Back in 2007, D3 Publisher released one of the Xbox 360’s first budget-priced games; a giant bug/robot/U.F.O./kaiju-blasting third-person shooter named Earth Defense Force 2017. Much like many older Japanese monster movies or the original Ultraman TV show, the third Earth Defense Force game was visually lacking and endearingly cheesy. In other words, 2017 was destined to become a cult-classic. Now, in 2013, it has resurfaced on the PS Vita with some new content and the same $39.99 price as the original had almost six years ago. Has time been kind to this fan-favorite?
For starters, let me brief the new potential E.D.F. recruits on the situation. Strange radio waves are detected from outer space. Some time later, the Earth Defense Force is formed as a precautionary measure in case the source of the transmissions was hostile. In the year 2017, the aliens arrive on Earth in grand fashion. A huge spherical mother ship and an armada of smaller U.F.O.s fly over Tokyo. These extra-terrestrials, who have yet to perform an aggressive act, are given the name Ravagers. Coincidentally (at first), a swarm of giant ants appears in the city and starts attacking people. Being the planetary protectors that they are, the E.D.F. marches into battle to stop them. As the game progresses, more of the story is told through radio chatter. The paper-thin plot’s campy Japanese sci-fi feel sets the perfect tone for the game.
The Earth Defense Force franchise started off as part of a budget line of games in Japan called the Simple 2000 Series. As such, the gameplay is less rocket science and more rocket launcher. You pick two weapons, a stage, and a difficulty. When the mission starts, your goal is to eliminate every alien by shooting them until their bug guts gush out in a satisfying mist. Along the way, you’ll run, jump, roll, grab pick-ups, and occasionally pilot one of the game’s four infamously clunky vehicles. That’s pretty much it. There’s no escort or stealth missions to suffer through. This arcade-like simplicity makes 2017 Portable a great pick-up-and-play title.
Item pick-ups are an essential part of Earth Defense Force. As you defeat enemies, health, armor, and weapon icons will drop at random. Health items are self-explanatory, but the other two need some definition. Weapon icons grant the collector one randomly chosen weapon for every icon gathered. The catch is that you might receive a weapon the you have already acquired. Here is where the replay incentive comes in. The higher the difficulty you play at, the better the weapons received will be. As for the armor, each icon collected will permanently increase your maximum health by one. Getting strong is a slow process, but there are stages perfect for farming whatever you need. Lastly, if you fail to complete a mission, all weapon and armor pick-ups for that stage will be lost.
While the mechanics of the game are simple, the challenge level picks up more than its share of the slack. Playing on the easy and normal difficulties primarily serves as a means to grind for weapons and armor to be used on the harder difficulties. In truth, the “real” E.D.F. experience doesn’t begin until you play on the inferno setting. In addition to dishing out and taking much more damage than on the easier settings, ants squirt more acid, spiders shoot more webbing, and flying enemies move quicker and shoot more lasers. When you’re getting swarmed by several dozen enemies at the same time, these changes turn 2017 into pure, delightful madness. Finishing the inferno difficulty, especially in solo play, is a tremendous accomplishment and worthy of a real medal.
To many E.D.F. veterans, the new content is what will make or break a purchase of 2017 Portable. Added for this release are a new playable character, seven new missions, three new enemy types (golden ants, white spiders, and Attacker fighter jets), a couple dozen new weapons, optional touch screen camera controls, and online play. Without question, the online is the best of the bunch. Up to four players can play co-operatively on any of the campaign’s sixty missions or go head-to-head in a battle to the death. Aside from a few instances of enemies shifting from one place to another, the online code ran very well in the twenty-plus co-op missions I played. A cumbersome, yet amusing, chat system has also been included. Pressing the d-pad will allow you to navigate through categorized lists of predetermined phrases. Yes, that does mean you can shout “E! D! F!” repeatedly.
After completing the game on one difficulty, you will unlock Earth Defense Force 2’s Pale Wing. She’s a jetpack-wearing blond who has a recharging power meter that depletes while firing her weapons or using the jetpack. From a gameplay perspective, Pale Wing’s a great addition to 2017 since her play style is so radically different from Storm-1’s. However, a gripe I have is that absolutely no effort was made to include her in the story. The “character unlocked” message clearly states that she does not actually exist in the world 2017 takes place in. To me, her inclusion comes off as a lazy asset copy-and-paste job intended to entice those who have already played the original to death into picking up 2017 Portable.
Most of the remaining new content adds little to the overall experience. The new insects and missions are uninspired and stitched in haphazardly. As a matter of fact, one of the new missions, “Cavaliers”, causes a continuity error. Dialog in the mission before it indicates that the mother ship is in Europe. Yet, we’re expected to believe that it flew back to Japan just to launch a wave of the new Attackers before going straight back to Europe. It doesn’t make sense. This hammers home something I felt while playing 2017 Portable; it doesn’t feel like as tight of a package as the Xbox 360 version.
In its journey to the Vita, 2017‘s graphics have lost a bit of their luster. When you take into consideration that E.D.F. wasn’t a great looking game back in 2007, any sort of downgrade is an unwelcome one. Details on all of the character models have been scaled back to some degree. It’s not a night and day difference, but I spotted it right off the bat. To help keep the frame-rate running at a decent clip, a few other visual concessions had to be made. The draw distance has been lowered, resulting in decreased battlefield visibility Bouncing and falling enemies in the distance are now rendered at a lower frame-rate than the action closer to the camera. Fortunately, the “queen ant slow-down” of old is now much more tolerable.
Ultimately, Earth Defense Force 2017 Portable is a solid port. Some things definitely could have been done better, but the core gameplay is just as enjoyable and addictive as it was on the Xbox 360. That said, those who have played it extensively on the 360 probably won’t find the new content to be worth the price of admission. Purchasing the game before February 4th will net you four DLC weapons for free. After the 4th, each one will cost $.99.