The day I received Earth Defense Force 2017 (EDF 2017) for review I had some serious high hopes, as this quirky shooter with the Sci-Fi B-Movie lineage offered a chance to just have some mindless fun. It had been awhile since I had played a good straight up third-person shooter, so I was anticipating hours of good game play. The story line is simple, the Earth is invaded by Giant Ants, Spiders, Robots and UFOs in the year 2017, and your unit is tasked with taking back the Earth and repelling the invaders.
The gameplay is very straight forward, if not a bit over simplified. You take your character and locate the mayhem, kill everything in sight and move on to the next stage. All the while, you should be picking up items when you can....if you can. As you get deeper into the game, limited strategy involving weapon choices and the use of the environment for cover become more involved while trying to complete stages. If you make one wrong turn, or choose a weapon ill-suited for the task, you will be swarmed under at an alarming rate and starting over. There are a handful of usable vehicles at different points, but many times they are better used as eye-candy or cover than truly being helpful.
One thing that annoyed me consistently was the stage being cleared before I could pick up all of the drops. While the armor and ammo are useless at that point, there was many a time a new weapon drop was within my grasp when the stage ended and the cut scene began. It would be nice for your AI teammates to allow you to get the last kill instead of finishing off the Invaders with a dozen or more drops still unclaimed. Not only did this tick me off, but I had flashbacks to Ninety-Nine Nights and how much this resembled the poor handling of the same scenario in that game.
The controls are laid out as expected (for the most part), with the left analog stick and d-pad controlling directional movement and the right analog stick controlling the camera. The button layout is a bit strange, as the 'X' button is used to fire your weapon and the 'Y' is used to "Aim Upwards'. 'A' jumps/rolls and 'B' switches weapons. The triggers and bumpers also control various firing and movement (rolls and strafing). One item to note involves control of the in-game vehicles. In order to gain control (or get off) of a vehicle, you have to press the Back Button. There is no on-screen prompt to alert you, and sometimes this is awkward to do when you are under full assault. Instead of all the redundant use of the d-pad, triggers and bumpers, the functionality of this feature may have been better off located in one of these slots.
Now that you have the background and basics of the game, the letdown of what you are playing starts to slowly creep in. The minute you load the first screen, it becomes quite clear that the graphics, audio and physics are not even close to performing at a next-gen level. I had the sensation that I was plugged into an Xbox or PS2, with a small nugget of quality details seen here and there. However, as you get moving into the game, the sinking feeling gets worse and worse.
The physics of Earth Defense Force 2017 are quite simply awful, with more the look and feel of a hastily created port than a game built specific for the Xbox 360. The main character's movement is akin to someone running around with a broom handle shoved up their nether region, which would have made Keyser Söze quite proud. Jumping is almost pathetic, which is needed to get to a few areas, but otherwise almost a complete waste of movement. The strafing is helpful when trying to avoid projectiles from the Invaders and rolling is actually the quickest way to get somewhere.
Unfortunately, the biggest liability of the physics engine lies in what should be the most fun part of the game, blowing up buildings. After hitting any building (whether a 2-story shop or an 80-story high rise) a couple of times with rocket or grenade fire, they shatter like a piece of cracking glass. Maybe I have been spoiled by what the Xbox 360 has shown it is capable of, or I should just shut up and be thankful for a fully destructible environment. Regardless, a little more attention to detail in this area would have improved EDF 2017 significantly.
The replay value of this game is almost nil, even to get the achievements. Upon first look, the achievements seem pretty straight forward and an easy get, as it only entails clearing each stage on the five difficulty settings (Easy - 50, Normal - 100, Hard - 150, Hardest - 200 and Inferno - 300) and also acquiring all the weapons (200). Two problems exist, the first of which is the 53 (count them 53!) missions in each difficulty setting of the game. The other issue is the 150+ weapons waiting to be discovered before the poorly handled cut-scenes end the mission. Many of the weapons are not even available until you advance to the harder settings. All this adds up to playing the same game five times (265 missions!) with an average time of about an hour spent clearing the 53 missions on the easier stages.
So essentially, you are looking at approximately 60+ hours of gameplay, doing the exact same thing five times, to get the 1000 points. All I can say is “Meh”. Personally, I found that I could only take the game in small doses (an hour or so at a time) before I started to get glassy eyed. After spending around 13 hours of actual gameplay for this review, I may not pick Earth Defense Force 2017 back up unless someone wants to play some co-op.
Speaking of co-op play, there is a limited offering in EDF 2017. While you can play two-player co-op mode locally, you are out of luck if you want to play your buddy on Xbox Live. No support, and none coming. All is not lost, as playing co-op with someone will probably help finish off the ridiculously difficult ‘Hardest’ and ‘Inferno’ settings.
Overall, Earth Defense Force 2017 is a game that will give you a small burst of entertainment if you need a short distraction from what is going on in your life. There is some satisfaction in blowing stuff up and completing each mission, but it can get old pretty quick. The game is one of the cheapest Xbox 360 titles from the retail side at $39.99, but it is easy to see why. Improvements to the physics and graphics for an additional $10 added to the price tag should have been made across the board. The other option would have been to eliminate half the redundant crap and drop it on Xbox Live Arcade for $15. Regardless, if you have a long weekend and are looking for a rental, this may be your game.