Inside Pulse 12

Review: Earth Defense Force 2: Invaders From Planet Space (Sony Playstation Vita)

Earth Defense Force 2: Invaders From Planet Space
Genre: Third Person Shooter
Developer: Sandlot
Publisher: Xseed Games
Release Date: 12/08/15

A few years ago, D3 Publisher was looking to be a rising star thanks to games with a certain underground cool factor, like Earth Defense Force 2017 and Oneechanbara, but over the past couple of years they seem to have aimed toward publishing mobile phone games and ports over anything else. While this put the status of their titles in doubt for a brief period, Xseed has stepped up to the plate to bring fans the goofy insect and zombie slaying goodness they love, and there’s no one who’s more pleased to hear this than I was. If you’ve been hanging around here a while, you’re probably aware that I’ve made no secret of being kind of a cheerleader for the Chikyuu Boueigun/Earth Defense Force series here on the site, so I was thrilled to see they were bringing the games to the US, and the first release on their plate is what they’ve dubbed Invaders From Planet Space. Fans of the franchise will be pleased to know that, rather than this being a weird new entry, this is a Vita port of the second Playstation 2 release in the series, which gives us access to a game that, until now, you’d have to have imported it to play. Even better, however, is the fact that unlike the prior portable EDF title for the Vita, this game is essentially all new content, featuring new locations, enemies, weapons and more, so you’re not just getting EDF 2017 again, but rather a new chapter in the EDF series. The good news is that it’s an excellent mobile version of the series, and while it’s just as flawed as its predecessors in the same ways, it’s still a lot of fun. The bad news is that it bears a bit of a passing resemblance to EDF 2025, also known as the upcoming EDF 4.1, so if you’re a big fan of the series, you may have a bit of déjà vu going in here.

The plot of EDF 2 is, as was EDF 2025, a direct continuation of the original game: the Ravagers, the aliens from the original game, have come back to Earth after a hiatus or indeterminate length, with a larger and more developed force, and it’s up to the new and improved EDF to put their invasion down once again for the good of mankind. You once again take on the role of a member of the Storm team, a small (and presumably elite) team of soldiers who basically exist to get the job done because basically nobody else can, so it’s up to you to save the Earth. Much of the plot exposition elements that made up the prior game are back this time around, so you’ll frequently receive reports from your superiors on alien performance levels and how badly your allies are failing along with random radio chatter and bits of news reports from around the world to keep the plot moving along, to the extent that it matters. While the game takes a lot of its cues from the prior games, it seems to fall somewhere in-between 2017 and 2025 in its campiness, so it’s not quite as self-aware as 2025, and the plot works better as a result. Also this game does the plot the great service of naming the insect hoard the “Buggernauts,” which is absolutely perfect, and I’m not sure why we hadn’t done this sooner. The end result is a plot that’s closer to the magical accidental goofiness of the original than the purposeful “we know it’s bad” attempts of 2025, and it’s more fun if nothing else. For those who’d rather focus on what they can do with the game, the single player campaign option is intact as always, and you’re also given the option to jump into online and ad-hoc co-op play, allowing up to four players to jump in and blow up bugs. There’s also a competitive mode where players can fight one another online, for those who are into such a thing, so you can take turns blasting your friends on purpose instead of by accident if you’re down for that.

EDF 2 essentially looks like the first Vita port, meaning that it’s roughly around Playstation 2 levels of fidelity, and fans of the original Xbox 360 release won’t notice too much of a drop in quality at all. The game makes use of the Vita’s processing power over its display abilities, as it basically loads in fairly massive levels and lots of enemies at any one time without significantly slowing down in the process (usually), which is the visual appeal here. Seeing what seems to be fifty giant ants bearing down on you or watching as your attacks demolish the city around you is where the visuals shine here, as the monsters, though interesting, aren’t high resolution, nor are the effects or environments. The game looks exciting more because of what it does than its technical prowess, so in essence, if you’ve played a Dynasty Warriors game you have an idea of what that means. That said, it does punch up the visuals a bit over its predecessor thanks to some varied locales, making different maps look like different countries, so it’s a little more interesting than the first game from that respect, and it feels more fresh than the prior game for it. Aurally, the music is mostly swelling orchestral score that’s fitting to the mood of going off into battle against impossible odds, which is amusing in its own way given the absurdity of the experience, but overall the soundtrack works fine. The sound effects are also just fine, if a bit repetitive, and nothing feels terribly out of place or poorly handled, though effects repeat a good bit across insects and weapons. There’s a solid amount of voice acting from your squad mates and the EDF support personnel who provide you with updates, and while some of the voice work is overwrought and over the top, none of it’s bad really. The commander is especially awesome, as he delivers all of his lines with the most dramatic voice work he can muster, waxing philosophical about how the EDF is going to go down fighting against the alien menace while you’re shooting giant tarantulas, and it just sells the experience in a way that has to be seen to be understood.

