The Earth Defense Force series of third-person shooters started out as budget titles on the Playstation 2 in Japan, though they also made it to Europe with new branding as either Monster Attack or Global Defence Force. Americans didn’t have a chance to experience the series until the third main game Earth Defense Force 2017 launched on Xbox 360 in 2007 (and later, the Playstation Vita). The fans of niche titles who were fortunate enough to play 2017 quickly fell in love with its bizarre fifties sci-fi vibe, huge hordes of enemies, and massively destructible environments.
The American developed sequel, Earth Defense Force: Insect Armageddon unfortunately didn’t fare as well as its predecessor. Smaller hordes of bullet-sponge enemies, a slow and painful grinding system, too few levels and enemy types, and awful writing and voice acting all led to disappointment for series enthusiasts. Now at long last, Sandlot and publishers D3 and Namco Bandai have delivered the true follow-up to 2017 as Earth Defense Force 2025 on Xbox 360 and Playstation 3. 2025 is one amazing game if you give it a chance.
Earth’s only hope
EDF 2025 takes place seven years after the last game (the story ignores Insect Armageddon). Humanity has rebuilt after the last alien invasion. Suddenly an armada of giant insects erupts from below a Japanese metropolis and terrorizes the citizens. The alien Ravagers and their army of bugs, robots, and monsters are back!
That’s what you’ll be doing in all of 2025’s 85-plus levels: fighting lots and LOTS of bugs and robots. A few simple cinematics play before certain levels, but the narrative mainly develops through in-game radio chatter. EDF commanders, soldiers, scientists, and even news reporters provide unique commentary during each level. The actors deliver their lines with earnestness and just a touch of tongue in cheek, which is often quite funny and lends to the B-movie atmosphere nicely.
The one thing Insect Armageddon really got right was adding four unique classes to the EDF formula. 2025 borrows the idea, offering four distinct classes of its own:
- Ranger: The all-around soldier class returns from 2017. He’s fast, has good health, and versatile weaponry such as assault rifles, rockets, and missile launchers.
- Wing Diver: Probably the best class in the game, this female character can fly at high speeds thanks to her jetpack. Her weapons and jetpack both draw from the same energy reserve (which replenishes after a brief time), so players need to balance flight and firing.
- Air Raider: This support class lacks much in the way of weaponry, though he does get some remote control explosives and wire traps. He can refill other players’ health and weapon energy, and even summon vehicles like tanks, helicopters (which handle terribly), and mechs.
- Fencer: The tank class carries a whopping four weapons (or shields) at a time. His weapons include hammers, spears, Gatling guns, and more. Fencers move excruciatingly slowly on their own, but certain weapons give them the ability to dash and dash-cancel rapidly.
Collect (and blast) them all
While each class is different and fun to play, the true joy of EDF comes from its structure and grinding system. The offline campaign consists of 85 stages, which tend to last from 5-15 minutes each. Every stage can also be played on five different difficulties. And unlike most games, players are actually encouraged to play on all those difficulties. Weapon drops vary by difficulty, so harder difficulties dole out much better loot than lower ones.
Yes, 2025 has lots of juicy loot to find. Enemies randomly drop weapon crates, armor (which boosts your maximum health), and health refills. You won’t know what weapons you’ve picked up until the level ends, at which point weapons and armor get tallied up. With an arsenal of 790 weapons spread across the four classes, loot hunters will love searching for all those guns on the various difficulty levels.
The other element that makes EDF so special is its destruction. Enemies come in gigantic swarms, which make for spectacular explosions of bug bits when they get blasted with explosive weaponry. Not only that, but virtually every building in the game is fully destructible as well. Blasting buildings out of the way makes the aliens easier to find, and the game doesn’t even penalize for it either.
As most Diablo players know, killing monsters and hunting for loot can be so much more fun with a friend. 2025 capitalizes on that by offering both 2-player split-screen co-op and 4-player online co-op. The split-screen player can’t access her own profile or earn Achievements, however. She’ll have to use the main player’s characters and weapons.
The online mode is 2025’s multiplayer ace in the hole. All four players use their own profiles and can earn Achievements, provided each plays from his own system. Split-screen players can join online games, but the guest player is still restricted to sharing progress with the first-player.
Offline, both players share armor pick-ups but only the class that picks up a weapon gets to keep it. Everyone gets a weapon or armor pick-up when someone picks one up during online games, eliminating concerns about hogging the loot.
Strangely, level unlocking progress is separate for offline and online games. Reach the 13th mission offline won’t unlock it online, or vice versa. That does provide extra replay value, since you’ll pick up more weapons and armor each time you play through either mode. Online also adds nine extra missions to keep players busy.
The actual online lobby interface is beyond clunky, but at present there are open games at all hours of the day. One annoying aspect of joining games in progress is that you have to wait in the lobby until the other players finish their mission. The game doesn’t let you watch their progress or even display a timer of how long they’ve been in the mission. 2025 is Sandlot’s first online game as far as I know; hopefully they streamline the online modes in their future games.
2025 currently has two downloadable mission packs, with a third on the way later this month. The first costs $2.99 and includes five new missions, while the second and third ring up at $8.99 and pack twenty new missions each (all of which support the standard five difficulty levels). None of them add new Achievements, but that doesn't mean they're not worth buying.
The first pack is so short, you can probably skip it unless you're a completionist. But the second pack is a must-have. It contains the game's single best level for farming weapons and armor (Mission 16), a new enemy variant or two, and some exhilaratingly tough missions. Hopefully the third pack will prove just as enjoyable.
If you’re looking for a quick and easy 1,000 Gamerscore, EDF 2025 is not for you. Its Achievements fall into two very time consuming categories. First there are Achievements for beating the campaign with all four characters on four of the five difficulties. That’s a whopping 16 playthroughs of a very long game! That number can be cut in half by playing split-screen with two different classes, since each class gets credit for beating levels together.
Besides completing the main campaign, you’ll also gain Achievements for collecting various percentages of the weapons. It will take some grinding (and probably a bit of online research) in order to find them all. 2025 will keep Achievement hunters busy for a very long time.
Earth Defense Force 2025 is a niche title that won’t appeal to everybody. Although improved from 2017, the graphics remain unspectacular and the frame rate dips when things get hectic. Sandlot is a small developer with big ambitions, after all. The relatively low-fi visuals enhance the game’s B-movie atmosphere, really.
2025 is so unabashedly fun and offers such a wealth of content, making its minor flaws much easier to forgive. If you like hunting for loot, chaotic firefights, and blowing things up, don’t hesitate to give this one a chance. Note that the Xbox 360 version of 2025 maintains a much higher frame rate than the Playstation 3 version, especially in split-screen. Xbox is definitely the way to go with this particular game.