Game Review

by Dave Riley,

Earth Defense Force 2025

Xbox 360 / PS3

Earth Defense Force 2025
Earth Defense Force 2025 brings the series back to developer Sandlot's hands. The game is nearly identical to Earth Defense Force 2017, but it comes with a much larger array of player options and abilities to choose from.

"In seven years they have evolved, and grown stronger."

Have they?

This is the game you remember, the game you and a friend killed a weekend with, shooting ants over pizza and beer. It's not just familiar, it's practically identical. Same assault rifle, same rocket launcher; same distressingly under-equipped soldiers (this time they've supplemented their janitor uniforms with football pads); same streets, same coastline. Same ants? Maybe. They look similar enough that you wouldn't be able to tell the difference without a video comparison. The ants are stronger, says the world's leading Ravager scientist, who is not a sentient scientist-bug -- which would be pretty cool -- but, presumably, just a guy who really likes studying giant insects.

Giant Insects? Giant Insects?

They must like that phrase, because you hear it many times throughout every level. Sometimes it's said with grave intonation by a weary scientist. Sometimes it's the plaintive cry of a fleeing civilian. The chaos of the civilian's wails are often drowned out by your teammates chanting "EDF! EDF! EDF!" in unison. The chants of your teammates are often hard to hear over the screams of a dozen immolated giant ants. But really, all of it is just cacophony beneath the thunderous collapse of any building that looks at you funny (when you have a rocket launcher equipped, they are all looking at you funny).

After an unfortunate pit-stop with the American-made Insect Armageddon, Earth Defense Force is again what it once was. It is large, it is pointless, and it is good, dumb fun. Mostly, it's about pelting very large ants with bullets that look like giant airsoft rounds. You can equip two weapons, and you'll want at least one of them to be something that blows things up otherwise you'll be unable to level buildings, which isn't something Earth Defense Force tracks with points, but it really should. Watching a building descend as a series of paper mache chunks does inspire a certain sense of wonder. It gives the impression that the people who made this bad game really enjoyed making this bad game, otherwise why would they construct so many skyscrapers for you to destroy, and so many weapons for you to do it with?

And yes, this game is bad. Enemies have no AI to speak of, and usually no attacks worth mentioning, except for the rare creature who can rag doll you forever, assailing your pirouetting body with a hail of laser bullets or spider webs, until you die without an option for counterattack. Half the weapons that explode prefer to do so right in front of your face. Load times can be measured in minutes. They are not just slow, they are unthinkably slow. They are immeasurably slow; or they are measurable, but in lengths so eternal you'd only ever think of them if you were crafting a stand-up routine about the PlayStation 1. And there's no rhyme or reason to how long you'll wait. Sometimes a level will take five minutes to load and be over in three, sometimes a level will take thirty seconds to load and ten minutes to clear. But the former's more common than the latter, so keep a book handy, or else resign yourself to the loading screen's blared warnings of "Understanding Shield Characteristics" and "Don't Get Caught in A Web!" and "Being Bitten? Bite Back!"

There's three new classes in EDF 2025. Subbing out their custodial duds for jetpacks, Wing Divers vocally remind the player that they've sacrificed a great deal of their durability for mobility (as always, the heaviest bits of armor, and thus, the first to go, are the ones around the cleavage and the thighs). Engaging a Wing Diver's booster engines causes gossamer anime pigtails to extend from their helmets. A quarter of the way through the game they get a crossbow that fires electricity, but they're best enjoyed by equipping a "rapier" -- some kind of weaponized Fourth of July sparkler -- and holding down the trigger while jetpacking directly into the snoot of an opposing giant robot.

The other classes can't possibly compare. The radio-equipped Air Raider can call in howitzer strikes, which don't work underground, and vehicles, which move with the weight of motorized marshmallows, have no targeting reticles for their weapons, and bear seemingly-useless auxiliary features like the ability to ferry about other players. There is a helicopter with a gunner's seat on either side, a silent presumption that there exist two people in the world who would willingly ditch their jetpacks for a passenger seat in your cumbersome flying machine, much less their lock-on missile launchers for its floaty, slow-firing turrets.

The troop-carrying capabilities of Armored Vehicle "Grape" might be a cool thing to have around if there were anyone in the world who could stand playing the Fencer, a heavy-armored class that moves at such a dismal pace that you might assume their slowness is not the fault of the class, but that the game itself is lagging. One might also assume, when using a Fencer for the first time, that the trigger button on their controller doesn't work, because there's no logic in a game asking you to hold down a button for fully four seconds before your gatling gun remembers it's supposed to shoot bullets. You can amp the Fencer's movement by tapping the dash button while firing your weapon to engage a repeated forward sprint, which raises your ground speed to something like half that of every other class at only three times the effort. If you have the patience of a saint you may be able to use this cumbersome form of frame canceling to, over the course of thirty or forty seconds, reach your first enemy. Meanwhile your Wing Diver teammates are scrawling lines of plasma all over the battlefield a million miles away, and the map has already ended, and you look down at your unfired Blasthole spear with a resignation that is something like understanding, but considerably more sad.