For those who’ve played the prior games, EDF 2 is basically similar in most respects: it’s a third person shooter where you just run around and smear things, either directly (in the case of the Ranger class) or with some odd changes (with the other classes). Most of the controls are fairly easy to grasp: you can run around with the left stick, look around with the right stick, and shoot at things with the right trigger (usually), all of which you can figure out within a few minutes. You’re also given a button to switch weapons/layouts as needed, a button to manually reload your equipped weapon, and a button that performs some type of evasive maneuvers, depending on the class you’ve chosen. There are also several vehicles to pilot in the game, as there were in the prior releases, though they’re generally about as functional as they are in the prior Vita title, which is to say mostly not at all. Whether you get into vehicle usage or not, though, you’ll find that, on a base level, the game is easy enough to pick up and play, and you should be able to pick the game up and get the basics down inside of a few minutes with little difficulty.

If you’ve never played an EDF title before, then what you probably need to know about them is that they’re not technical masterpieces by any means; they frequently have goofy mechanics in them, as well as vehicles that are basically useless, and you shouldn’t approach this expecting a game that’s amazing on those fronts. Rather, these games offer a simplified experience that allows you to completely obliterate everything you see with some of the craziest weapons you’ll lay hands on. The game is simplified to a point where anyone can enjoy it, as the game always amounts to “here are some things, kill them”. You’re never going to be doing escort missions, or timed missions, or defense missions, you’re just shooting everything until it dies. Further, the enemies are interesting, as you’re fighting a crazy assortment of enemies, from giant ants and spiders to bipedal walkers to giant spaceships and Godzilla monsters to crazy massive alien motherships, giant centipedes and beyond. You’re not just doing this with rifles and rockets, either, mind you, as the game boasts hundreds of guns, so there are a lot of crazy concepts here. You’ve got things like a rocket launcher that burps out rockets like a machine gun, or grenade launchers that carpet bomb the area, or machine guns that fire in V-shapes, or chain lightning guns, or even the “Air Tortoise”, a slow moving (as in, you can outrun it) missile that will basically atomize whatever it hits, and that’s just off the top of my head. Further, everything you see can be destroyed, and I MEAN everything. Buildings will fall before your rockets just as easily as aliens, and you can literally leave the city a smoking crater with little difficulty just by opening up and firing on everything around you with heavier weapons. You can also collect healing items, Armor power-ups and weapons from the bodies of the dead, which heal you, increase your health permanently, and potentially unlock new weapons to use, respectively, allowing you to improve constantly so long as you collect everything you see. While collecting health and weapon power-ups are fairly standard, collecting Armor power-ups basically adds one hit point per collected item, (depending on your class) meaning that (if you’re fairly dedicated to collecting them) you can easily top over a thousand hit points by the end of one campaign session, and the upward limit is either non-existent or so high you’ll never see it. Basically, the game is simply fun in a lot of different ways, and regardless of the sort of person you are you can find plenty to enjoy here, which overcomes its shortcomings handily.

