Earth Defense Force 2025: Still the King

It’s been over six years since Earth Defense Force 2017 was released outside of Japan. It’s one of the hidden gems of the early Xbox 360 catalog, and has become notoriously difficult to find a copy of in recent years due to its cult classic status. Like fine wine, it has aged to perfection, and is still an incredibly fun game to spend a few hours with – especially if you have a friend to play co-op with. I’ve written about the game quite a bit in the past, and constantly tell people about it when the opportunity arises.

Evidently, Japanese publishing house D3 Publisher is aware of the game’s retrospective popularity, because a sequel is finally on the way. Unlike 2011’s Earth Defense Force: Insect Armageddon, which was a spin-off developed by an American studio called Vicious Cycle, the impending sequel is from the studio responsible for EDF2017 – a small Japanese development house called Sandlot. After releasing in Japan back in July of this year, Earth Defense Force 2025 will reach our shores in February 2014.

This weekend at PAX Prime, D3 Publisher had a playable demo of the North American version of EDF2025 on display, and I got to spend some time with the long-awaited sequel. The good news is this: everything good about the original game is still there, and all of the new features are welcome additions to the EDF formula.

Fans of the first game will be familiar with its ridiculous, campy voice acting, and the amusingly bad translation of certain dialogue and menu options. All of that appears set to return for the sequel, including the beloved “EDF! EDF! EDF!” chant that your fellow soldiers with yell enthusiastically when you complete a mission. The audio design in general feels quite similar to the original game, with many of the same sound effects being employed in 2025. The arcade-y twinkle that plays when you pick up a new weapon or armor upgrade is still in full effect, and triggered a near-Pavlovian feeling of joy in me every time I heard it on the PAX show floor.

While all of the above, not to mention the overall theme of running around shooting giant insects, is making a triumphant return in EDF2025, this is far from a rehash or nostalgia cash-in; there’s a whole bunch of new features on offer, some of which are fixes to the minor annoyances present in the first game. Most important among these is that you’ll now be able to revive your fallen teammates when playing in co-op, instead of leaving them to rot while you try to finish the mission alone.

The rabbit hole of upgrades that made the first game so addictive will go even deeper now, too. The dozens of unlockable weapons from 2017 will return for the sequel, but will be augmented with a host of new armaments, and each individual weapon will now have the ability to gain levels. Given how time-consuming it was to simply unlock all the weapons in the first game, I suspect untold scores of hours will be required to unlock and level up everything in 2025. According to most fans of the first game, this is exactly as it should be.

Your adversaries have also been improved in some meaningful ways, as they will no longer be stuck with a single canned attack animation. In the short demo I played, the giant ants that were so ubiquitous in 2017 were once againpresent in large quantities, but this time they had some fancy new moves; a charge attack that knocks your character into the air was the most exciting of these. Also, spiders will now build webs all over the city, trapping you should you make the mistake of walking to them; this is a marked improvement over the spiders of the original game, which simply stood shooting their webs directly at you.

Completing the laundry list of major new features and improvements is a significant upgrade to the building destructibility system. Gone is 2017’s system, in which buildings simply had a predetermined destruction animation, and broke apart into a set number of big chunks. Now, buildings break dynamically based on where you shoot them, just like the environments in those fancy new Battlefield 4 videos. (Okay, maybe not quite like that.)

Everything I had hoped a Sandlot-developed sequel to EDF2017 would bring appears to be included in 2025, and no compromises have been made for the sake of accessibility or modernization. The game is still brutally difficult, incredibly rewarding to complete missions in, and offers the same insanely long progression through weapons, max health upgrades, etc. as its forebear.

Based on what I’ve seen so far, I couldn’t be more excited. As far as I’m concerned, this is still the best shooter franchise on current-gen consoles, and its complete lack of the trappings of most modern shooters is a welcome oddity amongst a sea of linear corridors and regenerating health rings. The fact that these games can be made on such a small budget compared to those of big triple-A shooters is a constant reminder that you can’t spend your way to the top. If you’re a fan of the original game, or of old-school, arcade-style shooters in general, you’re going to want to check EDF2025 out.