- Format: Vita
- Unleashed: Out Now
- Publisher: Pqube
- Developer: Sandlot
- Players: 1-2 (offline), 2-4 (online)
- Site: http://www.pqube.co.uk
- Game code provided by the publisher
Generally speaking, you either love Earth Defence Force or you’ve never heard of it. The series started off as a PS2 title with a strictly limited budget, and the funding hasn’t changed much since. It’s become a cult favourite across the years, so much so that this is actually the second re-release for this entry (it saw a Japan-only PSP version too). The fact remains that despite some tweaking, this game is now over a decade old, and wasn’t particularly polished in the first place. Does it hold up?
The EDF games have always resembled B movies in several ways, and this is no different. Just like a cheap sci-fi film, the minimal budget is glaringly obvious, and the basic concept very simple. There are giant insects all over the planet – with the occasional robot, monster, or ship thrown in for good measure – and it’s your job to kill ’em. That’s most of the story and the gameplay right there. Nothing wrong with that though, and the EDF games specialise in this sort of glorious nonsense.
Despite the fairly basic character models, your (giant) enemies will scuttle, jump, fly, etc in a semi-realistic manner that helps the atmosphere no end. Doing your best to hold off dozens of enormous insects (and arachnids), and sometimes robots that tower over nearby buildings, can make you feel like you’re in the middle of a very dumb – and equally fun – film.
There are three character classes, each with unique weapons. The Infantryman has all sorts of rifles and explosives to collect, and starts off with a decent amount of health. The Pale Wing has the lowest default health, but is equipped with a jetpack for unequalled manoeuvrability. They can also get hold of some nifty weapons, but these will usually drain the same gauge that powers the jetpack. The Air Raider, meanwhile, is able to call in powerful support strikes; but is the least capable when it comes to personal weaponry. None, unfortunately, get around the total lack of precision that the Vita’s sticks suffer through no fault of the game.
This is a title meant to be played and replayed, though, and part of this is the way in which you can slowly build up each class through your hours of play. The seemingly endless swarms of enemies will randomly drop health, armour, and weapon pickups. Each armour piece will slightly increase that class’s maximum health once the mission ends, and weapon items will (if you’re lucky) add a new death-dealing device to your arsenal. The more you play the tougher your soldiers become, and the wider the range of weapons they have to choose from. You also, it must be said, won’t be ready for the higher difficulties until you’ve sufficiently beefed up at least one class.
Cutting down giant bugs is hectic and fun, no matter what stage your class is at. There’s nothing quite like sending a bunch of homing missiles into a cluster of enormous spiders, sending legs flying everywhere, just before swinging round to take out the giant ant shooting acid at you from the ceiling that somehow slipped past. There are moments where the screen is crammed full of enemies, and you can see little else; but emerging victorious from such a scrum is very satisfying.
Significantly less satisfying is when, in such situations where there are loads of enemies crammed into a very small space (a common occurrence in this game, which features many cramped areas), enemies are able to approach and attack from behind the corpses of their creepy fellows with no fear of damage. Every single enemy that falls has their model stay on-screen for a short time before magically disappearing. During that time, they will absorb bullets and – even worse – trigger grenades and other explosives, which can send you flying. These are enormous bugs, remember, so just one corpse can provide a significant barrier for your enemies. When you have a pile of them, and enemies are biting and shooting from behind…
There are also a few bugs of the unwelcome kind related to enemy spawns. Now and again, you’ll be left with the last few enemies some distance apart. While annoying – especially given the slow movement of the Infantry and Air Raider – it’s nothing too bad. Spawns sometimes take place in odd ways which make the next wave oddly difficult to find and/or mean they have difficulty in reaching you. The worst example we came across was in an underground stage, which ended up lasting at least half an hour longer than it should have. Not only did we struggle to find a way to the relevant cave, until we did a few of the bugs were able to shoot through the wall separating us and them (and they therefore made no effort to find a way around themselves). And no, we couldn’t shoot through the wall.
You can team up with others via either ad-hoc or online multiplayer. As you can imagine, this makes things easier to handle, and is great fun to boot – but there aren’t many people playing online on the Vita. Those that are tend to be going for the most difficult stages, and are bringing supersoldiers into battle.
Earth Defence Force 2 proves that you don’t need a seven-figure budget – nor a painstakingly planned out script, nor convoluted play mechanics – in order to produce a fun game. It also proves, unfortunately, that a low budget can have undesirable side effects if you’re not careful. The PS4 game released at the same time as this one seems to avoid the biggest pitfalls (watch for a review in the coming weeks), but both have the same sense of tongue-in-cheek glee. If a portable EDF is what you want, then this does the job admirably – if you can look past the technical issues and the Vita’s notoriously rubbish sticks.