If you have played the prior games, though, the biggest change that comes into play in EDF 2 is that of the multiple playable classes, which EDF 2025 fans will have familiarity with. The game carries over the Ranger class from the prior game, which is your bog-standard soldier who fires projectiles at things until they die, as well as the Pale Wing class from EDF 2017 Portable, which is a flying energy-weapon based class that is fast and agile, but glassy as all get-out due to light armor restrictions. EDF 2 also implements the Air Raider class, which EDF 2025 fans will recognize; it’s a support class that can wield explosive weapons, but mostly works by summoning in support tools and air strikes, as well as paint targets for homing weapons, and it’s the only class that can carry three weapons at once. These three classes add a lot to the experience, in theory, as each class plays differently from each other, and there’s a distinct difficulty curve to using them, so you can slowly ease from the Ranger to the Pale Wing to the Air Raider as you learn the game more, to keep you engaged beyond what the Ranger class can offer. Beyond this change, the game more or less follows the “more is better” philosophy, meaning the game features more missions, enemies, weapons and locations to play around in, so while it’s basically similar to its predecessor in almost all respects, it’s a much bigger game overall, and fans will absolutely love it from that perspective.

Beyond that, the online component from EDF 2025 is here, more or less intact, and it works about the same way as it does in the console game. You can bring up to four players (local or online) into a game, each with their chosen class and color scheme, and play through the missions that are normally available offline with your friends as you see fit, in whatever difficulty level you choose. Now, it’d be easy to just have someone who’s been playing for entirely too long at one time jump in and wipe everything out, so the online mode attempts to balance this out somewhat in a few ways. First off, each difficulty limits the amount of armor a class can have in any given stage, so someone who’s played through all five difficulties and is boasting an armor level that is in the high thousands will still be capped based on the difficulty level chosen. Further, weapons are also assigned levels based on what difficulty level they were unlocked during, and each difficulty limits the maximum weapon levels that can be used on a stage-by-stage basis, so you can’t bring a level fifty weapon into an Easy difficulty stage. Finally, enemies take and deal more damage in online play, so you’ll find that it isn’t a cakewalk going through a stage with four players, as the game balances itself against this. On the other hand, the game will also allow you to jump into any mission you want so long as the host has unlocked it already, and you can see on-screen what the level limits are for weapons and health based on the difficulty so you know what you’re getting into from jump, and can plan accordingly. In theory, this is a great way to keep online play fresh and challenging overall, and it can give players a lot of fun to have online when playing with their friends, especially since each job has its own unique roles to fill and tasks to perform that complement each other nicely.

With around eighty missions to plow through across five difficulty levels, online and off, you’ll easily lose ten to fifteen hours completing the campaign with any one class once, and if you’re the sort of person who wants to do everything possible, you could easily lose hundreds of hours to the game if you let yourself do so. Online play is also a big selling point, especially since the Vita version matches the console versions in terms of offered content, so for those who have Vita friends or no problem playing with strangers, there’s definitely fun to be had jumping online and blowing up bugs. The sheer volume of things to unlock and stages to plow through in the core game is impressive, however, as each class plays differently from one another and the difficulties do impressively ramp up from one to the next, giving players a good amount of variety and making progression a steady, gradual thing that can be appreciated. Further, unlike the last release on the Vita, EDF 2 is more reasonably priced and features content fans won’t have seen before, making it much easier to recommend whether you’ve played the prior games or not. For the price tag, EDF 2 offers plenty of content to see and things to unlock, and from that perspective, if nothing else, the game is easy to recommend to genre and franchise fans alike.

However, while the game casts off the value problem of its predecessor, it also tacks on some of the issues EDF 2025 had in how it implements things. The single biggest issue with the game is that it is unbalanced, and while it’s not as bad as EDF 2025 was, it’s still noticeable, especially online. Offline, the biggest issues are that the classes aren’t balanced, meaning that Rangers are basic, all-purpose characters, while Pale Wings are often way too glassy for their heavy energy charging balance and limited damage, and Air Raiders are hard to use in solo play effectively at times. In general, enemies are also unbalanced, as the termites aren’t terribly threatening at any point, while Spiders and Red Ants hurt like crazy even on the easiest difficulties, which can make fighting them a chore at times. These issues, on their own, aren’t game breaking, but they become a huge issue during online play, for one very specific reason: online play isn’t balanced on a per-player basis, IT’S JUST HARDER. I don’t even mean because of your limited weapons and armor, either; testing a solo online room versus offline in the same mission, enemies do double damage on a per-hit basis, because the online component is just designed to “be harder” instead of to scale based on player count. This isn’t an issue in theory, but in practice it’s not great balance-wise, as even the easiest difficulty hits harder in general, and it’s just an odd way to try and balance online play. That said, it’s nowhere near as frustrating as EDF 2025, so you’ll find this game to be more enjoyable for online play overall, but it could’ve used some polishing before release, and even with the acknowledgement of its known flaws, it’s still a bear at times.

