue at this point, you’ll start to rue the decision that jump and dodge are mapped to the same button. Cue loud obscenities’ hurled at the screen, at Earth Defence Force itself and at Sandlot Games.
Collateral damage is apparently of no concern to the Earth Defence Force. Whilst you’re wildly discharging multiple rockets into a populated urban environment, you’re likely to miss a lot of the time. When you do, skyscrapers collapse into rubble, assumedly killing thousands of accountants, web designers and copy editors in the process. You can actually shotgun the buildings down with no reproach whatsoever. Your commanding officer is watching you literally destroying an office block, massacring everyone inside. No-one seems to mind the price paid for killing these aliens, even the mutually-assured destruction of both sides. In your feral quest for victory, trees are torched; torn from the ground and hurled into the air, along with cars, buses and lamp-posts. Speaking of which, the physics is laughably terrible. Dead enemies tend to seize up and vibrate across the ground, juttering in and out of position, often then hilariously shooting off into space at 100mph, never to be seen again. Send a message to your own kind, douchebag – we HATE ants.
The bosses in Earth Defence Force 2017 are colossal. One of the early bosses is a barrel of laughs as he’s a thinly-veiled Godzilla, stomping around a city shooting everything with laser breath. There’s also a cheap-looking AT-AT boss later on. The size is impressive, but just like the “Ant Queen” I mentioned earlier, these are clearly just standard stock models scaled up to ridiculous proportions. The textures are stretched and bloated and the models only work from a distance – up close they come close to sucking. In fact every model in this game looks like it was bought from a stock 3D models site; rather than having a contiguous style throughout – the gallimaufry of aliens, ships and robots all have a distinctly different style, and look nothing short of ludicrous forced together onto the same screen.
Co-op play is nice, the retro split screen is a lot of fun – I’m a mad retro gamer, and am often lamenting the lack of good, fun games you can play with your pals with a pizza and a box of beers. A lot of gamers might think EDF would have been even better if it were online – this may be true but for the fact that me and my buddies can spend an evening hammering giant monsters with machine guns I’m pretty happy with this. In fact I’m pretty happy overall that a game that offers nothing to the moniker of “next-gen” can be so enjoyable. Playing Earth Defence Force with a pal over a couple of cold ones holds a middle finger up to everything Fallout, Mass Effect and Fable are trying to achieve in games, and that sits just right with me. Vomit-inducing colours, terrible controls and a relentless tide of identical enemies surely shouldn’t be this fun. If you’re thinking that I’m going to pull something spectacular out of the bag in the twilight lines of this review; I’m categorically not.
If you want a sweeping narrative, controls which aren’t likely to inspire insipid fury and a game which looks like it wasn’t made for the PlayStation, then look elsewhere. If you can accept this game has possibly more flaws than any other game on the platform, but somewhere within that dried husk of inadequacy lays the seed of gaming perfection, then this is your game. Go find it.