Publisher: D3Publisher of America
# of Players: 1 – 4
ESRB Rating: T (Teen)
Score: A (95%)
Much more than a straightforward “port” of the former Xbox 360 exclusive, Earth Defense Force 3 Portable comes screaming onto the Vita as the game developer Sandlot most likely wanted to make in the first place. The return of Pale Wing and her energy-based weaponry (from EDF 2 on the PS2 and EDF 2 Portable PSP) adds a new way to experience the game while an up to four-player co-op mode, rebalanced and all-new weapon drops, new enemy types, trophies galore and seven new levels makes this an absolute must-buy for anyone with a Vita. For those who’ve played the 360 version to death, there’s definitely enough new content there to get you equally obsessed (and yes, perhaps it’s finally time to get that Vita if you’ve been on the fence). Don’t let that $39.99 price point for a download put you off one bit, as there are dozens, if not over a hundred hours of gameplay here, especially if you’re looking to grab one really hard to obtain Platinum Trophy.
While the supermodel thin plot is straight out of an old 50’s “B” movie, the playable characters never utter a word and the only exposition you’ll get comes from brief in-engine cut scenes before some levels (and in the middle of others, but these can be turned off in the options so as not to disrupt gameplay), the game instantly grabs you thanks to the pure fun of the arcade-like gameplay and the almost overwhelming odds you’re up against in every stage. As someone who’s played every game in the series to date, I can add that Sandlot has definitely rebalanced the game so that Easy mode is a wee bit too easy even in solo play. This was most likely done to get more casual players into the game, a good decision considering how difficult things get on the harder modes. With their geometric increases in challenge, Hardest and the supremely daunting Inferno modes are both definitely going to have even the most hardcore fans who dive in alone shaking their fists at their Vitas in spots.
Thanks to some weapons from the 360 version being changed to reflect the possibility of up to three additional live players, the game will be tougher for EDF veterans (save for those master players who can blaze through the most brutal stages with a minimum of armor). For Storm 1, some turret drops are cut to 1 or 2 instead of 2 o 3, so you’ll need to work harder when dealing with packs of ants and spiders. For a bit more challenge, some of the new weapon drops are trade-offs where you’re getting great power and range at the cost of the ability to run. Using these new backpack weapons is risky even in levels where you have enough time to lumber away from slower enemies, but forget about using them in any cave missions or on Hard mode and up unless you plan to play online and have some decent support to back you up. Mobility is just as important as having some great gear in an EDF game, so thankfully, Storm 1 can still do that combat roll move when burdened.
Speaking of mobile, the vehicles are the same as in EDF 3 on the 360 and yes, they have the same wonky “you’ll get used to it” controls and durability levels. The main change from the 360 version is now you’ll get a prompt to press SELECT when near a ride. I made it through the game twice before I so much as touched that tank, helicopter, speeder bike or mech suit simply because I was used to not using them in solo play save for one or two maps where things got tough on the harder modes. That said, there are Trophies for using the different rides to take out enemies, so like them or not, you’ll be using them if you want those rewards. In fact, the game coughs up many more awards than the 360 version (which had a mere six Achievements total) and you’ll need to play solo and online to gain every single one. Even if you’re not into Trophies, completing the game on every difficulty will take a huge amount of time for most players.
Experimentation is key to enjoying and mastering an EDF game, so it’s all up to you what weapons you use and how well you get them to do what you want them to in some cases. In addition to the wealth of machine guns, shotguns, grenade, guided missile and rocket launchers, sniper rifles and grenades, there are some offbeat experimental weapons that range from awesome to completely useless if you’re stuck with say, a green puff shooting gun that just makes ants shake a bit before they acid spray and bite you to death. Then again, firing off a mushroom-shaped gun that briefly stops enemies in their tracks (complete with a little balloon above their heads signifying they’re dazed) comes in handy as long as you have a backup gun to take them out. For sheer uselessness, however, that Torch you get is so intentionally pathetic (it’s a holdover from the 360 game) that you have to wonder why Sandlot wasted the inventory slot. Then again, with well over 100 weapons for each character, you’ll have too many choices as you “farm” through levels.
For new players (and those who’ve only played the Xbox 360 version) Pale Wing is a fantastic character to replay the game with (she’s unlocked after you beat any difficulty once), but she starts off the game with half the armor as Storm 1 with one slightly terrible short-range and a decent long range weapon. As with Storm 1, farming levels for new gear becomes a primary means of boosting her stats and gear so she can survive longer. She’s MUCH more fun to play overall and her weapons are more devastating against certain enemy types. The big concession here is both flying and shooting most of her weapons consume her energy reserves, meaning you can’t go too far with guns blazing before she’s out of power and needs to recharge.
