Hands-on with Earth Defense Forces 4 from Tokyo Game Show.
The B-movie grade charm of the Earth Defense Force games has always outweighed the series' technical shortcomings. Shooting swarms of gargantuan space ants and giant robots again and again and again tends to be simple, campy fun.
That definitely hasn't changed with the next iteration, Earth Defense Forces 4, based on the Tokyo Game Show demo. But the newest EDF feels like a marked improvement from its most recent predecessors, Sandlot's Earth Defense Force 2017 and Vicious Cycle's Earth Defense Force: Insect Armageddon.
There were a wealth of options available in the limited single-player demo of EDF4 at Tokyo Game Show. Players could choose from the standard on-foot soldiers of the Earth Defense Force crew or the flying winged maidens outfitted with jetpacks. Battles against the standard EDF fare — huge ants, massive spiders, skyscraper-sized robots, and giant UFOs — were on hand, as were a variety of playable weapons.
Some of the standard loadouts we played featured rapid fire energy guns, plasma rifles, rocket launchers, and crossbows. There were dozens of weapon options available, but it was the rocket launchers that felt most satisfying when slaying gangs of giant ants.
What felt most improved in Earth Defense Forces 4 were the game's controls, notably the third-person aiming. Sandlot appears to have finally caught up with third-person shooter conventions, making a game that handles better than ever before. That should be a relatively easy task, given that EDF games offers little more than shooting, jumping, and weapon swapping, but the game's developers appear to have nailed the controls this time.
Visually, EDF4 feels budget priced. While the game's draw distance seems to have expanded, the Xbox 360 version appears as graphically simple as ever. What did strike a chord was the game's audio, which felt more atmospherically appropriate than ever. Our headphones were filled with the terrified screams of Japanese citizens crying for help as insect hordes terrorized and feasted on the general populace.
The brave intonations of EDF warriors and their Japanese commanders really sells the impression of playing through a Japanese monster movie, where plot and comprehensible dialogue take a back seat to military enthusiasm.
Unfortunately, the Earth Defense Forces 4 demo at TGS was limited to single-player, meaning no impressions of split-screen or online multiplayer. Since EDF tends to shine in cooperative gameplay sessions, it's a feature we're most looking forward to.
It's easy to make concessions for the Earth Defense Force games, as they're enthusiastically B-grade. But D3 Publisher and Sandlot have been creeping toward a playable, adrenaline-pumping experience, one now more technically proficient than ever. It may never have the polish of multi-million dollar budgeted third-person shooters, but Earth Defense Forces 4 shows great promise as junk food entertainment.
Earth Defense Forces 4 is planned for release on the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 in Japan sometime next year.