Earth Defense Force 2017 was an out-of-nowhere cult hit. Released exclusively for the Xbox 360, it was a game about blowing up giant alien insects and not much else. It eventually got a pseudo-sequel in the form of Earth Defense Force: Insect Armageddon, but it never quite managed to capture the fun and excitement of the original. Sandlot, developer of the original EDF 2017, has returned to give us another entry in the franchise, Earth Defense Force 2025, and it's everything you'd expect from an EDF sequel: bigger, better, and buggier.
At heart, EDF 2025 and its predecessor are effectively modern versions of Space Invaders. In many ways, the basic game design and mechanics feel more like something from the arcade age rather than modern, story-heavy action games. In EDF 2025, you're thrown in the shoes of a single soldier tasked with holding back increasingly large swarms of invading alien enemies. Winning a stage involves defeating every enemy on-screen, and losing involves dying. It doesn't get more complex than that, and the story, such as it is, is mostly an excuse to throw increasingly larger swarm of enemies at you. It's a third-person shooter, but there's little emphasis on accuracy and headshots. Instead, it's a game about zone control. You need to constantly move, dodge, back up and avoid enemies, and just survive.
It also plays a lot like an arcade game in other ways. There's no regenerating health, so you need to find health packs, which are inexplicably dropped by enemies. Avoiding attacks involves using your dodge roll move and exploiting the invincibility frames it grants. You have infinite ammo, so you don't have to worry about conservation, and the most complex part about reloading is figuring out when to do it, so you won't get torn apart by angry monsters. There's little to no focus on realism. As long as you're aiming in the enemy's general direction, you'll kill them. There's no such thing as a cover system, and the entire game is divided into stages that you're expected to play over and over again. It's a really fun arcade-style action game, but don't expect anything like Gears of War.
Escalation is the name of the game in EDF 2025. It starts with a massive swarm of alien insect ants destroying a city, but you'll eventually face giant robots, alien bees, oversized spiders and even tremendous alien motherships. Each stage is bigger and nastier than the last, and that's what makes it fun. The gameplay doesn't really change, but you're presented with new enemies in increasingly hectic situations. Each enemy type has strengths and weaknesses, so it's critical that you're prepared. The big boss battles are absolute slobberknockers, and even with the online multiplayer support, you can feel overwhelmed by the sheer number of foes on the field.
Fortunately, the escalation goes both ways. Unlike the previous game in the series, you have four different classes in EDF 2025: Air Raider, Fencer, Ranger and Wing Diver. Air Raiders are a support class, and although they don't get powerful weapons by default, they can heal allies; call in air strikes; and summon tanks, helicopters and giant robots. Fencers are the most complex class because they sacrifice mobility for immensely powerful weapons and a shield that blocks enemy attacks. Ranger is the default class, and they get machine guns, rocket launchers, and are otherwise very basic. Wing Divers are flying units, so they sacrifice armor for mobility and have powerful close-range weapons.
Defeating enemies cause them to drop random weapon containers, which hold a weapon for your player class. The higher the difficulty and the further into the game you are, the stronger the weapons. There are over 700 different weapons, and they're not simply palette-swapped versions with higher stats. You start with simple bazookas or machine guns, and as the game progresses, you unlock grenades that destroy entire city blocks, giant robots that four people can pilot together, a bazooka that fires missiles in the shape of smiley face, multiple orbital laser cannons, laser chainsaws, and so on. Some weapons are immensely powerful, and others are joke weapons. You never know what you're going to get, and the variety and constant influx of new gear makes it fun to replay levels.
However, EDF 2025 is a rather budget game. It looks and feels like Sandlot had a shoestring budget and decided to focus on fun rather than polish. The frame rate chugs pretty often when too much stuff is happening on-screen. Drop an orbital bombardment on an enemy swarm, and you can expect the X360 to freeze for a few moments before explosions level the city block. Part of this has to do with the sheer amount of stuff happening on-screen, especially in multiplayer. In any other game, that might be a real dealbreaker, but it doesn't get in the way here. Having a three-second pause before everything explodes actually emphasizes that you've just dropped the equivalent of a tactical nuclear weapon on a swarm of giant insects. If you're the kind of person who can't stand it when the frame rate is inconsistent, though, EDF is going to drive you nuts. It never stops because the levels keep getting larger, but I suppose it is to the game's credit that the frame rate issues are never crippling. Even with four-player online co-op and everyone dropping high-end explosives, I never reached the point of frustration or felt like it was completely out of control.
There are also some glitches. Enemies get stuck in patterns or float in mid-air, characters fall through buildings, matches take forever to load, and various other problems emphasize this is not a super-polished game. At no point did I find a glitch that ruined the experience, but you need to be willing to work around the problems from time to time.
The low-budget feel extends to the voice acting and visuals, although I feel the voice acting was intentional. The dialogue sounds ripped directly from a bad B-movie from the 1960s. The dialogue is poorly translated and borderline incoherent, and it's absolutely hilarious. The voice acting works to sell lines that would sound ridiculous from even the best actor, and somehow, that makes it endearing. Considering the whole game is going for a B-movie feel, it works, and it doesn't feel forced like a lot of intentional attempts to emulate bad dubbing.
When it comes to the visuals, there's not a lot to say. The character models are simple and low-quality, and some of the visual effects look more like a PS2 game than an X360 title. It makes up for that with the sheer amount of destructibility and carnage. Every building in the game can be leveled, every enemy can be torn to pieces, and explosions are plentiful and common. Start a fight in the middle of an evacuated city, and by the end of the battle, the metropolis will resemble a devastated wasteland; it certainly makes the fight feel more impactful.
Earth Defense Force 2025 is a low-budget game with a ton of heart. The flaws are easy to list. It's glitchy, the character models are simple, the plot is incoherent, and it expects you to master esoteric mechanics. Despite all that, EDF 2025 is the most fun I've had with a shooting game in years. All those flaws and issues don't get in the way of EDF 2025 being pure, refined enjoyment. It's video game action boiled down to the bare essentials, and it's just fun. Being able to do so online with friends multiplies the enjoyment. If you're fond of unrestrained mayhem and interesting weaponry, Earth Defense Force 2025 is a must-buy.
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