E-D-F! E-D-F! The long-running b-movie spoof franchise explodes onto Vita in fantastic fashion, providing an enjoyable dose of shooting craziness on the go.
World-building & Story
Earth Defence Force has never been a franchise particularly interested in telling a detailed story, and 2017 Portable is no different in this regard. Aside from being given an extremely broad plot device to drive the action forward (the Earth is being invaded by giant bugs and you’re part of the Earth’s Defence Force ordered to fight them off), you’re never given much in terms of story.
What is a nice touch is that each mission you undertake will have a description of how the war against the giant bugs has progressed – if you read them, you’ll get a much better picture of this extreme alien invasion that has desolated vast parts of the planet.
World-building is done, therefore, through exploration of the in-game worlds. You’ll run around various urban environments that do present a picture of a struggle against an enemy much greater than you – you’ll be overwhelmed by gigantic flying saucers above you and legions of giant ants scuttling towards you.
Presentation & Sound
Unfortunately, the title is far from one of the prettiest games of Vita – being a port of an early-in-life budget Xbox 360 title. Everything in the game is presented through in-game graphics – meaning the cutscenes will have the same models the combat sections have; the only break from this being the mission select screen.
With that said, everything in the game is serviceable – starting with character models, which are PS2-era but animate well enough between jumping/rolling animations and wield various different weapons with appropriate attack animations. Enemy models come in a number of different shapes and sizes from giant ants; leaping spiders and gigantic motherships – their intimidation comes by the sheer number on screen at one time, meaning you won’t always have the time to appreciate each enemy for what they are, but in general they are all fairly creative.
Attack animations deserve a particular mention, as each weapon you have will produce a different effect – from simple machine guns firing a stream of rounds; to laser cannons taking out whole areas of foes at once. This extends to your enemies who will fling all kinds of effects at you – spiders shoot webs which will slow you down; dropships will fire streams of laser beams etc. It’s impressive stuff watching all of this happening on screen.
Environments are a mix of urban areas and more rural locations – buildings are blocky and textures are flat, but each level feels like its own mini-sandbox which you’ll want to explore further despite being reeled in by the confines of your mission objectives. It helps that environments are fully destructible – although they’ll crumble into a number of janky pieces, it really gives a sense of scale to what you’re doing to be able to blast your way through to an enemy stronghold or shoot down a tower infested by alien bugs; as well as providing you with a helpful way of clearing a path to your foes.
The only disappointing locations I found were a series of underground caves – intentionally claustrophobic, they seemed at odds with the over-the-top nature of the rest of the game and are visually bland places to run through.
Sound is an interesting point, as there’s barely any soundtrack in the game aside from the menu screen and a rousing “battle” theme. Music is usually an important part of a game to me and it’s even elevated poor titles to decent ones in my estimations, but I genuinely found I wasn’t really missing it here.
Where the game makes up for this is effects – the game uses sound in very interesting ways to create different atmospheres. Whether this be the rallying chants of your fellow soldiers when marching into battle to the eerie silence of the underground caves right before you find a nest and get flooded by alien insects – it definitely makes the encounters that much more exciting. In fact, the cries of your allies are often what people (myself included) remember most about EDF – there’s constant chatter going on, most of it highly amusing, which does genuinely give you a sense of being your-team-versus-the-invasion.
Gameplay & Content
So it comes down to gameplay then and thankfully the title is extremely well handled in this regard. Although simplistic in execution, the game has a fun factor that I find sorely lacking in the vast majority of modern third-person shooters
EDF takes a classics third-person perspective with your character in the middle of the screen and an aiming cursor. It’s a tried-and-tested formula and honestly provides a refreshing shift from the usual over-the-shoulder aiming perspective.
Your character will zip around the screen fairly quickly and at least your your first playthrough, all combat will be ground-based (although enemies quite often use spaceships to attack). Traversal can be slow on occasions, as some of the levels are huge – great for getting across a sense of scale, but frustrating to navigate at times. After you’ve completed the game once, you’ll unlock ‘pale wing’ – an alternative class who will make getting around the levels significantly easier thanks to a handy jet-pack.
Shooting is therefore a pretty chaotic affair – you can often shoot a slew of bullets all over the screen with ease of aiming. It helps then that EDF has a plethora of guns – everything from simple shotguns or rocket launchers to more complicated missile launchers or alien technology. The variety certainly keeps things interested but inevitably you’ll find a weapon that works really well for you that you’ll stick with (for me it was the rocket launcher). Different enemies is the game’s solution to this, as for example you’ll find it nigh-on impossible to hit a fast moving attack ship with a rocket launcher while a lock-on missile launcher would make the job trivial.
Adding to these are a variety of vehicles you can use throughout the campaign – which range from fast speed bikes designed to quickly get you around the map to the next location the insects are attacking, to a slow pace helicopter allowing you to rain down destruction from above. These vehicles varied in how useful they actually are, but again they make a fun change of pace to the already chaotic action.
The game features a large amount of missions to keep you entertained, and content is actually where the game shines – there are 60 missions in total and you’re encouraged to go back and replay on higher difficulties, as well as with the new character you unlock upon completing the game (Pale Wing). The difficulty settings do a good job of making the game accessible too, as you can always just drop things down a notch if you’re struggling on a particular task.
While the missions themselves don’t always offer a lot of variety beyond blasting away loads of ants, I never found myself tiring of the game’s premise during my time with it. It helps that you’ll sometimes find yourself up against a completely different set of enemies or boss encounter requiring a shift in strategy – the boss battles remain a particular highlight of effects and explosions as you try to take them down.
Sadly as with many Japanese-made action games, performance can be a hell of an issue sometimes – when there’s lots going on (which will happen often given the very nature of the game – particularly during boss encounters), framerate can slow considerably, and in one instance it became a slideshow (the final boss). Part of the series’ charm lies in its b-movie, low budget feel, but I feel this could definitely get in the way of your enjoyment of the title.
DLC & multi-player
To briefly touch on DLC, there are a number of weapons you can pay for that that vary in usefulness – the Limit Booster increases the power of vehicles to turn them into machines you’ll actually want to use on the battlefield, while the Heat Blaster is a short-range laser I barely found myself touching. It’s nice to have the options there though and none of the are overpriced at £0.39 each.
Multi-player offers a full suite of local and online modes – either co-operative or versus, although I sadly never got to sample the latter. Co-operative is a great addition and playing ad-hoc or online works a treat, especially with some of the DLC items you can use to assist your allies. The chaotic nature of Earth Defence Force’s third-person shooting means it’s all the more fun to have a team of other players by your side to join in the carnage. Unfortunately there’s very few other people playing at this point, but if you can get a group together I cannot recommend it enough.
EDF 2017 Portable is a great chunk of chaotic fun – it fits perfectly on Vita thanks to the bite-sized nature of its missions and the shooting is manic and enjoyable, making the experience fully worthwhile despite a few rough edges.