Earth De­fense Force 4.1: The Shadow Of New De­spair

EDGE - - GAMES -

PS4

Oops. There goes an­other build­ing. Our apolo­gies to the fam­ily of the al­lied grunt who just took our mis­placed RPG round to the nog­gin. And cripes, this is awk­ward, but when that other fel­low was stuck in a gi­ant spi­der’s web and we tried to save him by shoot­ing it down, we in­stead blew his leg off and sent him cartwheel­ing to­ward the hori­zon. We should send some flow­ers. Earth De­fense Force has never been a good game for an English­man. Were the screen not con­stantly teem­ing with count­less ag­gres­sive, fast-mov­ing en­e­mies, we’d spend more time apol­o­gis­ing to those we’ve ac­ci­den­tally wronged than saving those who are still alive.

Earth De­fense Force 4.1 is a remixed and ex­panded version of Earth De­fense Force 2025, which was in turn a remixed and ex­panded version of Earth De­fense Force 2017. De­spite Sand­lot spend­ing a decade making pretty much the same game, and in one of the most over­crowded gen­res on the planet, there’s still noth­ing quite like EDF. There’s the scale of the thing, for a start; the hordes of gi­ant bugs skit­ter­ing around the side of sky­scrapers, swarm­ing down the street at you, gob­bing acid at you from rooftops. The gi­gan­tic robot walk­ers, fir­ing plasma can­nons in great pur­ple arcs from a mile away. Fleets of drones clog­ging the sky while trans­port ships rain down more gi­ant spi­ders, ants and hor­nets.

Ton­ally, it’s a world apart from the som­bre, por­ten­tous style em­ployed by most of what you’d think of as its peers, with a cheesy B-movie feel to the script and its cheer­ily over­done de­liv­ery. EDF’s tone isn’t just a mat­ter of scriptwrit­ing, how­ever, but of me­chan­ics too. The beat­ing heart of the game is its mas­sive, massed enemy threat, al­lied to a com­i­cal physics model that sends foes, al­lies and even your­self rag­dolling across the city from the force of an explosion, and build­ings that crum­ble when hit by a sin­gle RPG round. It’s a recipe for ab­so­lute chaos – and also for ab­so­lute dis­as­ter. Given the over­whelm­ing ex­tent to which the odds are stacked against you, EDF should be the hard­est game on the planet. And on the higher dif­fi­cul­ties, it can some­times feel like it. But Sand­lot’s great­est trick is making ammo an in­fi­nite re­source, your de­struc­tive abil­i­ties hemmed in only by your cho­sen load­out’s reload speed or cooldown time. Com­ing from a Des­tiny or a Halo – games that make the use of their most pow­er­ful weapons a risk, making you afraid that, if you use them now, you might not have any ammo when you need them most – this sim­ple de­sign choice is a rev­e­la­tion. The rea­son this is a game that makes us want to apol­o­gise ev­ery few sec­onds is that we’re fling­ing rock­ets about willy-nilly, know­ing that if one misses, a fresh clip is only a sec­ond or two away, and splash dam­age means friendly fire is a given.

All this car­nage has, in the past, meant that EDF had some low-bud­get tech­ni­cal is­sues to com­ple­ment its B-movie ac­tion: vi­su­als that were a gen­er­a­tion off the pace, and a fram­er­ate that couldn’t keep up with the car­nage. Well, no more: while far from the most hand­some game, EDF 4.1 is the first in the se­ries to run at a na­tive 1080p on con­soles, and the first to reach 60fps, where it re­mains the vast ma­jor­ity of the time. OK, some­times it can’t hack the pace – a level with dozens of ro­bots and a gi­ant, laser-spew­ing walk­ing fortress sees the re­fresh rate fall to more fa­mil­iar lev­els – but it’s re­mark­ably stable for the most part. To enjoy EDF, you’ve al­ways needed to be will­ing to com­pro­mise; ac­cept­ing that tech­ni­cal prob­lems are a nec­es­sary sac­ri­fice. Those days are gone. It’s never felt so fluid.

Well, rel­a­tively. The de­fault Ranger class, with its stubby lit­tle jump and no sprint, is as pon­der­ous as ever. Of the three other playable classes, the Wing Diver of­fers the most mo­bil­ity, al­beit at the cost of ar­mour and de­struc­tive power, while the Fencer is a slow, hard­hit­ting tank that’s now blessed with a rocket-pow­ered jump to speed up its half-hour trudges across the game’s enor­mous lev­els. The Air Raider, mean­while, is de­signed to fight from dis­tance, lay­ing traps and call­ing in airstrikes bound to min­utes-long cooldowns. It, more than the oth­ers, is meant for four­player on­line co-op, though all can be re­tooled to play more sup­port­ive roles with weapons de­signed to strengthen and heal al­lies, rather than make gi­ant hor­nets ex­plode.

This is the big­gest EDF to date, with a lu­di­crous 89 story mis­sions to be played solo or with com­pany, and a fur­ther nine co-op-only stages, all spread over five dif­fi­culty lev­els. It will take an age to see it all, but as ever, do­ing so re­quires an aw­ful lot of pa­tience, a stom­ach for rep­e­ti­tion, and a will­ing­ness to en­dure some of the most in­fu­ri­at­ing RNG around. New weapons drop at what seems like a tremen­dous rate but many will be du­pli­cates, and many more will be too low-level to be of much use. More pow­er­ful weapons drop on the higher dif­fi­cul­ties, but only if you can fin­ish a level – and the Level 0 rocket launcher we were still run­ning around with af­ter ten hours is of lit­tle use on Hard, never mind Hard­est or In­ferno, the game’s tough­est chal­lenge. As such, you’re left re­play­ing lev­els on lower dif­fi­cul­ties in the faint hope of get­ting a de­cent drop, and the ap­peal quickly wears off.

Th­ese are long­stand­ing prob­lems with EDF, how­ever, and those lack­ing the stom­ach for the grind up through the dif­fi­cul­ties will find more than enough on Nor­mal to keep them go­ing. It’s the same game as ever, then, but it’s never looked pret­tier or felt bet­ter. For fans, that will be plenty. For the unini­ti­ated, there’s never been a bet­ter time to pick up an in­fi­nite rocket launcher and lay waste to a couple of thou­sand hu­mon­gous wasps. Whoops! There goes an­other apart­ment build­ing. We really are ever so sorry.

To enjoy EDF, you’ve al­ways needed to be will­ing to com­pro­mise. Those days are gone. It’s never felt so fluid

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