Earth Defense Force 2017 PS Vita Review
When I first heard that D3 Publisher planned to port the years-old action RPG Earth Defense Force 2017 to Vita, I really didn't understand the point, but now I'm kind of glad they did it. The publisher has always been a great source for interesting, but quirky Japanese titles, but there was something unique about EDF 2017 as it came to US audiences and Xbox 360s at just the right time with a brand of action-RPG gameplay that was a rare find on consoles. Its cheesy voice acting and decent, if not wonderful action aren't exactly top-shelf, but the particular brand of loot hunting that the developers have promoted felt very original back in the spring of 2007, when the 360 had few games like this.
Turns out, though, that the situation that 360 was in back in the spring of 2007 - with few games combining action and role-playing - is exactly what the PS Vita is in right now at the beginning of 2013. Without many Vita games combining the two genres together, D3 Publisher has swooped in again at the right time, and they've probably made a good choice with the game they chose as EDF 2017's visuals aren't exactly demanding, and the more simplistic, muddily-textured cities can actually be helpful on the Vita's high-res, but comparatively small screen.
But this game is well over five years old and was ported in a barebones fashion from its Japanese version the first time around, and even here with this Vita port which enhances features rather than graphics or sound, it still feels like a rather quick port. It's forgivable, though, because this game was, and in many ways still is, incredibly addictive and fun. The first mission depicts the initial UFO invasion, with huge alien ants dropping onto a Japanese city while you're on foot with the task of taking out all of the invaders. Armor upgrades drop from alien corpses, each of which serve to give you one extra health point if you survive into later missions, and yes, those do add up as you pick up hundreds over the course of the game. New weapons also randomly drop once in a while, and these are the most important pickups you'll get, as they have a chance of unlocking a new gun. Health pickups keep you alive in mid-mission, too, of course.
Later missions bring in flying sci-fi drones, big 1950s-style pulp walking robots, and even hulking alien spiders, all with the aim of killing you and terrorizing the populace. This game is the story of one little guy (or up to four in online cooperative mode) with huge guns taking on a massive horde of large aliens, and by way of the many upgrades you get throughout the game, the impossible becomes doable and eventually can even become easy.
But even though the weapon drops are completely randomized, you've still got choices to make. Not only can you pick only two guns at a time out of the eventual very large arsenal of assault rifles, grenade launchers, shotguns, rocket and missile launchers, special weapons, and more, but you've also got to decide what difficulty you think you can survive on, as the game asks you for each mission you start which of five difficulties you want to play on, and that adjusts enemy damage and health as well as the drops. At first, Normal and Hard mode is a pretty good bet, but eventually you'll be able to go back and do earlier missions on those or two even harder difficulties - the game asks what difficulty you want every time you select a mission - for a chance at different, and often better, weapon pickups.
And this is where EDF 2017 gets its hooks into you. The hunt for better weapons is still randomized, but it's also at least somewhat controllable. You'll read that some really good weapons are available in this particular mission on a higher difficulty, so you create a goal for yourself to be able to survive it. You might need more Armor upgrades, you might need the right type of weapon from a later mission on Normal difficulty, and you might need a particular tactic, but once you get that immensely powerful weapon, you'll blaze through at least a few new missions easily. This is exactly the kind of mechanics that power games like the Borderlands series and Diablo before it, so at least until Gearbox does decide to get a Vita port of Borderlands 2 made - and that may never happen, of course - your desire for looting and shooting is best met right here with a years-old game that's ugly, and brutal, and frankly very frustrating to play at some times.
Speaking of frustration, online cooperative mode has been built into EDF 2017, and while I applaud the developers for building it and even supplying a few rules on limitations of weapon types and such so that players in the same game are on a level playing field, it's a pretty busted online mode. The biggest issue I had right off the bat is that people generally pick fairly difficult missions, so there's a lot of dying, and luckily a friendly can come by and tap the Select button to bring you back up if you die, but these missions will take a while. And if at any point the host quits or gets disconnected, all other players get booted back to the menu without getting to keep any of the items they picked up. (That's rooted in the game's normal rules that you only keep loot from a mission if you successfully complete it and lose it all if you die, which is fine, but it's rather unfair here in online play.) And what's even more frustrating is that all the loot that drops on a map is shared, so you will often see one guy just running around and hogging everything.
Considering that one of the main points of this game is to get new loot to be able to complete more missions on harder difficulties, having the online play conspire to take loot away from you as much as possible is just not conducive to using online play to actually progress in the early game. At this point, going online is best suited for getting through missions you otherwise wouldn't be able to, and even then you're still at the mercy of your online squadmates' internet connections and sense of propriety when it comes to sharing drops.
Online modes (including a rather pointless versus mode I barely even want to acknowledge) aren't the only new additions in EDF 2017 for Vita. There are new missions and weapons and even the Pale Wing suit, but it's been so long since I last played EDF 2017 on 360, I couldn't even tell you which of the content is new and which was in the original. Unfortunately, a few of the silliest flaws from the first version also return, like the lack of a reload button and the awful handling of vehicles that makes them not worth even trying to deal with in most missions. I'm also completely baffled at the $40 price tag for this, along with the intention to sell additional DLC for the game on top of it. I think D3 and Sony would be selling many more copies of this if they set a more reasonable price.
Earth Defense Force 2017 is not really a good looking game, nor is its sound anything to hold in high regard, but it gets a lot of its gameplay right, and somehow this quirky title always seems to show up at just the right time on a system to let us know that yes, loot-heavy action RPGs are still a total blast to play - even if other publishers out there haven't bothered to fulfill our wishes for more of them. On the PS Vita, EDF 2017 gives us mostly what we want, even if the port could have been quite a bit better. Sure, there are frame rate issues, a bit of control wonkiness and missteps with online play, but at least some of that can be overlooked once you realize how few games like this are available on any portable system, not just the Vita. The hefty price tag is certainly prohibitive, but you can't put a price on fun. Well, you can, but everyone puts a different price on a different kind of fun. If you're looking for a loot-oriented shooter, stop holding your breath for that Borderlands 2 port, which may never materialize, and come join the EDF. (But Sony, get PS Plus subscribers a solid discount for this, because forty bucks is still too much to ask!)
Disclaimer: This review is based on a final version provided to us by the publisher.