Friday, January 30, 2009


In the wake of a lack of updates and realizing that I wrote a review for Gears of War 2 and no other games, I decided that the rest of my collection needs some love. Welcome to some self-indulgent reviews of old 360 games.

The Japanese game market has this concept of budget games. They're games that are dirt cheap, but you should know that you get what you pay for. These games rarely make it to America because translation and localization kinda kill the whole "budget" aspect (though some have trickled into European markets). But occasionally we get one, specifically on the XBox 360. At ridiculously low prices is Earth Defense Force 2017. The predecessor to this game got a European release on the PS2 (I don't remember the title) and in some ways the 360 version is noticeably less complex.

The plot is simple. Sometime in the near future (guess what year "EDF 2017" takes place in!) aliens show up, although SETI gave us about 5 years forewarning. The government codenames the aliens as "Ravagers" and then tries to figure out whether or not they're hostile, though I would think judgement has already been passed if you call them Ravagers. And then the aliens drop every 1950's era invasion scenario on us. Giant ants, giant spiders, flying saucers, Godzilla, and giant robots that look life refugees from "Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow." You've been given an assault rifle and a rocket launcher. Go fix this.

Each mission is pretty much identical in concept; there are aliens, kill them. You're given weapons with infinite ammo (or, more accurately, infinite reloads) and get dropped on large, sprawling maps where any and every manmade structure is destructable. Hypothetically, this is to both highlight the destructive power of the aliens and to make navigating cities easier. In practice, the players is often a greater threat to civilization than the aliens. But there is no score and no penalties for property destruction, and on the rare occasion that civilians pop up they have the magical ability to make bullets pass harmlessly through them. Your NPC teammates don't get the same invulnerability benefit and will routinely die at the hands of aliens and malicious players. Like I said, no penalties.

While every single mission consists of "exterminate the enemy," they at least try to create some variety. For example, defending a beach head from waves of robots, getting ambushed, and hunting for the giant ant queen underground. Or my personal favorite, shooting down flying saucers. But all of this is pseudo-variety. For all the nuances your mission briefing tries to instill in the mission, every mission is completed when you're alive and all the aliens are dead (teammate casualties optional). Not terribly tactical, but this is a game that gives you INFINITE FLAMETHROWER.

There is a massive armory of weapons in this game, but once again the variety is illusory. There is some variety in your weapons, off the top of my head I can think of 5 variations on the assault rifle alone. This sounds impressive, but it's rather sobering when you realize there's something like 200 assault rifles in the game, so the vast majority are simply improvements over earlier models. So that's 200 rifles, 5 variations. There are other weapons and their own variations as well; rocket launchers, missile launchers, grenade launchers, sniper rifles, shotguns, and hand grenades. And that doesn't count the specialty weapons that don't comfortably fall into a category, such as the laser rifle and sentry guns. But since every enemy in the game is killed by simply shooting it until it dies, you have access to nearly a thousand weapons and you will only ever be using 3.

Continuing with the faux variety are the vehicles. Nearly everyone who has played this agrees that the vehicles are useless. The air bike is too fast for it's own good and you're likely to crash into a building as you race past the spot you wanted to be. The helicopter has some of the clunkiest controls I've personally ever encountered, and the robot thing is too slow and stodgy that it's faster and more efficient to just go on foot. The tank is the only one that's even remotely useful, but even then your rocket launcher can do the same kind of damage and with greater mobility (and, depending on the rocket launcher, higher rates of fire).

The only real variety is in the aliens, as every type of enemy offers a unique challenge, and they will often mix and match the aliens you face just to make things hectic. There are the black ants that spray acid, the red ants who have ridiculous amounts of hit points and will simply bum rush you by the thousands, the spiders who have a ranged attack and can jump long distances. And the flying saucers (complete with overtly hidden weakpoint) which deliver your enemies to the battlefield, and the giant robots that can come with a myriad of weapons including scatter guns and plasma artillery. And fire breathing dinosaurs. And cyborg fire breathing dinosaurs. This is the only variety in the game, but it's a damn good variety. And it's a good thing too, because enemy AI is lacking. Most enemy strategies consists of rushing towards you as fast as they can (which isn't very fast in some cases) and firing constantly if they have ranged weapons. The designers seemed to take this into account, some people enjoy this kind of no-thinking twitchy gameplay, and if you stuck with it for 50 levels then one of the last levels is simply a massive blitz against you by damn near everything in the game's beastiary. And with the variety of enemies it really doesn't get boring.

Bottom line, it's a fun game that's more dependent on how you play than how the game is designed. If you're a weird little mutant like me you can sit down with this for hours with the goal of completing it and have a ball. Others could see it as a kind of stress relief; sit down, blast alien bugs for a level or two, move on to other things. It's not a deep game in the slightest, it's just monsters, guns, and property destruction. If you really need depth in a game, a game like this can still be fun in 15 minute intervals when you just feel like blowing shit up. Or maybe you're like me, a person who will compensate for a lack of depth in a game by filling it in themselves, and as a result I've got a novel worth of story for this game squirreled away in my head. It's mindless fun, with an emphasis on the mindless.

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