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In Memory
Sean Pettibone


Earth Defense Force 2017
(D3 for Xbox 360)

By Michael Palisano

Earth Defense Force 2017 is an arcade-style shooting title for Xbox 360 that allows players to battle hordes of massive alien invaders in a large city. The game has a classic feel with simple, streamlined controls with plenty of freedom for the player, with an abundance of power-ups and weapons at their disposal. EDF feels a bit linear in some aspects, but adds to the challenge by only allowing players to use two weapons at a time. Visually, the game looks decent but not great and its gameplay doesn't really offer anything new. It's a promising title that feels a bit rushed and doesn't really deliver on its promise.

You really can't fault D3 for porting over this Japanese title, since it offers a somewhat enjoyable mix of arcade style action and shooting mechanics. Its one of those games that has an immediately appealing premise, decent graphics and easy to understand controls, but doesn't deliver on its promise as well as you'd think it would. Unfortunately, after its initial appeal wears off, the game's problems and flaws become apparent. While the game is highly polished in some areas, other sections seem haphazardly implemented which makes for an uneven experience. Still, its probably worth at least a rental, if only for its initial thrills. The game's plot is fairly standard - the Earth has come under attack from an array of evil alien beings who have launched a massive invasion of the planet. They are merciless and attack in large numbers. As a key member of the Earth Defense Force, your mission is to destroy any alien invaders that come across your path. When you defeat the aliens, they'll usually drop a variety of power-ups, such as armor, extra health and ammo that you can collect by running over them. What power-ups you can unlock and how powerful they are depends on which difficulty level you choose, which gives you an impetus to try to game's harder areas and not take the easier paths.

As you get your feet on the ground, you'll find yourself grouped with other EDF forces. Working with your fellow soldiers, you have an array of weapons at your disposal including rockets, grenade launchers and machine guns to wipe out the marauding minions. While many of these attackers are fairly easy to shoot and destroy at first, they attack in very large numbers and can quickly overwhelm your position if you stay in the same location for too long. Playing the game's earlier levels is somewhat enjoyable, since the amount of destruction offered is impressive. You can destroy large buildings and other objects crumble before your eyes from either your own fire or the alien forces. Initially, the aliens aren't that hard to defeat, since the bug-like ants that attack in the earlier stages are comparatively mindless. However, once they begin attacking back by firing acid at you and you begin to face airborne ships and bosses, things become much more difficult. Most of the game's earlier stages occur mainly on foot, which is fun but becomes a bit monotonous after awhile. Things get more interesting in later areas when you can pilot tanks and mini-mechs around the stages. These offer bigger weapons and more protection, and are cool to use but they lack the visceral thrill of the on-foot stages. This makes these stages feel more like gimmicks and you actually find yourself craving the more exciting ground based stages.

Earth Defense Force 2017 offers a solid array of weapons that allows you to attack your foes in a variety of ways. The trick here is that you are limited to using just two in any stage, which adds a layer of strategy to the gameplay that definitely makes things more challenging. While you have a decent number of weapons to choose from and can unlock additional weapons as you complete stages, the selection is critical, especially in later stages. Using the wrong weapon can make the level a hopelessly lost cause and makes things a bit more frustrating than they should be. The individual weapons are fairly easy to use, but some of the more advanced ones, like the sniper rifles are difficult to use and aim during the game, which makes them cause more problems than they're worth. While the controls are fairly decent, the game's camera system is a bit problematic. You are given a fixed behind the player angle throughout the game, though you can swing the angle manually using the right d-pad. This system works nicely when there are few enemies on screen, but becomes frustrating when you're under assault from all directions. Aiming your weapons is a bit clunky as well, this is especially true when you're inside on of the vehicles. These have the added disadvantage of limiting your field of vision, which makes things even more frustrating. While you can compensate for these problems after awhile, the design feels a bit haphazard and unpolished and makes Earth Defense Force feel somewhat limiting. This is a shame, since there's so much ambition in the scale of the invasion, you get the feeling that the developers didn't know whether they were making an epic adventure or a simple arcade game. Here, they've decided to split the difference which means neither element of the game is entirely satisfying in the end.

The developers left more potentially cool ideas on the table and settled for second-best in other areas of the game. Instead of offering what could have been a cool multiplayer online experience, you instead find yourself limited to a somewhat rudimentary split-screen mode that doesn't deliver nearly as much excitement as you'd expect. It's basically the single player game with two players and lacks much imagination in its implementation or execution. Another area where you can clearly see the game's squandered potential is its visuals. The game's presentation ranges from really cool cut-scenes when massive screen filling ships descend from the sky. However, once you get into the combat itself, you'll find the visuals lack the crisp feel of a next-generation title. The animations are decent, and the scale of the environments is impressive. Unfortunately, these positive elements are undermined by the somewhat bland presentation and design. This isn't helped by the game's rudimentary lighting, which gives everything a flat appearance, which is extremely disappointing. EDF's engine doesn't really showcase the Xbox 360's power, it does a decent job in some areas, but there are frame-rate issues which rear their heads whenever there are too many enemies on screen. This slows down the action significantly and leads to a somewhat disappointing appearance overall. The developers have added a throwaway soundtrack and cross-talk which tries to create a dramatic atmosphere but ends up feeling cheap and annoying thanks to over-acting and excessive repetition of the same phrases.

In the end, what this really adds up to is a disappointment that doesn't deliver as much on its promise as you'd expect. Earth Defense Force 2017 has some good ideas, but feels more like a last-gen title than it should. It's a 'value-priced' title which mitigates its flaws to some degree, but this doesn't really change the fact that this title doesn't deliver the goods. Unfortunately, by trying to appeal to arcade and shooter fans, it ends up pleasing neither. Between its flat graphics, choppy graphics and predictable, superficial gameplay, the game falls short of the mark. The levels are fairly linear which limits the game's longevity. You can replay the levels at harder difficulties or with different weapons if you want, but this isn't really much more than a fairly mindless series of battles. While there are some good ideas in the game, they're poorly implemented and makes Earth Defense Force a disappointment that doesn't live up to its potential.

Grade: C

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