Why Earth Defence Force 4.1 demands respect

Expansive co-op content, depth of weapons and classes, originality for the genre--Why such mixed reception?

It appears the internet at large has a hard time taking Earth Defence Force: The Shadow of New Despair seriously. The critics are half-right here -- the spirit of the game shouldn't be taken too seriously, nor should its overly dramatic title. It's Saturday-morning-cartoon, Starship Troopers level cheesy. But people don't seem to get it. 

And if you're exposed only briefly to the game, you don't realize that it's fully aware of its own silliness. But the more you listen to the dialogue of the advisers and fellow troops over the radio, there comes a point where you know without a doubt that these guys are goofy as a chocolate chip crumpet. It's just delivered in such a dry manner that you have to play through a while to be sure it's even happening, especially if it's your first tour of duty in the EDF. 

"I'm used to the dark. My neighborhood turned the lights out every night."
-- A gruff EDF trooper. 

Critics have been quick to judge the game by its lack of polish in the visuals department. I can't hold personal tastes too harshly against anyone, but firstly it needs to be considered that this is an HD release of a late PS3 title, recently released on PS4 before coming to Steam. Secondly, at times the onscreen chaos that frequents EDF 4.1 is bonkers. Anyone with a little tech knowledge can tell you that simpler visuals help maintain frame rate. It isn't really something that's meant to be played to gaze in awe of the scenery, so much as it's purely about keeping busy playing.

Above: Several reasons not to stop and check if the game has lens flare.

So, a diamond in the rough?

Now that I've addressed a couple of common nitpicks, let's talk about what can be learned from this game, and what seemingly goes unnoticed by cover-judging naysayers: The gameplay! It's frantic, engaging, and satisfying. Even favorable reviews of the game will give remarks like 'fun for some mindless action' -- and yet before I'm even halfway through the campaign, the missions are toughening up. At times, myself and 2 or 3 allies in the lobby will take a few minutes to re-assess our equipment load-outs, perhaps suggesting a game plan for our next attempt as we do so.

There comes a point, sooner than you'd think, that mindless won't cut it. You'll just go splat, which is incidentally what the 'giant insects' should be doing. Sure, there's a lot of shooting. A lot. At times, pure aggression is the correct approach. But there is method and depth here, and certainly a more solid-than-many co-op experience, between the 4 classes and the array of equipment available, all aimed at very different combat scenarios -- not to mention the 5 levels of difficulty available, to keep the enthusiasts coming back for more.

Not always the most practical vehicle of choice... Whatever, Megazord go!

To give a prime example, an Air Raider (Air strikes and vehicle guy) and a Fencer (Shields and heavy/melee guy) can buddy up to laser-designate a target, which the Fencer then locks-on to and fires a house-sized missile toward. The difficulty of pulling this off can vary, but damn if it isn't a high-five moment when you one-shot a tough enemy with it. The 4 classes play wildly different, and I have yet to see any lazy weapon-crossovers between them. The female-only, jet-pack-toting Wing Divers exclusively use colorful but destructive laser and plasma weapons.

EDF 4.1's innovations and interesting, viable choices are something that I don't see nearly as often as I'd like -- certainly in the 1st/3rd person shooter genre, or even just co-op in general. Any developer could learn from EDF 4.1, and certainly so if they're focused on co-op, class-based action. I commend Sandlot for bringing in some great ideas.

There's even split-screen. On PC. Hear that, AAA Developers?

The last example that comes to mind of any similarity (3rd person, co-op, aliens!) is Lost Planet 2 from Capcom, six years ago. And that game that took itself more seriously. As is so common with such AAA-value titles, however, it lacked a great deal of content for all its visual polish. 

If you have a friend or two, or even if you don't (there's the online players), you can appreciate a game for being a game, not a film; and if you can accept those 'budget developer' visuals, then play this game, be challenged, and have fun with what's on offer underneath what may appear to be a misleading, cheap exterior.

I can only conclude that EDF 4.1's mixed reception is a product of the times we're in, where video games are always expected (by some) to have enthralling narratives and rich characters, paired with flawless cutting-edge graphics. At times, that alone can make a title fly to fame, even if the gameplay is shallow after one playthrough of 10 hours.

Hayter's gonna hate.

I know there are gamers who value engagement through action, strategy, and jolly human cooperation, though. Otherwise the likes of eSports would never have gotten off the ground. We should observe that it's a very short list of games that allow you to wield power fists to fight building-sized insects and robots, versus the list for shooting zombies and terrorists. Let us reward originality, and pay its due so we can continue to enjoy pushing the boundaries and sub-genres of the video game medium.

Published Aug. 3rd 2016
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