Finding the proper balance where you’re taking out enemies quickly while not taking too much damage and finding enough breathing room is always a challenge, particularly when you wind up with some weapons that drain her energy completely or even past her reserves. At least she never needs to worry about special weapons that can’t be reloaded like Storm 1’s alien tech drops. Pale Wing also has a bunch of weapons that can be used during “emergency reload” situations, so it’s key to play around as much as you can with each new toy you earn. While you can hop online and zip around with other live players, it’s best to dive into solo play for a few days so you can blow through Easy mode, unlock Pale Wing, get a bunch of cool gear and beef up your armor. You won’t survive at all if it’s just you and up to three other newbies who don’t understand that simply hopping into even Normal mode against a few waves of spiders is a really bad idea.
There are seven new stages here, plus some older stages with new enemy types (gold ants, super slow brighter red ants, tougher two-toned spiders and some bigger enemy flying craft) so again, those who’ve played the 360 game will see a few new things. Granted, the same handful of massive maps are recycled, but you’re inserted into these maps at different times of day, different start locations and in different stages of destruction in order to keep you coming up with new tactics to deal with what’s coming to kill you. One minor issue I still have from the original version is the lack of structure in terms of how some stages are laid out. EDF and EDF 2 had a narrative that placed you in maps that for the most part logically progressed as the cities fell under their alien invasions. EDF 2 in particular, was divided into London and Japan sections and also had a wider selection of aliens to defeat (or be defeated by). Here, the first few maps do a decent job of laying out where the aliens land and you end up in the city, then underground, then back up top for a few levels in a mostly sane layout. The exceptions would be the return of that annoying walking fortress (a new map) and the penultimate beach level which is right before the final mothership stage.
Whether you liked it or not, the US-developed Earth Defense Force Insect Armageddon at least had a story holding its stages together that showed end to end progression. EDF 2017 suffered a bit from the looseness of the narrative and even with the new content and polish the Vita version has that same effect. Granted, if you’re more concerned about blowing the crap out of bugs, ‘bots and buildings and could care less about compelling storytelling, you probably won’t even care. Of course, assigning arbitrary rules of reality to a game where a single rocket can topple the tallest building on your head while causing no damage isn’t any way to actually enjoy what’s here, so just go in and have a blast, taking the game in as it is. You can blow through Easy mode in about nine or ten hours, but the game isn’t over at all. Collecting every weapon will take time thanks to the random drops and the fact that for completion freaks, the number of awards has increased dramatically from the Xbox 360 version. The more you play, the more Trophies drop, sometimes in multiples if you manage to complete two or three goals in a stage.
Visually, the game looks great running on the Vita. Sandlot managed to pack in all the destruction and insane enemy counts found on the 360 version onto the Vita’s widescreen and while there’s slowdown in spots where a ton of things are happening (that final level is still a big chunky slideshow if you let the mothership start firing off all sorts of ordinance as Hectors stomp about shooting off their guns while enemy fliers swoop about), the game is impressive if you’re not the overly picky graphics whore sort. Draw distance issues appear in that wide-open beach stage and yes, textures do “pop” into place as you’re running around the outdoor maps. Bot overall, the game holds up more than well enough thanks to the general level of craziness it pulls off compared to other action games. Music and sounds are the same as in the 360 version and save for one new map where you hear Japanese spoken at the start (oops), the audio is solid. Well, unless you hate the random repetitive commentary coming from the AI troopers. Much of it is funny in a campy manner, but it can be a bit grating on the longer missions.
As for multiplayer, as long as you’re near a decent wi-fi spot, the online play is smooth and easy to hop into. Expect to deal with a few newbies who run right into harm’s way and die over and over because they’ve not yet discovered how versatile Pale Wing is (she’s a great “melee” character, but unlocking some of her better ranged gear allows her to be a superb ranged fighter who can defeat the toughest enemies from afar without taking any damage. It’s fun to see a bunch of player who’ve figured out Storm 1 and Pale Wing and the vehicles working together to take down a small army of Hectors or a few waves of gigantic insects using teamwork and the perfect set of weapons. In MP, drops are still randomized, but each player is rewarded at a level’s end, so there’s no need to go nuts if a teammate goes rogue and starts scooping up drops left and right. You can always use a bit of “friendly” fire to pacify them if they get too annoying, but at the end of the day it’s not necessary.
Like the Japanese version, there are a handful of bonus DLC weapons available, but they’re mostly made for multiplayer usage and are only for Storm 1. Pale Wing has well over 100 weapons, so her not getting anything isn’t a big deal at all. Again, that $40 only seems expensive until you actually play the game and once you do, you’ll more than likely be an EDF fan for life. And yeah, you’re being recruited when we DO get invaded by giant bugs and robots, so consider this a training tool of sorts. In case you haven’t guessed yet, this is indeed a BUY THIS GAME recommendation, period. You’ll be getting a game that will take some of you weeks to complete and unlock everything, a co-op mode you’ll want to share with others and a pretty decent-looking enhanced port of a fine action-packed arcade run ‘n gun that’s addictive as hell and about as good as it gets on the Vita for anyone looking for non-stop action.