Earth Defense Force 2017 carved out a very niche audience for itself, but it was undeniably—almost inexplicably—seen as one of the most fun cooperative experiences when it was originally released in 2007 for Xbox 360. D3Publisher and developer Sandlot decided to port this third-person shooter over to the PlayStation Vita with a bevy of additional content: new missions, new weapons, new enemies, and even a new character class to play with, Pale Wing. But does Earth Defense Force 2017 Portable make a welcome addition to the PS Vita? At first glance, it turned me off simply because I didn’t "get" EDF. Now, I “get” EDF, and I’m happier for it. EDF 2017 Portable is actually a really fun game–once you know how to find the fun you’re looking for, that is.
The premise of the game is as simple (and absurd) as can be. You are the captain of the best EDF force on the planet, Storm 1, and your mission is to fight off an invasion of giant alien insects that are arriving on UFOs from space. Apparently, these “aliens” are pretty much just ants and spiders. Yes, giant ants and giant spiders.
From the get-go, it’s highly noticeable that production value in this game is as low as can be. It’s certainly not the prettiest game you’ve seen on Vita, and definitely doesn’t take full advantage of the system’s capabilities, just as its Xbox 360 counterpart failed to nearly six years ago. Textures are very flat, colors are dull, and everything in the game world is very polygonal. Basically, the game looks pretty awful. However, as lackluster as the presentation may be, this won’t stop you from coming back to EDF time after time—solid arcade-style gameplay is what will.
The main goal of EDF 2017 Portable is to complete your objective in every one of the 60 missions the game has to offer, usually simply by killing every enemy on the map. Enemies have a chance to drop one of three items when they die: a random weapon, armor that passively increases your health by 1 point, or health. The environment is your plaything, as everything from skyscrapers to cars can be destroyed with a single rocket, missile, or grenade. You actually end up doing more damage to the world than the aliens do on a mission to mission basis, but again, that’s okay: EDF doesn’t want you to put much thought into it.
New guns are what you’re really after in EDF, as the Vita version boasts hundreds of unlockable weapons. Furthermore, most weapons are simply re-skinned, upgraded versions of their predecessors. However, you’ll most certainly end up finding weapon types that suit your play style and just use those. You find stronger weapons as you progress and even stronger weapons when you play on higher difficulty levels–of which there are five.
Level design is nothing to write home about, and EDF even reuses environments for various missions, but ultimately, seeing as your main goal is just to pump giant bugs full of lead, you’ll hardly notice. Objectives vary slightly, with the player having to sometimes find and destroy alien bug nests to stop them from spawning to having to take down massive bosses. A single playthrough can last about 8-10 hours, and you’ll be fighting most of the same enemies along the way. Robots and enemy aircrafts eventually show up, but they aren’t nearly as fun to kill as the giant green-blooded creepy-crawlies. It’s hard to overstate the hilarity of detonating a massive C4 explosive in the midst of a horde of giant alien ants.
In typical Japanese monster movie fashion, your allies, CPU controlled, are extremely campy and say the dumbest things. Voice acting is absolutely awful, but that’s part of EDF’s charm. Playing in co-op, I can’t count the number of times that I laughed out loud because of the random line of dialogue that blasted through my Vita’s speakers. Was this terrible voice acting and writing this bad on purpose? Or was it a beautiful accident? It doesn’t matter; EDF doesn’t want you to think about these things. It’s so bad, it’s good.
The added 4-player online co-op functionality for Vita is where EDF 2017 Portable really shines. It’s fun and quirky to go through this adventure alone, but just like watching a so-bad-its-funny B-movie, it’s more fun with your friends. You’re limited to a poor means of text chat and pre-written messages to communicate with, so you should probably take advantage of the PS Vita’s Party Chat if you’re looking forward to playing with other people.
The game is already chock-full of replayability, but even more so now on the PS Vita since the Pale Wing, a returning soldier type from EDF2, is unlocked once you finish the game. She’s a schoolgirl donning a skirt and a jetpack. Yeah. Pale Wing doesn’t share mission progress with your Storm 1 captain, so you’ll have to play all missions over again, but you’ll be getting a whole new set of weapons designed specifically for schoolgirls riding jetpacks. Plus, the new jetpack and weapon functionality change up gameplay enough that you may actually want to play through the game again.
There are quite a few things that I disliked too much to laugh at, though. Firstly, EDF 2017 Portable is one of those games that doesn’t reward you with a medal (or Trophy) for completing the “Easy” difficulty setting on a mission when you beat it on “Normal” or higher. Menus in the game leave much to be desired, as you’ll be transitioning from sub-menu to sub-menu about a dozen times if you just want to invite a co-op buddy, change equipment, select a mission, and start it. Menu screens are ugly, bland, and cram words into every possible nook and cranny.
Frame rate is better than the original Xbox 360 game, but it’s still far from perfect. At times, especially on later missions, there are so many enemies on screen that things get really choppy as soon as your start a level. It’s not game-breaking, but the graphics are so unimpressive that you end up asking yourself why frame rate issues are even present to boot.
There are also vehicles in the game, like a tank, helicopter, speed bike, and a mech suit, but they all somehow control so poorly that you’re actually at a disadvantage when you’re in them.
A new versus mode has been included, and as its name implies, you’ll be able to battle against up to (how many) players online (or locally). This mode feels a little throwaway; once you do it once or twice, there is no reason to go back. EDF weapons aren’t balanced for PVP, and as a testament to that, you can get pummeled from a mile away by a homing missile.
However, at the end of the day, when it comes down to it, decent shooting controls, destructible environments and hordes upon hordes of enemies make this game fun—especially in co-op. With five difficulty levels, tons of unlockable weapons, 4-player co-op, hilarious over-the-top gameplay, EDF is a perfect fit for the Vita. Its biggest problem is the $40 price tag on this download-only title, so be wary of upcoming price drops. It’s hard to justify paying full price for this kind of arcade-style experience, but even if you do, there’s some good fun to be had.