Imagine a wholly simplistic shooter that lets you carry two weapons into battle, pilot clunky vehicles to do extra damage, collect two-dimensional armor and weapon power-ups, and fight off hordes of giant alien bugs, robots, and UFOs, while also blasting away the occasional comically massive boss for good measure. Can you guess what decade this game could be from? The answer might surprise you. D3 and developer Sandlot Games' Earth Defense Force 2017 is like a game out of time. If this were 1987 instead of 2007, some company like Data East or Irem would have churned this baby out on the NES or Sega Master System as a scrolling or top-down shooter with then-gigantic enemies that blew apart to pixelated messes. Now, fast-forward 20 years, render that same concept in 3D, scale all the creepy-crawly and mechanized enemies up by somewhere around 300-fold, and then don't touch the gameplay mechanics a lick except to throw in an awkward dodge maneuver, and you've got yourself Earth Defense Force 2017. Of course, the incredible scale of the bugs, buildings, and bots you're blowing up helps alleviate somewhat the sensation that you have no business playing a game that feels this ancient on the Xbox 360, but even with its overly old-school mechanics, Earth Defense Force 2017 is a surprisingly good time--especially for its cheaper-than-average price.
For those with extreme phobias of spiders, ants, UFOs, giant robots, copious amounts of laser fire, or easily collapsible buildings, Earth Defense Force 2017 might be a nice bit of immersion therapy.
The premise of Earth Defense Force 2017 is that in a decade from now, aliens decide to come to Earth, and they're none too friendly. Earth had a bit of an early warning that these invaders from above were on the way, so they formed a cadre of soldiers known as the Earth Defense Force to stave off any attacks. Those attacks come in the form of ants and spiders the size of kitchens, mammoth robots with gun-arms longer and wider than should be possible while still walking upright, and massive UFOs that rain down even more enemies, as well as the occasional bout of laser fire. There's not much story, save for some delightfully hammy "rah-rah" shouting from your fellow EDF soldiers and a bit of radio dialogue between your commanding officers and other EDF members that frequently get slaughtered ahead of you. But what's here goes nicely with the patently B-grade sci-fi theme the game has wrapped itself up in. It's just too bad your character doesn't interact more with others, or have more personality--actually, any personality would have been a nice touch.
There are 53 missions in the game, and all of them involve exterminating one brand of foe or another. You'll travel through cities, countrysides, and even some deep, dark caves to blow up these ugly invaders, and you won't have to think much while you're doing it. EDF is nearly strategy-free gameplay. Save for the decision of which weapons you want to take into battle (somewhere around 150 unlockable weapons are in the game, some better for certain tasks than others), there's really no need to use your brain as you run around, laying waste to whatever ugly thing gets within sight of your targeting reticle. If you're the sort of person that revels in the chance to just blow things up wantonly and watch the bug guts and fireballs fly, then EDF should prove to be a riotous experience for you. Not only do the robots and other enemies die horribly, but you can blow away pretty much any piece of the scenery you please, as well. Buildings crumble like a cookie with a single rocket blast, trees uproot at the slightest explosion, and parked cars like to go flying through the air.
The game's sense of scale is really impressive, as are some of the explosion and destruction effects. Enemies are mammoth in size, especially some of the boss characters, which dwarf many of the taller buildings in the game. However, as cool as the scale of it all is, the game does have a cheap look to it overall. Environments are flat and blocky, and the game's insects don't blow up so much as they just go stiff and start bouncing around the environment until they eventually flicker out. And instead of crashing, enemy UFOs just give off a bunch of explosions and then slowly sink directly into the ground. Even your character doesn't look all that good. He's just a generic grunt dressed like all the other generic grunts, and he often looks like he's got some kind of cybernetic swiveling hip bone as he contorts while trying to aim every which way. The frame rate is also quite erratic, chunking up significantly whenever extreme amounts of action are going on. Still, the game's immense scale and wonderfully cheesy art style do a good bit to make up for a number of the game's technical deficiencies.
Co-op play is nice, but it would have been even better if it were online.