TGS: Finally, the Earth Defense Force We've Always Deserved

TGS: Finally, the Earth Defense Force We've Always Deserved

D3 Publisher's EDF 4.1 finally manages to marry schlocky sci-fi aesthetics to tech capable of rendering hundreds of giant space ants.

The D3 Publisher booth grabbed a fair amount of attention for its in no way work-safe booth for Oneechanbara Chaos, in which demo participants lined up to place their heads into kiosks strategically placed in the breasts of a billboard-sized image of its bikini-clad heroine.

What no one mentions amidst all the tut-tutting is that right on the other side of the D3 booth from this bizarre exercise in exploitation is an absolutely massive giant robot, roughly three stories high, standing proud as it looks down on the crowds passing by. The robot - or mech, technically - in question represents D3's other curiously long-lived franchise, Earth Defense Force. Like Oneechanbara, EDF began life on PlayStation 2 as an import-only "Simple 2000" game: A low-budget bit of schlock designed to be sold on the cheap (the "2000" in "Simple 2000" referred to the game's price of 2000 yen, or roughly $20). And like its sister series (that was a wonderful bilingual pun, by the way) EDF offered a fun and fresh concept that allowed the game to overcome its low-budget jank to find extended life on other systems and even in localization. D3 published dozens and dozens of Simple 2000 titles on PS2, but only these two series managed to find traction.

Don't be that guy, cause he's probably going to die.

The EDF games have added tons of new elements as the series has expanded, but it's never lost sight of the fundamental design concept on which it's based: You are a dude running around blowing the living bejeezus out of a wide variety of alien invaders, and also any scenery that happens to get in the way. The genius of EDF came in the fact that it married its lo-fi design to the aesthetics of similarly shoddy films; the games drew heavily on cheesy '50 sci-fi pulp films like "They Live," and its awful frame rates, miserable draw distances, and sluggish controls were the video game equivalent of footage of "giant" insects being superimposed over film of terrible actors pretending to tremble in fear.

In a sense, I suppose you could say that Earth Defense Force 4.1 misses the point. As played on PlayStation 4, at least, the game leaves behind its miserable technological shortcomings. Hordes of alien bugs swarming a city didn't make the game flinch in the least; it continued to run at a consistent if not exactly smooth 30 frames per second. And you could see for miles, or at least for a kilometer or so; the line of sight and fine detail make for a convincing digital recreation of a Japanese city. All of which makes systematically dismantling it as you stop the alien invasion - your weapons tend to shatter buildings in rubble - all the more satisfying.

Despite the more stable tech, EDF plays about the same as ever. You control a stiff soldier as he guns down various vintage sci-fi-horror tropes. It's still totally cheesy, but that's the appeal. And that's only one sort of stage; also available in the TGS demo was a battle on a totally different scale. A massive kaiju begins tearing apart the city, and your weapons prove ineffectual... so the army air-drops that mech on display at the TGS booth for you to pilot against the monster. Except the in-game mech isn't three stories tall, it's closer to 30. And it moves exactly like you'd expect a 30-story mech to move: Glacially, with ponderous weight. But it also packs a heck of a punch, provided you can actually connect with the kaiju before it knocks your mech to the ground...

Can't we talk it out?

If you've played an EDF game before, you should have a pretty good idea of what to expect from 4.1; it's as dumb and unpretentious as ever. But this time around, it plays much more smoothly than in previous generations. It could well be the ugliest PlayStation 4 game ever released - it lacks even a hint of "next gen" effects like bloom lighting - but I suppose standards and expectations are all relative. Technical competence seems like a needless luxury in this series. Big, dumb fun and comparatively smooth controls and aiming? EDF 4.1 has it all.

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