Since touching down on Xbox 360 in 2007, Earth Defense Force 2017 has marked a golden standard for abashed gaming apologists everywhere. Critically lauded for their brand of simplistic fun, both EDF 2017 and its 2011 sibling EDF Insect Armageddon have earned healthy praise – as well as staggering commercial success in their native Japan – while often requiring their ostensible flaws to be overlooked. It’s perhaps not surprising, then, that EDF 2017’s debut for PlayStation Vita is an equally pleasing and frustrating wearer of its forefathers’ hallmarks.
As you find yourself bundled into the first of EDF 2017’s sprawling landscapes, rocket-launcher in hand, things have clearly gone awry. Globular alien mother-ships fill the sky, and even before first contact is made, Earth’s powers-that-be elect to name the soon-to-be invading forces ‘The Ravagers’ – a move akin to naming your brand-new Rottweiler puppy ‘court-case’.
As if irked by the presumptuous naming, swarms of giant insects set about scuttling all over skyscrapers and chomping down civilians with all the enthusiasm of a stag-party in Vegas. I couldn’t help but pause to think of the excrement that thousands of giant insects would create (what does ant poo even look like? Maybe they can patch it in). Insect nuggets aside, the wall of raw chaos at hand creates a feeling of immediate ineptitude – things aren’t going wrong, they’ve gone wrong – and it’s your problem.
Straddling the narrative isn’t hard – tackling level after level, packed full of bugs, space-cruisers and bipedal mechs is about the length of it. It’s a knuckleheaded pursuit, troops whoop and holler with chest-pounding glee as you scoop them up into your party, newsbeats populate the airwaves, pointing out the obvious (‘giant bugs are attacking’, for example), and pro forma for the franchise, B-movie fanfare hoots along in the background. There’s only a few tracks, but it’s testament to the core experience that frantically flitting about each city makes this an afterthought.
You’re afforded little time to pause for breath – swelling numbers of red dots on your radar build, as your horizon blackens with twitching insect limbs. Even on the easiest of the game’s five difficulties, shaking off the hordes presents a pleasant challenge, like trying to remove peanut-butter from the roof of your mouth. It’s a relentless cat-and-mouse game of rolling and weaving, jockeying for just enough room to let your various explosives loose, without catching yourself in the fallout. But in a world where near-constant movement is a must, your greatest nemeses aren’t robots and aliens, as much as the environments themselves.
Tottering around is functional enough – the increasing intensity works you into a jumpy, shooty rhythm nicely – but it’s an oft interrupted flow. In spite of the expanse provided, skating across the landscapes is bumpier than it should be. There’s a perverse amount of bric-a-brac, and while many of the levels are bite-sized enough for it not to matter, a half-hour slog brought to an end by getting log-jammed onto an immovable bicycle or piece of rogue railing makes for a deflating conclusion.
The transition to the new handheld format could have been better implemented, too. Both the jump and roll functions have been fudged together on to the same shoulder button. Flicking your left stick usually sends you rolling as desired, but following up with a jump requires you to stop entirely, before pressing the button again. You can’t roll or run up curbs either, you have to jump instead – cities tend to have a lot of sidewalks, so you’ll often find yourself shoehorned into dodging pincers and appendages in tighter spaces than you might like.
Fans of the series will already be aware that EDF carries a kind of shonky charm. It doesn’t look great – it never has – textures are plain, pop-up is frequent, and sprites animate from a limited move set. Friendly A.I. is atrocious – penchants for stopping immediately in your line of sight or shooting you with heavy explosives are among their most unpleasant habits. In most cases, they serve as a nice meat-shield to keep some of your enemies away for a while. Usually though, they’ll all be dead within a few minutes, leaving you alone to get busy cleaning up the dregs.
Bullets fly through walls; frame-rate suffers from occasional drops during moments of heightened fever, and the selection of vehicles available handle poorly – aside from the tank, which chugs around, chundering out shells delightfully. These are all aspects of the franchise that fans will be equally aware of and willing to accept, it’s perhaps telling, though, that under the new stewardship of developer Sandlot, (also charged with taking control of this year’s pending Earth Defense Force 2025 release) little has been done to advance the franchise.
It’s a shame that none of the improvements made with the release of Alien Armageddon were considered for inclusion. The console follow-up brought with it more class options and improved visuals, among other things; instead EDF 2017 for Vita is little more than a port of a nearly six year old game.
That’s not to say nothing has changed, though. There’s more weapons to collect than ever – collectibles spew out of slain enemies – and there’s a great variety to them. Local and online play are available, both co-op and competitive – these make for welcome additions, not present on the console release. Completing certain criteria unlocks the Pale Wing class – essentially giving you the power of flight and some souped-up weaponry – the unit offers a totally different and very enjoyable alternative to the standard Storm 1 foot soldier. Without giving away exactly how you nab this piece of kit, it would have been nice to break from the lore and include it throughout, or even infrequently at points to punctuate EDF 2017’s lengthy campaign.
That’s because the campaign is long – longer than ever, in fact – there’s an extra seven stages scattered throughout, taking the total to sixty. Levels vary from a few minutes each to upwards of half an hour – dying forces you to restart entirely, drawing proceedings out, and the sheer number of challenges to overcome helps cultivate the idea that you are little more than a small part of a truly global conflict. As with the original, battles take place across different world capitals, but all of them look the same and play out similarly. Skirmishes in subterranean hives break things up a bit, but the extra seven levels feel like an unnecessary inclusion, more suited to making a purchase look worthwhile on the packaging, than adding much to the story or challenge.
For all the frustrations and limitations, EDF 2017 appeals to so many people for a reason. As missions roll by, you’ll find yourself accepting the restraints imposed upon you – you’ll change the way you play to accommodate the dodgy curbs and the kamikaze helicopters. Rather than lamenting the plain looking office buildings, you’ll start blowing them apart to make a direct route to your objective; you’ll learn where and when to roll, and you’ll start to understand what kind of weapons to use and when.
It’s hard to say if all this is just a happy accident or not, and while EDF 2017 comes nowhere near to pushing the capabilities of the handheld it calls home, the satisfaction of levelling a giant walking fortress, while swatting away space-cruisers, or overcoming throbbing waves of enemies, swelling and subsiding, is undeniable.
EDF 2017 for Playstation Vita is an incestuous ballet of mesmerising violence and untapped potential. There’s a genuine challenge to be enjoyed and bags of content to keep you busy – not all of which is as complete or fulfilling as it could be. EDF’s forebears have been heralded for their euphoric blend of addictive core gameplay and simple functionality – EDF 2017 for Playstation Vita still bears these marks, but the opportunity to embellish the series and make a case for a truly killer Vita app has been missed.
Audio/ Visual – 2/5: Doesn’t look great. Screens filled with laser-fire and flame-spitting monsters are fun though.
Gameplay – 4/5: Addictive and challenging, but derailed by some janky controls and environmental issues.
Innovation – 3/5: It’s EDF. Not a lot has changed.
Value – 2/5: £34.99 on PSN. Shop around and you could find the console counterpart for under £10
Final Score: 3/5
- Leo reviewed Earth Defence Force 2017 Portable on PlayStation Vita -