S.H. Skaife’s: Earth Defense Force 2025 Review

Not pictured: an insect

Not pictured: an insect

I have saved more insects and arachnids than I have killed. The arachnids and insects I have killed have been humanely euthanized when found in a state of terminal suffering. (Or were unlucky victims of involuntary antslaughter). For anyone who might consider accepting Natural Selection as the predominant force behind evolution, I would suggest they study—with a keen scientific eye—the incomprehensible number of well-bred species who routinely attempt suicide in a wonderful, dizzying number of depraved ways.

However, when confronted with unreality I am an unashamed sadist. I hoped that Earth Defense [sic] Force 2025 would at the very least offer me the opportunity to live out a few sick, sadistic fantasies that abominable children across the world—and adults mortally afraid of harmless home invaders—act out every day. And Earth Defense [sic] Force 2025 did not disappoint.

Not only do unfathomable legions of ants (both silver and red)—and the same quantity of spider varieties—storm the player, but they fly gracefully through the air upon explosive caress; feelers and legs falling from the sky as beautiful, formic acid rain. Upon death each cute little ant or spider expels its bodily fluids; an ever so satisfying feedback loop that thus compels one to kill. Kill!

Ants and spiders alike climb skyscrapers and quaint little Japanese suburban homes so as to spray their acidic or webby bodily fluids from above. One is confronted with an entire screen of creepy crawlies: not a horizontal plane of popup moles. But not to fear: nothing manmade remains made long. That’s a debt we can’t back out of; at least when armed with explosive weaponry. All architectures (except those reinforced by spider web; which makes perfect scientific sense) are just as fragile as the tiny (gigantic) feet molesting their sensitive concrete and glass surfaces.

Which poses the question: destroy the hiding places and forced pathways for both humans and ground-bound adversarial life forms alike, or use those pathways to funnel the vast armies of funnel webs so as to control their movements and attacks in a safer manner? And what of that great legion of reinforcements at the edge of the map that could presently be being thinned; but for the skyscape of skyscrapers? When faced with what feels like thousands of eight and six-legged goose stepping tyrants, such simple strategic decisions are gargantuan.

Fun fact: honey is bee vomit.

Fun fact: honey is bee vomit; imagine how good their faeces must taste.

The simplest of strategic mistakes can mean instant death: thin out the ranks, or blow up the 30 anthills (a pun; not statistic) spitting them out? Scenario one: the ranks cannot be thinned out faster than they re-rank; Scenario two: the ranks are so great that they surround the anthill in an impenetrable testudo; Scenario three: put both former Scenarios into action at once, and thin out the ranks while raking through the fallen ranks towards each anthill where one will presently dodge formic acid and feelers whilst spitting back hot lead at the anthill in close proximity.

At the same time one must act out one’s hastily composed, spur of the moment plan to perfection if one is confronted by insurmountable numbers of dangerous mechanical monsters and dragons (mutated lizards) and more. The slightest technical error can mean instant death, even if one has followed one’s tactics to a tee. Failure becomes infuriating. Intolerable. But the earth won’t save itself (well, what’s left of it after one’s rocket launchers are through), and just as unbearable as failure can be; success is even more satisfying.

Mistakes do not always guarantee failure, and somersaulting out of the way of the carpet bombing of dragon breath that has taken the noble lives of one’s well-loved comrades (ever useful–but insufferably dumb–cannon fodder) only to avenge them with one perfectly timed, perfectly placed rocket blast, feels immense. The strategies, the effort, and the grit fade away into fatigued satisfaction.

"Why did you choose to get married?" "There is no reason."

“Why did you choose to get married?”
“There is no reason.”

There is no spontaneity or spark in the level design. There is nothing complicated. And this is exactly why such great heights of satisfaction can be reached. Place the player in a punishing, but utterly fair and completely predictable scenario, and let the player work out just how it can be beaten; removing chance from the equation almost completely. It would be nice if the human cannon fodder did not wander chanting EDF! EDF! into one’s carefully timed rocket blast—killing them and one’s self as well—, however. One hopes that their newlywed, newlywidowed wives suffer. Greatly.

Within these narrow confines (I speak of complexity; not scale: most levels are as impossibly big as the organic, metallic and concrete legions that infest them) a wonderful ebb and flow is achieved, entirely incumbent on the player. A dynamic push and shove between man and insect-arachnid-machine-lizard. Both man and insect-arachnid-machine-lizard are motivated by bloodlust to advance. If man has the upper hand, then man advances guns’ blazing upon insect-arachnid-machine-lizard, pushing insect-arachnid-machine-lizard back to the edge of the map; if insect-arachnid-machine-lizard has the upper foot, then man is pushed back: somersaulting away or jogging backwards whilst trying desperately to squash the horde before (behind?) them. The last few remnants perhaps fleeing to the edge of the map: several kilometres away.

