‘Earth Defense Force’ stands the test of time

Photo courtesy of Sandlot

On Oct. 21, 2015, many a nostalgic fan pondered the differences between reality and the present as portrayed in “Back to the Future: Part II.” Most of the nifty gadgets never did appear, and a few even seemed dated. This movie merely presented a decidedly peaceful future with several technological advances.

In contrast, many other works of fiction show a version of the future that it would be odd, if not expressly concerning, to look forward to. As with Hill Valley’s hoverboards and flying cars, humanity and the planet has eked by many a fictitiously predicted cataclysm and well into 2017.

Civilization has refused to collapse in any of the wide array of ideas presented. Los Angeles has not become a crime-infested anarchist island disavowed by the United States, and a potential cure for cancer never wiped out most of humanity, changing some into vampire-like creatures along the way. Surely, the Earth must be due for an alien invasion.

In Sandlot’s “Earth Defense Force 2017,” this hostile encounter does occur. Aliens, who have aptly been named Ravagers, begin attacking the Earth, quickly wiping out several major cities. Fortunately, humanity as a whole, and Japan in particular, happened to be ready for just such a contingency, so the recently formed Earth Defense Force, or EDF, springs into action.

Originally released for Xbox 360 in 2006 (and in English a year later), “Earth Defense Force 2017” was re-released for the PlayStation Vita. Although the third in the Earth Defense Force series, this game was the first to be released in North America. The first two games have since been given the alternate titles “Monster Attack” and “Earth Defense Force 2: Invaders from Planet Space.”

“Earth Defense Force 2017” has a straightforward plot: aliens invade while humans defend and retaliate. This simple premise allowed for the creators to focus on other aspects of game making, which is evident in the expansive and realistic level design.

Players are dropped into Tokyo as well as other areas of Japan, and each mission showcases the environs in painstaking detail. If players decide to simply ignore the enemy and wander around, they can climb stairs and examine the texture of the roof several floors above or walk determinedly in a straight line and be hard pressed to find the level’s end.

While the area might look and feel like a real Japanese city, the enemies are lacking in textures. The enemies start out as giant ants then grow to include giant spiders, mechs, dino-mechs, gunships and several others. However, the enemies have more texture compared to the item and health drops. Their sprites would be perfectly at home in the original “Doom.” Once a player is trapped under a horde of angry ants, lassoed by countless spider webs and looking down the yard-wide barrel of a giant laser cannon, these jarringly pixilated health drops are thankfully easy to spot. Perhaps the game’s artists knew what they were doing.

The controls are simplistic yet sufficient; however, this might not hold true for those well-versed in third-person shooter games. Despite having several free buttons remaining, there is notably no way to reload before firing all of the bullets. When compared to “Gears of War,” an iconic third-person shooter released just a month before the original release of “Earth Defense Force 2017” in 2006, EDF falls flat in its chosen genre.

The game, however, is far from beyond redemption. It seems as though the game’s designers tried to come up with the most epic battle they could imagine and then made that their game.

Of course, in order to take out the wide variety of enemies, the player is constantly collecting various firearms. “Earth Defense Force 2017” decided to opt for a more realistic representation of guns than most games have. Anything shot in the game – friend, foe, tree or building – will be damaged. This realistic design feature allows the player to feel guilt for accidentally murdering his entire squad or destroying most of the city.

Ultimately, only victory matters: with barely any health left himself, heroically slaying the last alien creature provides emotional payoff for the player. The journey to victory is more satisfying in the game’s well-executed co-op mode. In this mode, a player is capable of killing her friend, who is sitting right next to her, when one of the many identical soldiers wanders haphazardly in front of a well-aimed shot at a jumping spider.

Perhaps the most entertaining part of the game is the random dialogue heard in the background. While most dialogue is innocuous reloading announcements or enemy warnings, all is performed by dedicated voice actors who took it upon themselves to overact everything to giggle-worthy effect.

In nearly every single one of the game’s 53 missions, a soldier will despairingly shout “The Captain is dead!” This repetition raises the question of why the captains are so terribly inept and if they truly need to be on the battlefield. The other soldiers, whom the captains were presumably leading, seem to proceed effortlessly without the aid of their lifeless leader.

EDF itself seems to have come to this conclusion and adjusted accordingly since in subsequent games, those with the rank of captain are no longer foot-soldiers on the front line. Despite this change, many other soldiers are still willing and able to battle the Ravagers and structural stability.

In 2011, “Earth Defense Force: Insect Armageddon” continued the fight, introducing several new enemies and updated graphics along the way. Strangely, these updates seem to have only been for the enemy graphics: the EDF soldiers look quite similar, and the environment was an unquestionable leap in the wrong direction. Fields of untextured gray never being particularly favored by video game enthusiasts.

Unfortunately, this newer edition of the game tried too hard to be a serious third-person shooter, and its voice acting was not as so over-the-top as the previous iteration. Despite this sobering choice, the game was not entirely without humor: occasionally, upon starting a mission, a soldier would immediately proclaim that he was out of ammo. The game still provided entertainment alongside innumerable chances for collateral damage.

In 2014, “Earth Defense Force 2025” was released in the US to generally contented consumers, and plans for a fifth installment in the series were announced at last year’s Tokyo Game Show. The game is titled Chikyû Bōeigun 5 or Earth Defense Force 5.