If there was ever proof that first impressions can't be trusted, Earth Defense Force 2017 is it. When I first popped the game into my 360, I thought it was a prank being played on me by my editors; a right of initiation so to speak.
When the title screen pops up, an overly enthusiastic narrator explains the myriad of menu options including New Game, Continue, and Settings. If you've ever had problems figuring out how to start a new game, EDF2017 is definitely the game for you. After going through a few menus, you're thrust into your first mission. Giant spaceships are floating above a generic Japanese city, raining destruction and giant bugs upon the populace.
You play as a generic EDF soldier in a generic EDF troop. You're given a short blurb at the beginning of the game about how contact was made in 2013, which led to the creation of the EDF as a protective measure against alien invasion. Good thing too, because you'll be doing a whole lot of "earth defense" in this game from giant swarms of alien enemies.
From the get-go, it's obvious that this game's raison d'etre is to shoot absolutely everything in sight; nothing more and nothing less. As you progress through the game, you can unlock over 150 weapons, most of which are variations on about 10 basic categories. You will wield all the shooter staples such as assault rifles, shotguns, rocket launchers, sniper rifles, and grenades. The catch is that you must select only two before you embark on any given mission. Since there are 53 levels in the game, you'll likely have to play through the game twice just to try them all out. With so many weapons and variations, I find it extremely disappointing that there is no giant magnifying glass to fry those giant ants. I consider it a missed opportunity. It's also a tremendous pain that the developers didn't feel the need to implement a reload button, which can lead to some very cheap deaths. The game also features health collectibles that boost your HP up and are integrated into all difficulties of the game. This makes replaying various levels (at various difficulties) more reasonable since there's technically always a point to it. It's also necessary to build up your HP level at lower difficulties before attempting any levels at the highest difficulty.
You'll also pilot a small fleet of vehicles, but they all control rather poorly. The tank for example has a turret that turns far too slow to take out any but the slowest moving of enemies. The Helicopter seems to be made of the same stucco that holds the buildings together and will usually fall apart on you before you can even lift off the ground. The hover-bike is fun to mess around with, but its alien-killing capabilities are minimal. Considering the earth shattering power of the personal weapons you'll wield, you'll likely find yourself avoiding the vehicles after their initial use.
Enemy AI is neither terribly stupid nor cunningly clever. The game's challenge stems more from the absurd number of enemies that you're taking on rather than any sort of tactics that they employ. Your NPC comrades are the same disposable squad that you've fought with in other shooters for years. Their main usefulness comes from drawing fire away from you.
This is an old-school shooter in the purest sense. There are no keys to find, no puzzles to solve, and barely a semblance of a story to keep you blasting. Each level ends once you've wiped every last creature off the map. This can include swarms of giant ants and spiders, robots and spaceships. After taking out a few ants, you likely accidentally fire a rocket into the background, causing a building to collapse. This is where the real fun begins. These buildings seem to be made of tissue paper, as a single grenade or rocket can send the tallest skyscraper collapsing to the ground. Wanton Destruction on such a mass level has the same appeal as a summer blockbuster such as Independence Day. If Gears of War is the shooter genre's "The Departed", then EDF 2017 is its "Snakes on a Plane". The game is just pure, unadulterated fun that makes no apologies for its simplicity and stupidity. Just turn your brain off and blow away some ants while destroying everything in the background.
It also bears mentioning that the game has no Xbox live support aside from awareness. If you want to team up with a friend, it will be have to be through the surprisingly fun split-screen Co-op mode. In terms of Achievements, EDF has only 6 of them, and they consist solely of beating the game on various difficulty levels. I've seen Live Arcade games with far better achievement implementation.
Graphically speaking, EDF 2017 is a very mixed bag. On one hand, the game has trouble maintaining a stable framerate, especially when you're surrounded by enemies. Corpses and rubble from buildings flicker in and out of existence. There are lots of clipping errors, especially in the city levels. All of the power-ups are gaudy 2-dimensional sprites, which may or may not be done on purpose to emphasize the old-school mentality of the game. The main character animates very poorly. As an example, when you are strafing to the left, the character's knees are pointing to the right, which means that half the time, your character will be awkwardly running backwards. It's likely the worst running animation since Gabe Logan kicked his own ass as he ran in the old Syphon Filter games.
On the other hand, the game has many impressive moments too. The sense of scale of some of the enemies is truly marvelous to behold. By the time you reach the level where giant mechs are destroying the city, you'll be blown away by the sheer mass and size of the ships and mechs that dwarf your little soldier. The beach assault levels usually feature beautiful sunsets that contrasts perfectly with the enormous explosions that are going on. The impressive draw distance also bears mention. In the 4th level, you'll see a tower on the other side of the map with ants crawling along its exterior. A well placed rocket shot will bring that tower down, along with all the ants. The fact that you're miles away when this happens is a commendable graphical achievement. Overall, the game looks like an Xbox game with a nice HD sheen to it.
The game's audio is also something of a mixed bag. You'll want to mute the voice acting immediately, as it consists entirely of generic military chatter which grates before the end of the first level. The music is ignorable, but a game like this one begs to be played with custom soundtracks. At least the weapons all sound appropriately punchy and powerful.
If you enjoy old-school shooters in the vein of Contra or more recently, Serious Sam, you could certainly do worse than EDF 2017. Those who demand a little depth and storyline to go along with their blasting are advised to look elsewhere. Since the game is best played in short bursts, it feels like the game would likely be more at home on a portable system like the PSP. However, when I played the game in front of a few friends, they were constantly screaming at me that I was getting surrounded by ants and yelling "constructive" advice in my direction. Any game that can elicit that sort of reaction from an inactive audience must be doing something right. It's also nice to have a new 360 game released with a reasonable price tag.