Cult Classics – Earth Defense Force 2017

by Joe Juba on May 27, 2013 at 03:00 PM

I have trouble watching tongue-in-cheek B movies. You know the type: Modern films intentionally constructed to emulate the vibe of low-budget sci-fi flicks of the '50s. One of the reasons those movies fall flat for me is that they lack a critical component: earnestness. Being campy doesn't work if you're trying to be campy. It has to come from someplace genuine. The same theory applies to games, and that's what makes Earth Defense Force 2017 so great. The developers at Sandlot clearly want to tell a story about humanity's struggle against giant invading ants and robots, and the passion for that story shines through despite its technical shortcomings.

Some people have described EDF as "so bad it's good," but I disagree. I gave the game a 7 when it first released (which I think, despite my affection, is still a fair score). In terms of technical execution, EDF fails to make a good first impression. The graphics are dated, the collision is all sorts of broken, and many of the unlockable weapons are comically useless. However, my problem with saying EDF is "so bad it's good" is that it isn't the bad stuff that makes it entertaining. Beneath the general lack of polish is a terrifically fun game that is rooted in a simple premise: shoot tons of aliens and save the world. It distills pure arcade-style action and – with the addition of unintentionally funny dialogue – captures that elusive B-movie charm.

As Storm 1, the personality-free leader of Storm Team, you fight off the Ravagers (who are assigned their unflattering name before committing a single hostile action). Armed with an assortment of improbable rocket launchers, lasers, grenades, and machine guns, your goal is usually to kill all the Ravagers in a level. However, Ravagers aren't just a single species; they're a combination of robot and insect creatures. Some ravagers fly. Some live in underground tunnels. Some are skyscraper-sized bioweapons. Whatever form they take, you want to shoot them and then collect the random weapon drops they sometimes leave behind. This video is a perfect example of what to expect from the action:

(Video credit: Overlord73)

It's not complicated. Pretty much every level plays out like that. The scenery may change – ranging from downtown Tokyo to sparse countryside – but Storm 1's main job is basically to kill every alien he sees until someone tells him the mission is complete. The variety of weapons is staggering. You aren't just getting damage upgrades; you might find a machine gun that somehow shoots bullets in a v-pattern, or a grenade launcher that fires 20+ explosives that bounce around wildly before detonating (Warning: Be careful using that weapon in caves!). These unique guns are a driving force behind your progression: Storm 1 may want to save humanity, but as a player, you mainly just want to collect more cool weapons.

You aren't alone in your quest to stop the Ravagers. Not only can you play with a co-op partner locally, but Storm 1 frequently is working alongside AI-controlled soldiers. These warriors are easily overcome by Ravagers (especially the perpetually endangered Ranger Team), and their frequent deaths and shouts of alarm add a splash of (probably unintended) comic relief to the experience. When they survive, they're even more entertaining, since they shout taunts at the Ravagers like "Do you like the taste of my bullets?" and "Why don't you go back home to space?", all between intermittent chants of "EDF! EDF!" Their ineptitude serves another purpose: by being such awful soldiers, they make Storm 1 seem like a god on the battlefield. Despite the fact that he never says a word, Storm 1 feels like a real hero by the end of the final mission – mainly because he's the only EDF soldier who is able to get anything done.  

I had a hard time settling on which of favorite cult classics to write about for this feature. I think Valkyria Chronicles is the most criminally underrated game of this generation. Deadly Premonition has one of the best stories (and most compelling characters) of any game I've ever played. I also wish Asura's Wrath would get the recognition it deserves. But as much as I love those games, EDF perfectly fits the textbook definition of a cult classic: It has some glaring flaws, which might make it seem funny at first. However, it gets its hooks in you the more you play, and you eventually stop laughing at the game and start laughing just because you're having a great time.

If none of that makes you want to play EDF 2017, I'll just leave you with this video showing the game's strongest weapon (tastefully called the "Genocide Gun") in action.

(Video credit: Count Vardulon)