Earth Defense Force is a series that despises subtlety; everything about the franchise is unabashedly exaggerated. Enemies range from giant ants, colossal spiders, and enormous, bipedal robots. Regardless of species, EDF fills the screen with dozens of each, ensuring a constant state of commotion. Similarly, the game’s sonic output is just as hyperbolic, summoning a cacophony of screams, bombastic panic, and melodramatic radio chatter. Your tools to combat the ever-encroaching enemies are vast in number and embellished in execution, as you use arms like grenade launchers and missiles to topple beast, building and bridge alike.
The release of Earth Defense Force 4.1 The Shadow of New Despair for the PlayStation 4 continues to demonstrate developer Sandlot’s contempt of nuance. Essentially, a remaster of 2014’s Earth Defense Force 2025, the title uses the capabilities of Sony’s hardware to increase the pandemonium a bit further. Now, you’re just not fighting bugs and bots, but hopping into an airdropped mecha to punch the crap out of a hulking, tail swinging, kaiju named Eruginus. While the game never sinks into the grotesque, there’s now enough bloodshed and brutality to warrant the first ‘mature’ rating for the franchise. This time out, the level of spectacle in The Shadow of New Despair has been elevated even higher.
But correspondingly, so has the amount of big, mindless fun. Gratification is rooted in the title’s quartet of character classes. While each offers a distinct playstyle, when dissimilar protagonists are united, the synergy of specializations takes shape. Single-players might want to adopt the role of the stalwart Ranger, who offers access to a plethora of militarized weapons as well as a defensive dodge-roll. Alternatively, the Wing Divers use a common energy pool for plasma weapons and lasers as well as flight, making them ideal at hit and run tactics.
Meanwhile, Fencers are the tanks of the game, slow-moving sure, abut able to pack a hell of a punch by dual-wielding two sets of weapons. And Air Raiders are the resident support class, able to summon air strikes, turrets, and vehicles. Although the latter two might make things tough for individuals, Fencers are Raiders become invaluable allies as a foursome of online gamers tackle 98 cooperative stages.
Much of New Despair’s gratification stems from augmenting each of the four specializations. Defeated foes help your short-term game by dropping health replenishing containers. But even more essential to enduring success are the armor upgrades and weapon crates, which gradually improve your defensive stats and bestow new offensive devices. A broader arsenal also ensures achievement in each stage, as you probably want to bring a sniper rifle or Air Tortoise missile into the darkened, tight confines of an enemy-filled cave, especially if you hoping to protect terra firma at one of the game’s advanced difficulty levels.
As with previous EDF entries, weapon experimentation is at the heart of the experience. Given the steady drip feed and variety of new weapons, stages just aren’t contested battlegrounds but sites to field test your latest tech. While the statistics and level of each weapon act a general measure of its functionality, proficiency only comes through hands-on operation, where you can evaluate range, firing speed, reload duration, power, the size of the blast radius, and a number of other factors.
For many, exterminating these extraterrestrials can be engaging, as you attempt to whittle away at hordes of encroaching enemies, sending defeated creatures catapulting across the screen. Others will find irritation in some of The Shadow of New Despair design decisions. Separating progress through the individual and co-operative campaigns seems like an artificial contrivance to boast playtime, while the amount of new content may disappoint veterans of the 2017 and 2025 wars; it’s best to think of this title as a remix that ratchets up the already high level of hyperbole. Largely, Despair’s PvP component is little more than a curio, rather than alluring play mode that stimulates repeat play. Then, there’s also the claim of framerate fluidity. Although the title does hit sixty frames per second for extended periods, large amounts of on-screen action can noticeably have an adverse effect on output.
For first-time recruits or those seeking the definitive Earth Defense experience, Earth Defense Force 4.1 The Shadow of New Despair is certainly worst a look. What Sandlot has done is given a wonderfully lo-fi game a high fidelity make-over, removing the roughest aesthetics, while still maintaining the game’s campy charms. For gamers who appreciate B-movie thrills, EDF invasion of insects as big as construction cranes is destined to delight.
Earth Defense Force 4.1 The Shadow of New Despair was played on the
PlayStation 4 with review code provided by the publisher.
Platform: PlayStation 4
Publisher: XSEED Games
Release date: December 8th, 2015
Price: $49.99 via retail or PSN