Review: Earth Defense Force 2017 Portable (Sony Playstation Vita)

Earth Defense Force 2017 Portable
Genre: Third Person Shooter
Developer: Sandlot
Publisher: D3 Publisher
Release Date: 01/08/13

Earth Defense Force 2017 was the game that tipped me off to the wonderful world of the Simple Series in general and the Chikyuu Boueigun (EDF‘s Japanese title) series in specific. While the 360 game was a whole lot of fun, due in large part to its allowing of the player to just run off and wreck literally everything, there are entries in the series that haven’t come stateside that are just as fun, if not arguably moreso. The second Playstation 2 release, for example, offered the “Pale Wing” flight trooper, and there’s even a turn based strategy game in the series that is as hilariously awesome as it sounds. D3 tried to recapture that magic with Earth Defense Force: Insect Armageddon, a game that was interesting but was actually too advanced for its own good in a lot of respects, and it compared unfavorably to Sandlot’s baby in a lot of respects. Well, D3 and Sandlot have finally announced their own proper sequel, dubbed Earth Defense Force 2025 for the US Market, which is looking to be a proper sequel in all respects, but they’ve also teamed up to bring EDF 2017 to the Playstation Vita to help tide fans over. Dubbed Earth Defense Force 2017 Portable, the Vita port includes all of the features that made the 360 game worth owning, but also includes new weapons and stages, online play, and the addition of the aforementioned “Pale Wing” flight trooper. The end result is a port that’s extremely faithful to the original while making a solid case to own it for the extra content, and while it’s not totally successful, it’s not a bad shot.

The plot of EDF 2017 Portable isn’t terribly involved; aliens have come to Earth, and are unleashing all manner of hell on it, in the form of giant insects, even more giant robots, Godzilla-like monstrosities, spaceships and more craziness. You take on the role of Storm 1, a lone foot soldier in the war against the aliens, dubbed the Ravagers, and your role is basically one man destruction machine as you obliterate everything the aliens throw at you and more or less save Earth by yourself. The game makes a habit of filling you in on the basic events that are occurring around the globe by way of mission introduction text and dispatches that play during missions, but there’s nothing terribly extensive here, plot-wise, and what is here is generally campy and entertaining for reasons other than the obvious ones. There’s also various radio commentary from headquarters and your allies on the battlefield, which is also amusing in a perverse fashion, as they often banter on about silly things or announce how messed up everything is as you save the world, again. On the plus side, the game also comes equipped with online and local multiplayer, either in co-op play through the campaign or versus play against friends and strangers, as the 360 version lacked any sort of online play to speak of. As such, you can team up with friends to take on the alien hordes without having to use couch co-op exclusively, which expands your options a bit and is a welcome addition.

EDF 2017 Portable looks functionally identical to its Xbox 360 counterpart, which isn’t terribly surprising, given that the 360 game was… not the most technically impressive game on the console, as it were. 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. 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.

Mechanically, EDF 2017 Portable is as the 360 game was, meaning that it’s an absolutely standard third person shooter that offers no cover mechanics, odd complexities, or anything but running, jumping and shooting. The game offers a Simple and an Advanced control scheme, with the simplified scheme actually being the more complex scheme, oddly enough. The Advanced scheme simply uses the triggers (for jumping and shooting), the left and right sticks for moving and aiming, and one face button for weapon swapping, while the simplified scheme adds in more button motions to allow for quick upward firing and such that doesn’t really add anything to the experience, but works fine enough. The Vita version also allows you to drag across the touch screen to quickly look around while still aiming in the same direction, if you want to look to see what’s around you quickly, and while this isn’t something you’ll likely use much overall, it’s a fine addition to the game. There are also the odd vehicles you can pilot, like a mech, a helicopter, a hover bike and so on, but they’re generally less resilient and less mechanically friendly than your character to work with in most respects.

Okay, let’s actually get this out of the way up front. EDF 2017 Portable is a flawed game. The vehicles are basically terrible, as they’re all made of tissue paper and mostly don’t do the amount of damage your lone soldier does. The allied AI is fairly stupid, as your own troops will frequently run into the way of your bullets or die fighting simple enemies. The mechanics are exceptionally simplistic, as you literally just run around the battlefield shooting things ad infinitum until they die, then repeat until everything is wasted or you are, only to begin again in the next stage. If you’re looking for Gears of War or Uncharted or even the US developed EDF game, you’re not going to find it here, just so we’re all on the same page.

Got that? Okay.

What EDF 2017 Portable does is it presents you 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 four legged armored fortresses and golf-ball motherships and beyond. You’re not just doing this with rifles and rockets, either, mind you, as the game boasts one hundred and fifty guns, so there are a lot of crazy concepts here. You’ve got things like a Cascade 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, 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.

Now, fans of the series will already be aware of all of this, of course, so for those who own the 360 game and are wondering what should bring them back to this port of the game, you’ll be pleased to know there are some new things to play with. The most obvious is the online play option, allowing you to team up with friends to take on the campaign or go head to head without needing said friends to be local, but that’s not the only significant difference. Beating the game one time unlocks the Pale Wing unit, a female fighter with a jetpack and energy weapons of various types who is much faster and more maneuverable than the normal Storm 1 trooper, but more fragile as a counterbalance. The game also adds in seven new missions to the campaign:

Cavaliers (Mission 38, which is a giant all-out battle with new ships, dubbed Attackers)
Glow (Mission 48, an underground battle against Gold Ants)
Fortitude (Mission 51, another Giant Walking Fortress battle, featuring the Attacker ships)
Precipice (Mission 52, a mission featuring regular, Gold and Metallic Red Ants)
Arachnid (Mission 54, a mission featuring Silver Spiders and spawn nests)
Royalty (Mission 56, which features gold eggs that spawn Gold Ants, as well as normal Black and Red Ants and Queen Ants… oh, and you’re by yourself)
Grave (Mission 59, a mission featuring robots, Gold Ants, Metallic Red Ants and Silver Spiders, which is also faced by yourself)

This brings the total mission count up to sixty for the game, and the game features the same five different difficulty levels from its predecessor. Both the Storm 1 and Pale Wing trooper earn medals for their completion of the missions in the game, as well, so those who want a game that will take them a while to clear will find that beating the game five times per character will scratch that itch. You earn better weapons across the various difficulties and keep your health levels at all times, of course, so there are other reasons to do this thing, since your character is constantly becoming stronger, and unlocking new weapons is always exciting.

