Imagine a world under attack by gigantic insects: ants, spiders 10-15 feet tall, firing acid and life-draining webs, dead set on destroying Earth’s human population. If you’re the type who’s prone to lose your lunch by just reading that description than you may need to move on to another game. But if you’re the type that wants to grab a giant laser and get to work saving the planet, then the Earth Defense Force series is for you.
A cult classic that made it’s way from Japan a few years ago, D3 Publisher’s polished the dust off of a couple games in the series, re-releasing them for this holiday season. One is Earth Defense 4.1: The Shadow of New Despair for the PlayStation 4, and its portable little cousin is Earth Defense Force 2: It Came from Planet Space. Though I’d definitely recommend the PS4 game if possible, EDF 2 is a good way to slay bugs when on the go, though it shows its age even with the re-release.
It Came from Planet Space is a re-release of Earth Defense Force 2 for the PSP, a direct sequel to EDF 2017 for the Xbox 360, which was originally released as Earth Defense Force 3 in Japan…if all this is bringing back memories of Final Fantasy II/IV for the Super Nintendo, know that it doesn’t matter a whole lot in the series’ grand scheme. All the story you really need to know is this: Earth thought they were done with the bugs, but they’re back with a vengeance. Using one of three distinct classes, you’ll slaughter hordes of bugs, alien spaceships, and more with an ever-expanding armament of weaponry. With all the new weapons to unlock, it feels like Diablo for third-person shooter fans, but only if Diablo were a campy B-movie.
The atmosphere in It Came from Planet Space feels like watching an old kaiju film or a 70/80s action movie; the plot isn’t something to be taken too seriously. The Earth Defense Force was formed as a global initiative to combat the alien invaders the first time they showed up, and each level is filled with mayhem as over-sized bugs wreak havoc in London, Tokyo, and other locations across the globe. If that’s your type of storyline, you’ll probably revel in the short cutscenes and the humor that comes from hearing newscasters broadcast the “horrors” of the alien attack, but you’d also be forgiven to skipping right to battle with each mission.
The game’s formula is simple: slay bugs, pick up loot, equip loot for next mission, repeat. Bugs drop health containers, armor buffs to increase your max HP in the next level, and randomized weapon for the class you’re playing, There’s no “experience” to gain per se, but if you don’t complete levels and get armor containers and new gear, you won’t be able to handle the more advanced baddies later on in the game. Even though it’s fairly easy to tell that EDF 2 was a PSP-shooter, its simplicity doesn’t rob you of fun.
The Vita has some of the most gorgeous handheld graphics out there, which might be why it’s hard to be visually stunned by Earth Defense Force 2. Though the game’s likely seen some improvement from its PSP days, there’s a certain flatness that you feel in the environments simply because the game wasn’t designed to contain enough content to meet Vita expectations. Giant buildings like Big Ben are in the game, and they look fairly detailed, but should you end up destroying it in combat with a couple “misplaced” rockets, the explosions that surround the building’s collapse look almost two-dimensional and leave giant swaths of open, boring land.
The soundtrack, while interesting on occasion, doesn’t really inspire, and the sound effects aren’t quite as rich as you’d expect from a Vita game. Then again, if you’re playing EDF, you’re probably not looking for production value; you’re here for unlocks and shooting, and It Came from Planet Space offers plenty of both.
Spread throughout the game’s three classes: the ground-based Infantry, the aerial-assaulting Pale Wings, and the heavy supporting Air Raiders, there are an almost unlimited number of lasers, rocket launchers, sniper rifles, remote turrets, machine guns, and more to use to repel the alien menace. Both the Infantry and Air Raiders are slow-moving, ground-based forces. They can use vehicles located in the levels like tanks and airbikes, but where the Infantry carry a spread of weapons effective for solo fighting, the Air Raiders weapon set makes them a better support class, allowing them to call in air strikes and other massive attacks based on the number of kills the party has gotten thus far in the match. Pale Wings, on the other hand, are lightly-armored soldiers with jetpacks that allow them to move quickly from site-to-site, taking the battle to the skies when need be.
Technically, you could play levels with any class (though choosing the wrong class or weapons for a mission can drastically increase its completion time), but the bug/alien slaying frenzy is obviously designed to be shared with other players.
EDF 2 allows either ad-hoc or online multiplayer for up to four players in either cooperative or free-for-all rumbles. Though the rumble mode wasn’t tested before the review, the ability to play through each of the games 35+ missions with up to three other fellow EDFers makes for a pretty exciting time. With a variety of classes and weapon types in a party, you can take on new strategies to eliminate the enemy like never before, and crank up the difficulty to new heights. You can use the Playstation Network party chat to talk with friends over the game, but when playing with strangers there’s also a huge list of pre-created emotes to utilize, making it easy to communicate with your team.
My only issue with the cooperative mode was the loot; according to the manual, each player receives a copy of every weapon and armor pickup obtained in the match, which I hoped meant that playing with players in other classes would help you unlock weapons across those classes as well as your own. Instead, it seems as if you simply get a weapon in your chosen class for each item picked up on the field. It’s a minor complaint in the grand scheme of things, one that might be alleviated with higher difficulty play. Also worth noting that online multiplayer can only be done over Wi-Fi, so if you have a 3G Vita and planned to play on the bus, you’ll have to stick with single-player.
Overall, fans of the EDF franchise who want to play the game on a modern system will have a good time with Earth Defense Force 2: It Came from Planet Space, and newcomers can enjoy it as well. Though I’d definitely recommend the PS4’s Earth Defense Force 4.1 over this game when given the option, the ability to play online with others and use the full PSN Vita experience with party chat makes it a good choice for folks looking to cooperatively frag alongside friends.