The simple design philosophy engorges Earth Defense [sic] Force 2025 with 85 levels. Not including the 9 online-only missions. Online is just as effective as splitscreen, but unfortunately, and just like the splitscreen co-op, one cannot join a game in progress: which makes getting into a game occasionally painful. Perhaps a quarter of the 85 missions might be derisively described as filler; where old level design principles are reused with little imagination or reinvention. But these filler missions sometimes provide a welcome chance to relax and slaughter after a series of particularly intense and challenging skirmishes. Probably involving [not the] bees[!] or dragons.

Around the filler, the other missions build to regular climaxes. Gigantic mechanical monstrosities might take several missions to destroy, and new adversaries are introduced at an enthralling pace: a simple mission first so that the player might learn how to kill them, then they are blended with all other adversaries thus far introduced into dastardly concoctions designed masterfully to challenge and bemuse. Though, enchanting introductions fade towards the conclusion; the established cast are nevertheless blended into an adequately nutritious, bloody milkshake.

The arcade style structure of the levels where missions sometimes last only several minutes and contain predictable waves of ordered enemies, makes them inherently replayable; even without any end of mission score screen to motivate the player further. Which is a good thing because, if one does not wish to lower the difficulty (which one can do at any time; or raise it, too), then one might reach a point where one needs to grind. The impact is thus lessened, but still tangibly intrusive.

Not picture: a lizard.

Not picture: a lizard.

Armour upgrades and weapons (and invaluable health packs) are dropped by defeated hordes and must be picked up mid-battle, which is often an awkward or time consuming process. And so—depending on mood—it is sometimes less intrusive to replay old missions for extra armour or new weapons; of course, it also helps that replaying the first few missions on the hardest difficulty (not the “hardest” difficulty) yields powerful weapons for grey, mouse-coloured people otherwise playing on lower difficulties. However, even the greyest of rodents should not play below medium (“hard”, which is aptly named; despite its median placement) as the sturdy challenge is an intrinsic part of Earth Defense [sic] Force 205’s design, and the arcade sensibilities grow wearisome as mere insect safari.

These collectible weapons provide just as much strategic food for thought as the level design and wave order. Even within weapon classes, the weapon that one chooses dictates to a high degree how one must approach battle. A miniscule detail such as the reload time between two different sniper rifles can make an immeasurable difference in practice: the difference between success and failure. Victory is in the detail.

An even more important, and more immediate, decision is that of class. There are four classes, each as different as the weapons are to one another, and, although one can switch between classes at any time and play any unlocked level, one must stick with a class over the entirety of the campaign if one wishes to truly succeed: weapons and armour do not carry across between the classes.

That's me on the left.

Unfortunately you can’t play as the second-from-the-right photobomber.

How foolish I was to follow Earth Defense [sic] Force 2025’s advice and choose Mister Vanilla, the infantryman whose greatest athletic achievement is to somersault diagonally so as to traverse downtown Tokyo at greater than a snail’s pace. I might have been flying from skyscraper to skyscraper as an anime angel festooned with a science fiction armoury. Or a seemingly more vanilla infantryman—until he is safely tucked away in a menacing tank or mech where he reveals himself to be far more Neapolitan than his countryman. What about a morbidly obese, armoured acid sponge who can don an anti-ant fencing shield and Gatling gun?

Foolish as I was, the simplicity of Mister Vanilla might just be the best way to appreciate the astounding mechanical achievements of Earth Defense [sic] Force 2025. That I could never merely block an incoming arachnid, or fly over a legion of red ants, or hop into a mech at the first sight of dragons and bees (not actually a recommend strategy; merely a metaphor), meant I was forced to confront the game within the natural confines and conventions of any other third person shooter.

Two weapons? Somersaults instead of anime acrobatics? Oh, how there were times when I fantasised about flying away, or hiding behind armoured sheets of steel. That I persevered with the meagre arsenal at my disposal cannot be underestimated. Nor can it be considered a great personal achievement: the at-first-seemingly stiff, but then buttery smooth, accurate aiming of the weaponry and the simplicity of the movement; the tactility of the somersaulting and circle strafing; and the feedback of collapsing concrete, metal and inhuman flesh infuse the simple, yet exceptional level design and campaign composition with complementary aplomb. It is just a terrible, unforgivable pity that whenever Earth Defense [sic] Force 2025 reaches (and even when it does not) the most unbelievable, absurd level of grandiose scale, that such visceral pleasure is swallowed up by a slumberous slideshow of screenshots.