That said, aside from the obvious issues mentioned prior, EDF 2017 Portable is a fine enough port, albeit one that might be hard to recommend to those who have the 360 version of the game already. While the game does add in new options, on the 360 the game was a budget title, while here it’s a full priced release, which opens it up to a bit more scrutiny. Taken on its own, if you’ve never played the original, it’s a game that has some technical flaws that are frequently overcome by how fun the game is. Taken from the perspective of someone who has played the original, however, you’re getting seven new missions featuring one new enemy and several reskinned enemies, a few new weapons, the Pale Wing character class, and online play. This, in and of itself, isn’t too bad, but the seven new missions don’t add a lot to the game (the original game featured fifty three missions, bear in mind) and most are only about ten to twenty minutes long anyway. Further, you can’t play as the Pale Wing until you complete the game with Storm 1 one time, which means that one of the more interesting selling points of the piece is locked away until you’ve spent ten hours with the game, which is fine for newcomers, but for those who own the 360 game, you’re doing what you’ve already done in order to see the new stuff. To put it into perspective, Persona 4 Golden is a full priced rerelease of an older game for the Vita, but that game starts showing you new content about fifteen minutes into the game and spreads it out across the entire game. Here, the new content amounts to online play (which is fun if you know someone who owns the game or don’t mind playing with strangers) and a bunch of content you won’t see until you’re almost done with the game, at a cost that is no longer “budget priced” relative to its home console.

If you’ve never played Earth Defense Force 2017 before or you’re a big fan, EDF 2017 Portable is easily the best version of the game available and is great fun on the Vita, so long as you can look past the obvious mechanical issues and accept that it’s largely the same game as the 360 version. The plot is largely silly and overly serious in a way that’s endearing, and while the game is in no way a powerhouse, the visuals and audio are charming in their presentation, if a bit limited. The gameplay is incredibly simple, as there are no complex mechanics to speak of whatsoever, but the game shines because of this, as it allows the player a simplified experience where they can blast everything, moving or not, and are given lots of interesting targets to do this against. Further, the game offers an extensive catalog of weapons of all types to collect and the ability to collect armor to constantly upgrade your health to build a grossly overpowered soldier, five difficulty levels to do this with, the option of the Pale Wing flying trooper to play with, and online play, all of which make a fun, simple game even more so. Those who have played the 360 game may find that forty dollars for the extra content grates when most of the content here is identical, and the new content outside of online play is mostly only accessible after about ten hours of play if they’ve already put the time into the console game and just want to play as the Pale Wing. Overall, though, EDF 2017 Portable is the definitive version of the game, and it’s a hell of a lot of fun on the Vita if you’re a fan or just want to blast some bugs, enough that it makes a pretty convincing argument to buy the game over again, or for the first time.

Short Attention Span Summary:
Earth Defense Force 2017 Portable is a strong Vita port of the Xbox 360 original that adds in solid new content and online play while retaining all the charm of the original, and while it’s not the most slick game and fans of the original may find it a bit of a retread, it’s still a pretty good game overall. The plot, visuals and audio are largely unpolished and silly a lot of the time, but make up for their lack of technological and artistic prowess by way of being interesting, amusing, and generally functional overall. The gameplay is quite simple overall, lacking in the more involved conventions of modern genre staples, and between the poorly functional vehicles that seem to be made of tissue paper and the repetition, one can be forgiven for thinking the game poor. However, the simple nature of the mechanics make the game easy to enjoy, as the flaws give way to the incredibly fun of laying waste to everything without concern for cover systems or regenerating health bars, allowing the player to destroy everything they see, alien or otherwise, and your targets are often interesting at the least. Additionally, the player is offered a huge roster of weapons to acquire, armor pickups that permanently increase your health over time to potentially absurd levels, multiple difficulty levels, the Pale Wing flight trooper as an unlockable character, and online play, which makes a fun game even more so. For those who’ve played the 360 game, the forty dollar pricetag may sting a bit for what is mostly the same game, as outside of the online content, the game is mostly identical, and the new content is buried almost ten hours into the game on top of that. If you’re new to the game or love it enough that this doesn’t matter, though, EDF 2017 Portable is a damn fine game for the Vita that’s simple, fun and well worth the asking price.



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3 responses to “Review: Earth Defense Force 2017 Portable (Sony Playstation Vita)”

  1. Ashe Avatar

    Makes me wonder if it’ll ever go on sale, but being a PSN only title I don’t see that happening. I was tempted knowing it is a port as I’ve never played the 360 version, but I think it might have to wait a bit.

    1. Mark B. Avatar
      Mark B.

      Yeah, I really feel like the game would have been better off at thirty or even twenty dollars, as there’s not really enough new content to justify being a full priced Vita release. Shame, that, as I really like it, but I can’t even make a convincing argument to get J. Rose to buy it, and he’s a bigger Simple Series fan than I am.

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