Save our planet or die with everybody else!
Let me first admit that I have no idea how large (or small) Sandlot’s budget was to create this game. But, as you will soon read, I found more than enough evidence to testify to the fact that it wasn’t enough. In Earth Defense Force 2017, our beloved planet is attacked by an alien horde (OK, try to stop yourself from rolling your eyes and saying, ‘Great, so what else is new?’) and you, faithful gamer, must show the aliens just how foolish it is to attack Earth.
Sandlot set an ambitious goal for themselves in trying to produce an apocalyptic ‘aliens attack earth’ videogame that was unique, or graphically superior, or more fun or, well, anything, quite frankly. Sadly, and predictably if you ask me, they fell short, and yet were able, in that unique, paradoxical Japanese way, to produce a poor video game that’s greatly addictive.
Ok, we’ve established the premise: Aliens are attacking earth and you, as a member of the Earth Defense Force 2017 (EDF 2017) must destroy them or die trying. Across 53 stages players will meet and do battle with giant insects like ants and spiders, robots, and humongous cybernetic dino-mechs in futuristic, battle scarred Earth environs. Sandlot’s idea of creating the necessary tension, action, and drama all videogames need is simple: overwhelm the player with so many enemies that he or she won’t have a choice but to be entertained. Interestingly, it works; I found myself engrossed. I was actually able to look past the fact that EDF 2017 can’t sustain a good, fluid frame rate and is remarkably repetitive. My only hope to survive was to use one of the 150 (yes, you read it correctly) weapons and handful of cheesy vehicles to obliterate everything in my path, including all things environmental like every building and tree. But unfortunately, this is as deep as the gameplay gets. Aside from choosing your weapon with the simple push of a single button, no thought is needed to accomplish your objectives. Players need but aim and shoot like hell.
So where does EDF 2017 succeed? Unlike other run-and-gun videogames, it is challenging. Players can brave the threat of the alien invaders in five difficulty settings, from Easy to Inferno. Easy is easy, but Inferno feels damn near impossible. Luckily for us though, all the aliens drop various icons throughout every level that improve the player’s armor, or provide better weapons, or increase the player’s hit points. So, one can play through the game on the easier difficulty settings to bulk up before taking on the enemies in Inferno mode.
The weapon collection process itself is also a characteristic I’d put in EDF 2017’s win column. As you play through a level, picking up the precious dropped icons along the way, you’ll gather all manner of goodies (from armor to weapons to increased vitality). However, what you’ve picked up isn’t identified until the level is completed, and the quality of the pick ups is positively correlated with the difficulty setting. In other words, you get the really good, powerful stuff when playing in the harder difficulty settings. And here-in is bred the addiction: in EDF 2017, there’s a good chance that the goodies you unlock will be repeats of what you already have. But if in order to beat the next level you have to boost your armor or get a better weapon, you’ll have to replay already accomplished levels until the item, or items, you need is or are acquired. And to beat the next level you’ll need something even more powerful. On top of that, you’ll be fueled by the curiosity in finding out just how many weapons there are. So on it goes until the wee hours of the morning when you realize you’ve been playing for eight hours straight. The concept is simple, I know, but its power is undeniable and the folks at Sandlot have succeeded in preventing the high levels of tedium that so often accompany the ‘grinding’ of levels for specific rewards.
Another quality (whether it’s good or bad I’ll leave up to you) of EDF 2017 is the tongue-in-cheek, cheesy dialogue and gameplay. Graphically, this game is weak. The mapping is poor, the frame rate suffers noticeably whenever a significant amount of action takes place, and the physics engine needs a lot of work – I watched airborne enemies simply fall through buildings and through the ground after being shot down instead of actually colliding with them. However, to redeem these faults, or at least distract the players from them, EDF 2017 has humor. For instance, I found a weapon called the Air Tortoise; a missile launcher that fires a ridiculously slow moving, but powerful, missile that would be ideal for engaging the targets that sit the hell still and let you shoot them. There are not, however, any targets at all that simply sit the hell still let you shoot them, so the Air Tortoise is realized to be utterly useless. It is, though, fun to play with.
Most of the technical aspects I have mentioned thus far may be weak points for the game, but they aren’t critical failings. There was, however, one aspect of gameplay that bothered me a great deal: in the middle of a battle your Earth Defense Force allies may acquire intelligence information that absolutely must be relayed to you. When it is, the game’s camera (which is otherwise entirely in the player’s control) switches on you, getting taken out of your hands and placed in a fixed position while the intel is relayed… mid-battle! What results is a great deal of immediate disorientation that often resulted in my death, usually at my own hands when I all of a sudden fired a rocket at my shoes courtesy of the new control-switching camera angles. Another damaging failing is the lack of enemy and environmental designs. There is little variety here, making you feel as if the enemies, and levels, are simply clones of themselves. This, of course, will make more discerning players question the amount of effort that went in to the game’s production, around every corner. Top that off with the fact that EDF 2017 gets mired down with pathetic frame rates anytime things get exciting only adds to this feeling. Not to mention the simplistic building explosions, poor animations, technical bugs, and… well, you get the idea.
As far as multiplayer goes, there really isn’t any. Besides, of course, the fact that you can play with a friend in two player mode. And speaking of sound? Well, there isn’t much to say, which is why I’ve left this characteristic the last reviewed. The music is simple and ignorable, the weapon effects are shallow and too often reused, friendly A.I. is cheesy and is delivered with poor timing (often yelling for help or making other such battle-specific contributions long after the fight has ended or the friends themselves have died), and there is no directional 5.1 surround sound to speak of.
I feel that Earth Defense Force 2017 is a game that’s pros and cons are truly in the eye of the beholder. Yes, I know that’s somewhat true for every game, but it strongly applies here. If you’re into run-and-gun, thoughtless action then I’d say check out EDF 2017. If you want to destroy hundreds and hundreds of bad guys with hundreds of weapons, I’d say check out EDF 2017. However, EDF 2017 can’t hold a technical candle to big budget shooters like GRAW 2 or Rainbow Six: Vegas and for some that’s reason to steer clear. For balls to the wall, mindless shooting this game will satisfy, if you can focus on the destruction you cause and not the technical short comings. If Sandlot and D3 could get a generous loan, I’m sure they could attract a lot more people with what they could produce.