I showed you galleries. I reported on every trailer I could find. I promised you that Earth Defense Force 2025 would be a game to invest your time and money into, and now that it's out, how do my expectations hold up?
This game's predecessor which I based these expectations on was a fun early budget title called Earth Defense Force 2017 for the Xbox 360, and this might be a stretch, but for what it is, it could nearly be considered a perfect game. Tight and responsive controls, lots of guns to unlock, a great B-science style, and totally honest about what kind of game it strives to be: mindless fun.
Aside from the slideshow framerate seen in the final mission, if you wanted to make a fun, simplistic,mindless shooter with giant ants, there really is no better way that this game could have been made. Call it a minor masterpiece if you will, my 80 hour save file can attest to how often I've gone back to it.
Western developer Vicious Cycle Studio tried with Earth Defense Force: Insect Armageddon, and despite adding a treasure box of new ideas to the formula, it still felt like the soul was missing. Now that original developer Sandlot is back in the driver's seat and making a full blown follow up, will that missing element find its way back into the fray?
Well, in some ways yes and in some ways no.
Grinding a Mountain into an Anthill
Earth Defense Force 2025 wastes no time in setting up a similar situation to its predecessor. Giant ants overrun civilization, and that is only the start of mankind's problems. Before they know it, boom… full-fledged alien invasion.
Our generic nameless hero, Storm 1, enlists alongside his cohorts and is dropped into the fray from D-Day and slaughters his way through monsters and situations comparable to your worst nightmare. There are no cutscenes, no personalization of Storm 1, no chance of letting up on the intensity to let you enjoy a comfortable story.
Put your finger on the trigger and don't let up until the last insect is dead. Earth Defense Force 2025 is the kind of game that has infinite ammo, so why not?
Each of Storm 1's outings can last between five to ten minutes, blowing away everything from ants, dragons, spiders, bees, robots, drones, to zombie dinosaurs. When the smoke clears, he collects handsomely on the spoils of war. Most enemies killed will leave some kind of drop behind, be it a new weapon, a single armor point bonus, or health replenishment.
While not as generous with drops as the first game, Earth Defense Force 2025 still retains the same simple mechanics. There's a plain rewarding feeling that makes every gaming session feels like an accomplishment. Every enemy you kill, every mission you play, every drop you pick up rewards you little by little, piling up over the long run, making it perfect for a late night grinding session or a quick fix of intense action.
Either way, Storm 1 slowly builds up to his ultimate goal of maximum armor and a fully stocked arsenal of over 700 weapons.
Speaking of improvements, the weapon count greatly increases in this game thanks to the EDF putting research into three additional unit types. Air Raiders call on the aid of support vehicles, Wing Divers take to the sky with energy weapons and jetpacks, and Fencers hold the fort with heavy armor, weapons, and shields.
Along with variety, each brings their own strengths and weaknesses to the battlefield. Air Raiders have no weapons to call their own, Wing Divers' weak weapons run on the same fuel as their jet packs, and Fencers are slow and bulky.
Replay comes from the different units leveling up separately from the others, granting several times the opportunity to grind than Earth Defense Force 2017 offers. Slight overkill I might say, but hardcore fans are sure to get a lot of mileage out of this package.
And what is the ultimate goal of grinding? Beating the game? Running through 50 missions on normal barely scrapes the surface of what Earth Defense Force 2025 offers. Much like the previous game, taking on the beast of Inferno Mode is the true goal of every true EDF soldier.
That Everest of a task will require careful selection of weapons, maximum armor, and a true grasp on deceptively simple mechanics like recruiting wayward soldiers, reload time, and dive rolling to come out on the other end alive. Best of luck to those who try.
Not every new mechanic is a blessing, though. Ants can now pick up poor Storm 1 in their jaws, swinging him around like a ragdoll until he blasts himself free. Being captured in their jaws is exciting the first time, but after it happens five times in a row during a stage with one too many ants, it needlessly breaks up the action.
There is also an online mode for those who want to destroy their six legged foes with friends. Grinding and leveling will make you a far more attractive ally for taking on Inferno Mode with others.
Earth Defense Force 2025 doesn't stray too far from the previous game in terms of mission structure and overall goals, and while the additions might be a little too much for casual fans, those who enjoy the grind won't be disappointed.
Half-Hearted Graphical Improvement
While the gameplay remains relatively untouched, Earth Defense Force 2025 stumbles in its presentation. What the heck kind of criticism is that to make about a game famous and beloved for its bad graphics?
Well, as I said before, the first game ran as smoothly as a game of its ambition could. The final mission aside, the cardboard cutout ant models, styrofoam buildings, and blocky main character allowed the simple engine to run at a reasonable pace.
