Have you ever found yourself watching television at 2:30 to 3:00 in the morning on the weekend? If you have, the chances are that you have seen one or two campy science fiction or horror movies that happen to grace the airwaves at that time. Surely you know the type that I am talking about: horrible acting and ridiculous subject matter like super-sized insects and robots gone awry. These aren’t exactly what one would consider cinematic pieces of art, but they can be somewhat entertaining and charming in an oddball sort of way. Earth Defense Force 2017 Portable is pretty much the video game version of one of those movies, and I mean that both in good and bad ways.
As the title suggests, the game is set in the year 2017. Hundreds of alien ships have taken position over the Earth’s major cities, particularly Tokyo. Before long, a full scale alien invasion begins. We aren’t talking about little green men, but gigantic, acid-spitting ants, spiders and a variety of robotic monstrosities. You are a part of a special branch of the military known as the Earth Defense Force and you are tasked with taking out these menacing extraterrestrials. Truth be told, that is about as deep as this game gets story-wise. There are a ton of bugs attacking Earth and it is your job to dispatch them.
Earth Defense Force 2017 Portable is really a mixed bag. On one hand, technically speaking, the game is a complete and total mess. The graphics are sub-par at best and the animations are horrendous. Most of the time the game just looks like random shapes crashing around into each other; sometimes the enemy character models just slide across the ground as if it was a horrible stop motion animation project. Let me give you a couple of examples. When you shoot the alien ships out of the sky, they simply fall straight down and often through the ground. They don’t crumble, or fall apart upon impact and they don’t effect anything around them when them make “impact.” You can be positioned below them without any worry of taking damage; you’ll walk right through them as if they aren’t even there.
There are also times when you jump into a water-filled area, like a fountain, and the character models simply pass through the water as if it were a barrier of air. There are no splashes or movement to indicate that it has liquid properties. It looks really, really bad. At the same time, while all of these mechanics look horribly bad, you have the ability to wipe out buildings at will using your various firepower. This actually looks pretty cool and can be used to damage some of your enemies. It really makes no sense why the mechanics are horribly implemented in one area and done decently in another.
The sound is equally bad. The music is on par with the aforementioned movies, and the random phrases yelled out by your cohorts on the battlefield are as campy as they are annoying. We’re talking laughably bad, especially when your forces get a burst of morale and begin chanting “EDF! EDF! EDF!" The problem is, this often happens when there aren’t any enemies around and it makes absolutely no sense.
Let’s be honest though, we aren’t here to be entertained by an epic tale or be wowed by technical marvels. We’re here to slaughter the alien masses and enjoy the beauty of big explosions. In that aspect, the game does its job. As broken as the game is technically, playing it is surprisingly enjoyable. This is a third-person shooter with loot dropping aspects. As you drop the hordes of enemies (and we’re talking a ton of them) they will drop random pieces of armor and weaponry. The more you pick up, the better your options for each mission become. Prior to launching one of the games 60+ missions, you get to choose two separate pieces from the armory to take into battle. If you pick the wrong tools for the job, there is no way that you will make it through. You need to research your missions ahead of time and scout your options.
This is where the game’s newly added multiplayer comes in handy. You can take up to three friends with you into the battlefield, which helps expand your arsenal’s options. It is really nice to have access to a machine gun, a sniper rifle, missile launchers and grenades in a single mission, and that can’t happen when you go into battle alone. You will need the help, too, when you move on to challenge the harder difficulty levels in the game. Things are pretty manageable on solo runs for easy and normal, but hard and above can be nearly impossible without a little backup.
The biggest problem that I have with the game is a personal one: it could be so much better. The premise here is simple and fun, enough that it overcomes its drastic technical shortcomings. I question what another developer could do with this same premise and find myself rooting for the game and the developer with their upcoming sequel. It is really a strange dichotomy to have a game so technically horrid but also enjoyable to play at the same time. There is a campy charm that eventually takes over and drives you to keep coming back to take on another wave of enemies.
Whether you are trying to max out your artillery options by collecting some of the rarer weapons or simply chasing down another trophy that requires you to wipe out another 1,000 bugs, it draws you back in far more than it should. Is this a great game? Absolutely not; it might not even be a semi-good one. It is entertaining though and a fun romp that taps into some of our most childish and primitive desires: killing bugs. As long as you go into the experience expecting nothing more than that, I think there will be plenty to enjoy. Expect anything more, however, and you will be severely disappointed.
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