Honestly, though, Earth Defense Force 2: Invaders From Planet Space is arguably the best game in the series and it’s almost certainly the best on the Vita, as it takes everything that worked in the first game, adds in a new class and more robust online play, and just dumps in more content overall, and the result is a game that’s a little bumpy, but honestly just as enjoyable as its brethren. The plot is still as silly as ever, the visuals have been improved but are still only taxing the system by volume rather than technical style, the voice acting is still as ham-fisted but perversely enjoyable as ever, and the rest of the audio is perfectly fine overall. The game is simple enough to pick up and play but offers three character classes from the start to jump in and play with, there are a ton of new weapons to unlock and work with across five difficulty levels, and the online play adds some much-needed replay value to the game that makes it a fun time with like-minded insect slayers across the country. The balance, while better than in EDF 2025, is still a little off here, as some classes are just worse overall than others, the enemies still need tweaking and online is just harder instead of balanced by player count, and this is on top of the broken goofiness of EDF that may put some players off outright. Fans of the franchise will love it, however, and if you’re the sort of person who can appreciate games like Goat Simulator or Surgeon Simulator you’ll have fun with EDF 2 as well, as it’s “broken” and enjoyable in the same ways, and it’s a game that’s well worth adding to your Vita collection if you can appreciate it for what it is: a game where you blow up bugs, and everything else, with the craziest weapons you’ve seen in a long time.

Short Attention Span Summary:
Earth Defense Force 2: Invaders From Planet Space is a worthy sequel to Earth Defense Force 2017 Portable for Vita fans, and whether you’re a franchise fan or a newcomer, there’s a lot to love here, if you can get past the franchise standard hiccups and some mild balance issues. The game is just as goofy and B-movie inspired as its predecessors, between the nonsense plot, improved but no less technically spotty visuals and cheesy dialogue, though the rest of the audio is perfectly serviceable. The gameplay is simple enough to jump into and work with, but the three character classes all have their own unique play styles, and between the class variety, difficulty variety, online play and sheer volume of stages and unlockable weapons, it’s easy to see how the game could be a deep, engaging experience for anyone who can deal with it on the whole. That said, the classes are a bit unbalanced and in some cases feel worse rather than different, the enemy balancing needs some fine-tuning, and the online play is just harder rather than balanced based on player count, and this is all on top of the usual EDF goofiness that makes tanks explode in seconds or vehicles drive like crap. Still, the game is broken in a way that makes it lovable rather than frustrating, and if you can get past the balance issues, EDF 2 is a welcome addition to the franchise family that fans and newcomers alike should find much joy in. It’s not even remotely close to a perfect game, but it is a fun game, and it’s arguably the best release in the franchise yet. Now if only we could get the strategy game released in the US…

  • TheQMan

    I wouldn’t exactly lump EDF2 in the same category as Goat Stimulator and Surgeon Simulator, though… This is an actual game. Yes, it may have weird graphics and the game is goofy and doesn’t take itself seriously, but it’s still very much an arcade game with very competent game mechanics.

    You’re definitely not going to spend 60 hours on Goat Stimulator… But you may on EDF2.

  • Mark B.

    That’s true, though I feel like you have to have a certain tolerance for broken elements to really “get” EDF; that is, I personally love EDF and Onechanbara, but I can COMPLETELY understand why people don’t, and I feel like people who like games that are “broken” on purpose might have more fun with EDF than people who don’t.

  • Alex Burn

    message deleted

  • Alex Burn

    Are you aware that this is a port of the PS2 game Global Defence Force that came out in 2005? EDF 2017 is the sequel to this game, not the other way around.

  • Mark B.

    As I literally wrote that very thing in the first paragraph, yes, I’m aware of this thing; however, from a general US release perspective, it’s simultaneously a prequel and a sequel, hence the shorthand terminology confusion.