Earth Defense Force 2017 Portable Review
The Earth Defense Force name is not a new one to gamers who feel the need to explore beyond just the latest big-budget releases. Originally appearing on the Xbox 360 in 2007, Earth Defense Force 2017 became something of a cult hit after critics ripped apart its last-gen graphics and simplistic third-person gameplay. But even with the negative reviews, daring gamers found themselves drawn to the title's undeniable fun factor and addictive gameplay. A 2011 sequel, EDF: Insect Armageddon, improved on most of the first game's flaws but still remained under most gamers' radar. Now, the remake/port of the original game has been brought to the PlayStation Vita, potentially opening more eyes to the series. Is Earth Defense Force 2017, now called Earth Defense Force 2017 Portable, a true cult gem? Or is it a game and series that has gone unheard and unmentioned of for a reason?
In case you aren't yet familiar with the Earth Defense Force brand, I'll go ahead and catch everyone up. The series pits humans against wave after wave of incoming alien invaders, ranging from huge bugs to giant-sized robots to massive flying dropships. Players control a single member of the Earth Defense Force (the games also feature co-op play) as he charges from end to end of giant environments, blasting as many invaders as possible. That's pretty much it. If you love campy, ancient horror flicks like "Them" or "Tarantula," you will definitely be on board with what this series has to offer. There is something visceral about being the only thing between a city and the army of giant ants swarming over the buildings in the distance; a reason that those old films and now these games were and are so fun and appealing.
The original EDF, shrunk down to handheld size and boosted up with a few new features, remains as fun and addictive as it was back in 2007. It also remains equally polarizing; this is a love/hate game if I've ever played one. Let's start with the presentation. EDF 2017 Portable is, from an audio/visual standpoint, a huge train wreck. The graphics, despite being on a crazy powerful handheld this time around, appear as though they could be from a somewhat ambitious Nintendo DS game. The character models are simple, the draw distance is atrocious and none of the environments contain even the slightest amount of detail. Even the menus and load screens are lazy and ugly. The voice acting is worse. Not one line yelled from other members of the EDF is plausible or convincing beyond conveying that the world of voiceover acting must be a sad and strange place, and any actor of any talent level must be guaranteed a job. And on top of those lines being delivered so unconvincingly, you'll hear the same ones over and over and over and over (and over) again. Further, the music is terrible and the sound effects feel as if they could have been sampled from Mega Man 3, left on a CD somewhere for years and unearthed and slapped on this game with little care or quality assurance. EDF 2017 Portable is NOT the game you'll want to use if you are showing off your new Vita to friends and family. They'll probably think you got some Chinese knockoff system on eBay and are trying to pass it off as an actual Vita.
Ouch, right? Hang with a minute; just because the game looks and sounds like it is from 1996 (or earlier) doesn't mean much in the long run, especially if the game's weapons/armor grind grabs your attention. We'll get there in a second, though. The main bullet point of this presentation is that no matter how bad things may look and sound, EDF 2017 Portable is simply, undeniably fun. Picking a weapon and armor loadout and jumping into battle with the extraterrestrials can be a blast in small spurts or super long sessions (some longer than the Vita's battery can handle). Mission after similar mission, the developers have found that special something that keeps gamers coming back for more, and the 50th time can be just as much fun as the first few.
I can almost hear other critics or players complaining about the game's repetition - and yes, it can seem repetitious at first - but that's where the grind comes in. If games like Disgaea, with its all-encompassing emphasis on levels and character development, spoke to you, then EDF 2017 Portable probably won't have much trouble getting its hooks in. The options for weapons and the constant upgrading of your armor mean that each and every time you play, your character gets just a little stronger and maybe, just maybe, you'll find that next awesome grenade launcher, assault rifle or useful tool. Your armor, which is basically how many hit points you've got, is always getting better based on picking up items that increase your total by a single point each. When it comes to weapon drops, they are totally random except for the fact that the better stuff only appears in missions played on one of the higher of the five difficulty levels present for each. You see where this is going - you play missions on lower difficulties to amass a stockpile of hit points and so-so weapons before making the leap to the tougher difficulties and better implements of destruction. The game keeps constant track of how complete your arsenal is and how many, percentage-wise, of the total missions you've completed (50+ missions with five difficulties apiece), so if you let yourself get pulled in, you'll be playing this title a long time to come.
And to ensure you've gotten every bit of value from the game's asking price of $39.99, completing the main game's missions on any difficulty unlocks Pale Wing, a playable female superhero with a jetpack. She handles differently enough that those who really fall in love could justify playing all the missions, on all the difficulties, all over again. I'm pretty sure that is the road I'm heading down; check back with me in March or April and I may still be on the EDF bandwagon. Oh, and in case math isn't a strong suit that means more than 500 missions across both characters and all difficulties. Yowsa.
Finally, EDF 2017 Portable has online co-op and deathmatch modes that are easy to drop in and out of, and definitely worth your time as you build armor and hunt for weapons - it all carries over to the main single player game. The online community is currently thriving and seems to be growing quickly; I never had any trouble finding a partner or enemy to shoot with or at. What is especially nice is that drop in/drop out smoothness. Starting a multiplayer mission over a steady WiFi connection (usually) takes almost exactly as long as booting up a single player mission, and it gives the overall game a nice bit of programming polish and flow. You won't be wading through tons of menus or languishing in rooms while you wait for a new game to begin; you just pick a mode, wait a few seconds and bam - you're in. Though multiplayer, especially online multiplayer, isn't my thing and never will be, EDF 2017 Portable is one of those rare games that convinced me, if only for a time, that playing with others isn't so bad.
Let's face it: the lackluster game lineup on the Vita isn't setting anyone's world on fire. So-so titles like Gravity Rush, Assassin's Creed: Liberation and Ragnarok: Odyssey get more attention than they deserve, simply because there isn't much else out there. Sure, I played those games, and many, many others on Sony's new handheld, but I did so lazily; I'd play for a few minutes, put them down and maybe, if I felt like it, I got back to them a little later. Sigh. Earth Defense Force 2017 Portable marks the first time since the Vita's launch that I've felt compelled to play the system's battery life down to nothing, and then plug it into the wall so I wouldn't have to stop and wait for a recharge. For every person who absolutely loves EDF 2017 Portable, though, there will be one who absolutely hates it. If you can get by the ancient-looking and sounding presentation and allow the game to work its magic, you'll end up being one of the former, I'd bet. If the idea of endlessly replaying stages for better pickups is one you've fallen victim to before, you, too, will probably fall into that first group. But if you are looking for a an eye candy-filled next-gen shooter to fill the deep hole left by the embarrassing Vita flops Call of Duty: Declassified and Resistance: Burning Skies, this game probably isn't for you. Earth Defense Force 2017 Portable won't win any Game of the Year awards, nor will it be looked back upon fondly as a classic or a pinnacle of modern game design. It might, though, just get you back in the habit, the unbreakable habit, of playing your Vita again. And for the millions of bored Vita gamers out there, nothing could be better than that.
Final Rating: 84%. Just because a game looks and sounds like it's from 1996 doesn't mean it's bad.