Earth Defense Force is an unusual series, with all of the campy charm and giant insects of Starship Troopers. But then there are giant alien robots, flying alien drones, motherships, and more varieties of giant insects just for good measure. Wrap this all up with hammy AI radio chatter and news reports, and you’ve got the makings of a sci-fi B-movie.
It’s pretty charming, but when you’re in the throes of battle it will quickly take a back seat. The formidable sight of a swarm of gigantic ants quickly rushing towards you quickly turns to panic, as they are suddenly all around you. Worse still are the jumping spiders that shoot damaging webs as well as advancing in a weird leap-frop fashion, or the giant spiders on webs suspended between skyscrapers, pulling you in should you be careless.
The robots are more challenging, and you will fight in the shadow of flying drones that blot out the sun, transport ships that open wide and drop groups of ants, or bipedal robots that shel you with plasma weaponry from an extreme distance. These aren’t even the biggest enemies, what with Godzilla-like Kaiju roaming the environment and gargantuan motherships invading, there is no question that the situation calls for some kind of force that is devoted to earth’s defence.
Enter the EDF, with a frankly absurd amount of weaponry. You start off with the basics and are given a choice of two from an assault rifle, a rocket launcher and grenades. As you start blasting away at aliens they will drop weapons, armour, and health. Every weapon box you pick up will give you a random weapon, which can be anything from another assault rifle or shotgun, to a plasma rifle or flamethrower, while every armour box you collect will increase your overall armour. Finish the level and you can have a look at your haul, hopefully with the delight of now having some new toys that you like.
It forces you to confront your enemies, if you want to collect your weapons, instead of just kiting backwards and shooting, but my issue is that there are a number of weapons that are objectively worse than other, similar guns. An automatic sniper rifle that does comparable damage and range to an upgraded assault rifle, but it’s almost entirely pointless when it has half the magazine size and a longer reload time. A low yield missile launcher with a seven second lock-on timer is just useless in any game, but since the enemy you’re locking onto could clear the distance in that time, it is a special breed of useless weaponry.
There are a lot of great options as well, though. The bound gun shoots bullets that bounce of walls, which is great in caves, while the multi-barrelled rocket launchers are fantastic for dealing with crowds from a long distance.
You also pick from four classes to play as. The Ranger is a standard soldier class, albeit with the ability to roll through metal barriers. Then there’s the Wing Diver, who has an energy system that weapons and a jetpack draw from for power. The Fencer features power armour complete with jump jets and can dual wield very large weaponry. Finally, the Air Raider can call down airstrikes, vehicles, and paint targets for a Fencer’s missile launcher to lock onto.
They compliment each other nicely when playing cooperatively, either online for four players or local split screen for two. Unfortunately, you can’t join a game in progress, so joining an online game with can have you waiting anywhere from two to twenty minutes, just starting at the lobby. It’s either that or going in and out of random lobbies hoping you get lucky.
There’s a thin layer of annoyances that coat the game, but it isn’t quite enough to cover up that it is just fun. That flood of giant ants swallowing everything in their way as they surge to meet you is uniquely menacing in games, and dropping the surrounding skyscrapers on them is very satisfying. As they get closer and closer, the gameplay teeters on the edge of chaos as you barely manage to avoid being overwhelmed.
Perhaps the biggest impediment to EDF 4.1 isn’t the game itself, but the price. It’s a port of Earth Defense Force 2025 from the last generation, and it’s been 2.5 years since its launch on PS3 in Japan. The port is a good one, with the PlayStation 4 able to deliver a solid frame rate that only dropped when I tried to destroy every building in sight, improved textures and a few other tweaks to the game and its presentation.
However, it’s still priced as a full retail game – £50 on the EU PS Store – instead of featuring a budget price as HD remasters typically do. That’s compounded by the game not including either of the two mission pack DLC or the 15 weapon and vehicle DLCs.
Then there is the overaching problem with the series. It has gathered a bit of a cult status since its creation, but the original release was ten years ago and it still feels like it isn’t reaching its potential. All of the moments feel big, with hundreds of giant enemies bearing down on you, crawling up the sides of buildings, motherships swallowing up the sky, but they’re muted by the low production values and the ageing graphics. If the right people took the helm and made a true current gen Earth Defense Force, it could be something really special.
Ultimately EDF4.1 ends up being an addictive game that is full of alien squishing fun on a huge scale, but as a last generation port to PlayStation 4, it ends up being far too expensive. I shall await with bated breath for a true sequel.