There is no balance. Some classes (Wing Diver) are just more fun than others. Some weapons, like ones that create protective shields and heal allies, are useless outside of multiplayer. No sane person would play Earth Defense Force by themselves, but, even when surrounded by multiplayer-buffed insects, the game's difficulty is not the sort that requires tactics, or even forethought. Vehicle repair spray will never be on the top of the equipment list, no matter how cool "Proto-Reverser" sounds when you're scrolling through your inventory. The same slots devoted to medi-gel can also hold homing missiles and flechette mine dispensers, so, really, they've made the choice for you from the jump.

Some weapons are great, the plasma gatling gun gets top marks, but most of them aren't. There's no way to tell what weapons are useless before you've equipped one, tried it out, and discovered it truly does shoot out lasers in an ultra-wide V shape, and is only able to hit enemies who are polite enough to engage you on a forty five-degree angle. It is chaos. This is a world without order.

But asking them to fix all the broken parts would be to asking them to apply sense to a game whose defining feature is its lack thereof. Insect Armageddon's problem was that it assumed the thing missing from Earth Defense Force was game design, and that assumption let to things like mission objectives, level-up mechanics, and "hold X to detonate bomb" when the only thing we really wanted was an excuse to kill more ants, and maybe a way to do it that involved laser beams.

Earth Defense Force 2025 is an excuse to kill more ants, and spiders, and robots, and, eventually, bees. It is best played with a friend in the same room. That way you can parrot phrases like "Seven years!" and "Giant Insects!" back and forth every time the game spits them at you, which is any time the game isn't paused, hovering at character select, or stuck inside a loading screen. This is a bad game, but it is a fun game. It's got a grenade that summons blue death lasers from the unseen giant battleship "Whale." EDF's joy is in its absurdity, in the way it feels as if it is bursting at the seams at all times, in the way its exhilaration inflicts an accidental sadism upon its player, like a giant puppy that doesn't know its own strength. There's another grenade that is just a grenade. Its only notable feature is the very-likely chance that you'll drop it at your feet and frag yourself the first time you use it. You'll probably enjoy Earth Defense Force, at least for a little while, provided you're playing it with someone who doesn't mind chasing your rag-dolling body down a hill after your valiant jetpack charge got you tangled up in a spider web represented with all the fidelity and physics of an early PlayStation game.

It doesn't stay fun forever. You'll get bored of ants before the game does. The value proposition is a little skewed, since you can grab EDF 2017 for $20, this one costs $50, and the first half of this thing doesn't just feel similar to the game you played seven years ago, it feels as if someone recreated those levels from a blueprint. Seven years ago we fought a tide of giant robots approaching a sleepy sea-side Japanese hamlet as if it were Normandy Beach. Seven years ago, and ten levels later, we returned to that beach to find it overrun by giant fire ants. We do both of those things here, in exact same order. The only major difference is this time we're doing it with a jetpack.

But maybe that's different enough to make it worth the time.

Earth Defense Force makes a case not for great games, but for sincere ones. The hunger among games, and gamers, for worldwide validation has left us with scores of stodgy protagonists, melodramatic death scenes, and world-encompassing cataclysms, none of which give you the ability to hunker down in an apartment with a friend and spend the weekend eradicating an overwhelming force of inhuman monsters who have no internal plight and require no pathos.

There's no cynicism here. Some games exist simply for the joy of rocket launching a giant spider's rigid carapace a thousand feet in the air. You will almost certainly lose interest in Earth Defense Force before you finish it, much less before you collect all of its several hundred weapons, or clear all of its difficulty levels, or even before you get to the truly crazy stuff. Getting bored before the end doesn't mean what came before was a waste. This isn't a game that will please everyone, but it's a game everyone should try out once, just so they know there's something out there like it.

Overall : B-
Graphics : C
Sound/Music : C
Gameplay : B
Presentation : B

+ Fast, dumb bug-slaying, lots of weird and varied weapons
Endless load times give pause, and time to think, to what should otherwise be mindless fun

discuss this in the forum (4 posts) |
bookmark/share with: short url

this article has been modified since it was originally posted; see change history

Game Review homepage / archives