STAFF REVIEW of Earth Defense Force 2025 (Xbox 360)

Tuesday, April 1, 2014.
by Khari Taylor

Earth Defense Force 2025 Box art Do you remember the days when arcade games like Sega’s Virtua Fighter 3, Sega Bass Fishing, and Cyber Troopers Virtual-On Oratorio Tangram were the pinnacle of arcade game graphics? Or when local split-screen co-op play was the norm instead of online? How about the days when a game impressed you not by how many silky smooth frames per second it could run, but rather how many enemies it could throw at you without freezing or crashing altogether? Feeling nostalgic yet? If you are, then Earth Defense Force (EDF) 2025 is a game you should probably check out, as it combines all of the above hallmarks of late 1990’s gaming and more into one surprisingly entertaining package.

EDF 2025, the follow up to 2007’s Earth Defense Force 2017 and 2011’s Earth Defense Force: Insect Armageddon, sees players once again enlisting for duty in the game’s titular military forces in order to protect the planet from an invasion of giant insects and robots from outer space. This time however, the alien robots, known as the Ravagers, have decided to be a bit cleverer, timing their invasion to coincide exactly with a surprise attack from a sleeper cell of giant insects that have been living and multiplying in secret under the earth’s surface for the past eight years. If this sounds like the campy plot of a Japanese 1960’s Kaiju (giant monster) film that’s been badly translated into English, then you’re right on the money. In fact, Japanese developer Sandlot Studios has been iterating on this theme since the franchise began as Global Defense Force on the PlayStation 2, and the team has become such an old hand at playing EDF’s trademark corniness to the hilt that to call it a gimmick nowadays would be a disservice…it’s more like a genre that Sandlot and publisher D3 have become the sole custodians of, and one that has generated quite a following over the years.

Naturally, as the fourth installment in the series, EDF 2025 offers players more variety than ever before. No longer limited to playing as a rank and file EDF grunt, players can now choose to embark on any unlocked mission as one of four distinct soldier classes: The versatile Ranger-class of the ground infantry forces, the jetpack-equipped Wing Diver class from the EDF’s female-only Special Forces Unit, the Air Raider class from the support and heavy vehicle division, and the dual-wielding Fencer class from the Heavy Armored Troop Unit. Each class has its unique specialty, strengths and weaknesses, and players will eventually need to master all four soldier types if they hope to have a chance at completing EDF 2025’s staggering number of levels (reportedly close to 100 when counting both offline and online-exclusive stages), all filled with seemingly endless hordes of giant bugs and robots.

Thankfully, the selection of weapons and vehicles that you’ll be able to randomly gather as pickups from fallen enemies are even more numerous, giving players extra incentive to squash every bug and blow apart every mechanical menace they encounter on the battlefield. Each class gets access to different weapons based on their pre-determined play style, and many of them are ridiculously powerful, like machine guns with the unearthly ability to shoot in two directions at once or rebound off walls; energy weapons that discharge highly destructive particle beams that home-in on enemies; the ability to call in drivable tanks and air-strikes; and even giant melee weapons like futuristic lances and riot shields. Each level can be replayed as many times as the player wants at difficulties ranging from Easy (Difficulty 1) to Inferno (Difficulty 5), with the frequency and rarity of item drops increasing with the level of challenge. Thus players will want to revisit earlier missions multiple times to find more powerful weapons, which will give them a fighting chance as the enemy toughness ramps up in the later stages.

It’s quite easy to feel super-powered when playing EDF 2025, as many of the aforementioned weapons are far more lethal than they should have any right to be, like super-soaker guns that shoot acid capable of destroying a giant anthill in a matter of seconds, or a laser sniper rifle so powerful that it’s capable of destroying ANY enemy with one hit, but can only be fired once because reusing it would cause the gun to overheat and melt in one’s hands. Even a “close range” shotgun can kill a giant spider or ant at mid-range and send it spinning backwards though the air for several city blocks. But to think that these powerful weapons will keep you safe, even when playing on Normal difficulty, is to be careless.

Much like the different soldier classes of the EDF, the giant insects and Ravager robots can be quite deadly on their own, but are even more potentially devastating in large, screen-filling numbers, and the latter approach is how most encounters with the player will play out in almost every stage. Large insect swarms in particular can close huge distances between themselves and players in mere seconds, and even the smallest enemy players will face is twenty times the size of a human being. The fearsome ‘ick factor’ of fighting dozens of giant ants, hairy, web-spinning tarantulas and towering, plasma-gun-toting robots as they skitter and leap across buildings or simply plod through them on their way to you cannot be over-exaggerated. Even in co-op mode players will often find themselves screaming and panicking when the herds of giant insects overtake them, as things can quickly go south for all players concerned when just one of them gets reeled in by a hungry spider, or becomes trapped in the jaws of an angry ant.

