Close encounters of the violent kind.
As a kid growing up in the late-70’s/early-80’s, most of my Saturday afternoons were spent watching old B-horror movies made anywhere from the 1950’s to the 1970’s. As far as I know, this was a staple of every guy (and gal, I suppose) in my generation’s childhood, as each city had its own version of the “Creature Feature” (or “Creature Double Feature” as it was known in Boston). These movies were generally heavy on the cheese and dominated by Cold War sensibilities: fear of technology, the threat of aliens, the effect of atomic energy, etc.
The most famous of these movies came from the Godzilla
franchise, but they certainly didn’t end there and I wasted many a Saturday afternoon watching classic double bills like WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS
and ATTACK OF THE 50 FOOT WOMAN.
I can’t defend these movies on artistic merit, but they were fun when I was ten and still have a certain campy appeal.
Why is this trip down memory lane relevant to a video game review? Because Earth Defense Force 2017
for the Xbox 360 is a game that seems heavily influenced – if not downright ripped from the pages of – this particular genre of movie … only with better special effects (or graphics). This makes sense given that it’s a Japanese import and many of the movies that populated those local UHF stations’ libraries were themselves imported from Japan. And, like most of those movies, Earth Defense Force
is simple and to the point. It’s a third person shooter game, and that’s what you do: shoot. You’re a member of the EDF (Earth Defense Force) and are deployed to help stymie an alien attack of Tokyo.
Now, before getting into the gameplay it needs to be said that a big part of this game’s charm is the unintentional comedy. After all, what good is an import of a Japanese game – and comparing it to old Creature Feature flicks – without unintentionally (at least I think/hope so) hilarious dialogue and situations?
For starters, it becomes clear early on that the EDF is run by less than genius level folk. First, they name the aliens the “Ravegers,” while claiming they don’t know whether they’re friend or foe. I mean, I know ‘raveger’ isn’t even a real word but it sure seems ominous, no? How would you feel if you visited another planet and the natives called you … say “the murderous basturd,” when all you wanted to do was collect some soil samples or something? Couldn’t that set you off to trying to destroy your hosts? Or at least correct their spelling?
Later, while acid spitting ants tear apart the city and a giant space ship hovers overhead, you’re told not to shoot the spaceship because ‘We don’t know if the two things are related.’ Um, I know I’m only a foot soldier in this EDF army but when giant ants and a space ship appear on the same day … I’m assuming they’re related. Call me crazy.
Then there’re the translation snafus. Like any good Godzilla
movie, you’ll find yourself thoroughly amused. This dialogue runs the gamut from the chuckle-inducing: “It’s a bug, a very huge bug!” to the disturbing: “The bugs are spitting some kind of liquid. Is it some kind of bodily fluid?” Ewwww, I sure hope not.
Anyway, back to the game. Your EDF agent is – with no buildup beyond some scrolling text and brief scenario setting audio – dropped into the game facing down a UFO that looks suspiciously like Disney’s Spaceship Earth
, only minus all the joy and happiness. More urgently, there’s also an army of gigantic ants (or “a herd of people eating monsters”) running amok, and you have to…all together now: protect Planet Earth! Or Japan, anyway.
The game mechanics are as simple and familiar as the premise. You kill enemies and they (rather thoughtfully, I must say) leave upgrades for health, armor, and weapons in their wake. Even the weapons are standard fare: increasingly powerful weapons on the M-14, grenade, shotgun, and rocket launcher trees. The more you kill, the harder the enemies become, in turn leading to better prizes for blowing them away.
As the game goes on you do get to use a few vehicles, including a spiffy hovercraft and a few combat vehicles (in the form of a tank, a helicopter, and a “Battle Machine”). But mostly you run, and run, and then run some more. While running around like Forrest Gump gets a little tiresome, the game does have a saving grace in this regard: completely destructible environments! That’s right, kiddies, when you fire a rocket launcher at a building in this game, that sucker actually COMES DOWN!
I almost can’t put into words how cool this is … actually, yes I can: it’s awesomely awesome awesomeness. Don’t want to traverse the streets of Tokyo to find the enemy? Then don’t. Just blow up all the buildings in between you and your foe and walk a straight line. Now, don’t ask me why it’s acceptable for a soldier to do billions of dollars of damage in the line of duty. You’re, uh, just taking orders.
The game is broken up into more than fifty missions, and before each you’re allowed to choose which types of weapons (you’re allowed two) you’ll be carrying, as well as a level of difficulty: Easy, Normal, Hard, Hardest, and Inferno. Wait, how can there be a level harder than “Hardest” you ask? Well…I have no idea. That's how hard it is.
What’s really cool, and gives the game some good replay value, is that you can replay any level as many times as you like, whenever you like. For instance, let’s say you’ve built your EDF agent up to where they have tons of armor and a wide selection of powerful weapons. Well, now you can go back and take another crack at your favorite level, only on a more difficult setting. Earth Defense Force 2017 doesn’t offer online co-op play, but it does have a nifty split-screen co-op mode that’s a lot of fun. I even had the wife running around Tokyo blowing up buildings with me, strictly for work reasons you understand. She didn’t enjoy a second of it.
Earth Defense Force is a very visceral game, and both the graphics and sound fit that model. Smoking a giant bug or robot with a rocket launcher and having the smoke clear around you, only to reveal more things to shoot is exhilarating. This is the game’s biggest strength; it has a real sense of adrenaline, and it’s fairly addictive. The environments look good and I assume the (dense) city is at least based on Tokyo, but never having been I can’t say for sure.
While the overall graphics and rag doll physics are cool, destroying an enemy is only partly satisfying because, though the insects and robots bleed and leak respectively, they ultimately just flop to the ground, and then disappear. What, no dismemberment?
The game’s biggest weakness is that the gameplay is seriously redundant. Don’t get me wrong, it’s cool to shoot things in Earth Defense Force (in fact, I’ve seldom had more fun doing so) but if you’re looking for variety, look elsewhere. You fight in the city, on the shore, and even underground, but it’s the same fighting, over and over again. The computer AI is one note, your enemies come straight at you, and you blow them up. There’s not much thinking, and a whole lot of shooting. It is, as they say, what it is.
Ultimately, Earth Defense Force 2017 is a lot like those old Saturday morning monster movies, and not just in content. It’s not particularly innovative, it doesn’t have ground breaking graphics, but it does what it’s meant to do and is a fun way to spend a little time. The pricetag is also retro, at only forty dollars. But is it – in movie terms – a classic that begs the special edition DVD on the shelf? No, but it is worth a few of your Saturday afternoons.