Seven years later and the same hardware has trouble keeping up with all the improvements Sandlot has made to the graphics and physics engines. Complicated lighting blooms across the tops of surfaces, and detailed textures replace the cheesy and boxy grass, character models, and buildings.
Even the weapon and armor boxes, represented by cute little icons in 2017, have been replaced with full blown polygon models and given physics to slam into the ground and bounce around with. It's needless and pointless "improvements" like these which cause the game to chug at a slower frame rate.
2017 was optimized to run with simple looks and mechanics, this game is not.
In an attempt to bring the series into a more realistic looking setting, the game not only suffers from both a staggering performance drop as well as a loss of atmosphere. Sandlot caved in several years too late and delivered a feeling that went out of style long ago. Earthly and dull colors, darkened skies, depressing atmosphere.
The juxtaposition of a serious situation amongst ludicrous visuals and bright cityscapes is somewhat lost with change.
Not saying that there is a vast improvement of the graphics that completely destroys the sense of a B-grade movie, but ants look a lot more detailed and have body parts which are blasted off with a decent sized explosion. The same goes for buildings which are blown away now in chunks rather than a simple structure that collapses all at one time.
It all seems a little too real, and "real" means out of touch with what the series has always stood for.
It's still a lot of fun and provides the same nonsensical experience, but Earth Defense Force 2025 is stuck too much in the middle trying to match graphics that resemble high budget games and the cheese which made 2017 so great, and it rarely performs at the framerate it needs too.
Either make the game look like a real game that can run at a decent speed, or make it look like an awful game that can run at a decent speed. I understand Sandlot had to make some changes to make it look better, but the corners cut might have been a bit too much.
Half-Hearted Graphical Improvement
That being said, your fellow soldiers in arms and radio personalities haven't lost an ounce of their charm. Running through a battlefield, allies will sing proud anthems, and converse with one another, using pre-recorded sound clips that obviously were not meant for one another.
Soldier 1: How about you? You have a girl at home?
Soldier 2: We'll talk about this tomorrow.
Soldier 1: I'm afraid of the dark! Can we go home?
Soldier 2: You're wrong!
Soldier 1: Killing so many bugs is going to make my wife happy!
Soldier 2: I have to believe that!
It's fun little quips like these which bring the true sense of character and personality to Earth Defense Force 2025. None of these throw away units mean anything in the long run, but when they start talking about families and their reasons to stay alive, an obligation of making sure as many survive as possible starts to crawl into the back of your mind.
You almost feel bad if one runs into your line of fire and gets killed.
"I'll see you in hell!" one says to a dying comrade. For what Earth Defense Force 2025 loses in the visuals, it almost makes up for with silly banter.
The radio also brings back the tough as nails commander and his serious female operator into Storm 1's ear. Even on solo missions, he never feels alone thanks to his allies on the other end of the line.
The true star is a new character who claims to be an expert on giant insects. Having never actually witnessed these beings in person, he remains stuttering in utter awe at them throughout the game, constantly finding out how incorrect he was at making predictions on the giant bugs and forming hypothesis, while thinking aloud, on the EDF's next plan of attack.
Editor's note: One reader has indicated that Ron missed nearly half the game. He played 50 missions and thought the tale was over. There are 85 missions. Ron pointed his mistake out to us and asked that we give him a chance to play the latter portion of this game. He is doing so, and we will update this review with his impressions afterwards.
The score may change, we don't know yet. -Joey
It's hard to rate Earth Defense Force 2025 kind of low because I do like it. On one hand, it does everything that made its predecessor escape the fate of being an awful game, including even straight up copying and pasting a few missions. Everything is such a blast to kill, and several standout missions create a great sense of chaos and destruction. Collecting weapons and learning the ins-and-outs of different classes has also never been more fun.
At the same time, in its half-hearted effort to breath life into the cardboard visuals from 2017, Sandlot sucks out a large portion of its soul and takes away from what made the first game so special, putting it into that awkward middle ground where most games go to be forgotten. Graphic "improvements" cause the game to underperform in the heat of massive battles which otherwise might have been drop dead epic if performed at maximum capacity.
If you own an Xbox 360, or even a PS Vita, check out Earth Defense Force 2017 before playing this one. It doesn't feature online play or the additional units, but it will give you a far better standard to judge what Sandlot was going after with this title. It's no doubt cheaper by now, too. If you only have a PlayStation 3, then this is the version you'll want to check out if you are interested in slaughtering giant ants by the dozens.
We purchased Earth Defense Force 2025 with our own funds and beat the game's 50 missions on normal before writing this review.
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