But while tense, the combat is incredibly fun as well. Making ‘fugly-looking’ insects burst into purple clouds of bug-juice, flying limbs and dismembered heads at the hands of your weapon never gets old, and watching giant robots and transport ships crash to the ground in earth-shaking, screen-filling explosions always manages to satisfy. In a similar fashion (depending on the weapon you or your enemies are using), many of the environments in EDF 2025 are highly destructible, and if players are not careful they can find themselves buried under the debris of the very buildings, bridges and streets that they are standing on. But the true star of EDF 2025 is the game’s incredible sense of scale. As suggested at the beginning of this review, EDF can hardly be called a pretty game, as its looks are rooted firmly in the late 90’s, evoking a polygonal look reminiscent of Sega’s Dreamcast console and Model 3 generation of arcade games. But none of those games, not even Shenmue, ever came as close to replicating the vast scale of close to hundreds of authentic-looking Japanese city blocks the way several of EDF 2025’s stages do.

As someone who once lived in Japan for several years, I was stunned by just how much the game’s “simple-looking” environments captured the urban feel of that country’s biggest metropolises, large shopping arcades, industrial ports and even subway tunnels, and then on top of making much of it destructible, dared to throw as many giant bugs, enemy ships and 100-foot-tall robots at me and my co-op buddy as the Xbox 360’s hardware could handle. Playing in local split-screen made this feat even more apparent, as my Wing Diver-playing brother would often fly to the rooftops of skyscrapers to provide sniper support. My Ranger, who was fighting the bugs in the streets often appeared so small in my brother’s view that it might as well have been from the window of a low-flying passenger plane gliding over the city. He was THAT high up. The stages are by no means limitless; there are borders, but it will take players quite some time to get close to them, and some missions will end without players even covering a fifth of their total map area.

There are a few problems that mar the fun a bit though. In local co-op the large levels can often lead to players getting separated or even lost on occasion as they try to make their way to the next combat area. Once a player goes down, it’s possible for the other player to revive their fallen comrade by reaching their body and pressing the ‘Back’ button, but more often than not, the area will be swarming with numerous and/or powerful enemies that will make short work of the remaining player long before he or she gets there. Alternatively, the surviving player can choose to press on solo and still complete the mission, but surviving later missions less a combat buddy becomes much, much harder to do, even on Normal difficulty, and most players will choose to simply restart the mission or retreat so they can try a different class or switch to better weapons.

Another scale-related problem is that apart from the flight-capable Wing Diver class, all other classes travel on foot, and unless they have access to a vehicle (which only the Air Raider class can summon), their run speed is excruciatingly slow. As a consequence, players will find themselves eating up a lot of time running over huge distances to get to fights, or worse, traveling in the opposite direction to gather health, armor and precious weapon pickups (which may or may not reward them with new weapons – the contents of each weapon pickup are only revealed after the successful completion of a mission).

EDF 2025 also commits what should be considered a co-op crime in this day and age: Only Player 1 is able to log in and earn achievements, and all unlocked weapons and upgrades are saved to his or her profile, meaning that Player 2 is relegated to playing as a “guest”. While the second player automatically gets access to any items the host has access to, should they go home and play EDF 2025 with his or her own copy of game, that progress won’t be usable in any other local or offline games where that player is not the host. So not only does EDF 2025 highly favor co-op over solo play due to its difficulty and tendency to overwhelm players, but it also unfairly offers a more rewarding experience to players who are all playing online together, each with their own copy of the game. Regardless, if you don’t care about achievements, EDF 2025 is surprisingly flexible with multiplayer, offering not only offline split-screen play but also a two-player split screen mode while playing online with up to two other people, and the visual performance is just as good (or bad) as it is in full-screen, single-player mode.

Speaking of things that are both good and bad, the voice acting in EDF 2025 is so delightfully awful that it’s deserving of an award, as there’s no way it could be so awkward on purpose. There should be a drinking game built around this title that forces players to down a whiskey shot each time a scientist says the words “Giant Insects” or “Shield Screen”, and when your EDF comrades burst into their rally song “The EDF Deploys” mid-battle, you’ll find yourself laughing at them, but also wanting to join in for the hell of it (especially after one or two whiskey shots).

At a retail price of $50-60 CAD, Earth Defense Force 2025 is a hard sell, particularly in a month that has been filled with stellar titles in the same price range on both last-and-current-gen consoles. But this is one of those cases of a game being far more fun than it is good, not to mention one of the few games available today that offers hours upon hours of 90’s old-school co-op action, regardless of whether you play online or offline. Teamwork makes a dream work, so split the cost of this game down the middle with a friend, then buddy-up with a couple more ‘EDFers’ online and you’ll be in Kaiju-blasting heaven.

Provide better friendly AI to make single-player progression possible without dumbing down the difficulty (which in turn reduces good item drops). Currently, your AI allies are too slow and stupid to be of much help, even as decoys.

Overall: 7.7 / 10
Gameplay: 8.0 / 10
Visuals: 7.0 / 10
Sound: 8.0 / 10


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