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The six reasons why Earth Defense Force 2017 is a better game than Halo 3

Daniel Weissenberger's picture

Way back in 2007 I played a game about humanity fighting a last, desperate battle against an overwhelming alien threat. It was a crushing bore, and a review of it that reflected that opinion proved slightly controversial. Just weeks later I played a second game about humanity fighting a last, desperate battle against an overwhelming alien threat, and was far more impressed. I wrote an article comparing the two games, but before submitting it for publication, I realized it was needlessly inflammatory, and buried it at the back of my hard drive. It's 2011 now, however, and since A: no one cares about Halo 3 any more, and B: a new Earth Defense Force (EDF) is coming out, I thought this would finally be an appropriate time to publish:

The six reasons why Earth Defense Force 2017 is a better game than Halo 3

(Also, I finally have the capability to collect art from EDF. Okay, I had the capability, I just didn't know how to use it.)

1 - A Sense of Scale

I'm not just talking about the gigantic, well-designed levels, either. EDF 2017 is a game about an extinction-level attack on earth. While it may not be the most original story, it's effective precisely because it's depicted from such a small-scale viewpoint. Rather than constantly pulling the camera back to show what's happening in the rest of the world, the player's POV remains locked on a single Japanese EDF Unit, and the victories (and many failures) they're involved in.

All information about the rest of the world is handled through radio messages, War of the Worlds-style. While the player manages to kill a few bugs here and a few gunships there, the radio messages they receive paint a dire picture of humanity's chances. While the player may think they're making progress against the Ravager threat, reports from around the globe warn of impossibly powerful foes destroying entire cities, creating expectations that are going to be tough to match—

Literally the first thing the player sees when they start the game is this mothership, hovering over Tokyo. It doesn't do anything right away, it just seems incredibly menacing. Then they spend a few missions hearing about how it's laying waste to the rest of the world. Finally, halfway through the game, the mothership finally makes it back to Japan, and we get a look at what it's capable of—

And what it's capable of is deploying an incredibly beautiful piece of art design that wipes out twenty city blocks every time it fires.

The player can stop the mothership by damaging its cannon, but accomplishing that will only send it on a detour to finish off the rest of the world's armed forces before returning to Japan for a final battle. Every bit of the mothership's journey is chronicled by increasingly desperate radio dispatches, describing the fall of one continent after another. This builds player expectation for something incredible when the final showdown occurs. After all, they already managed to defeat its cannon—what more of a threat could the ship pose, right?

Oh God—

Damn it. Well, no wonder earth never had a chance.

2 - A Willingness to Let the Player Lose

This is the Juggernaut, the best example of the game's penchant for absurdly huge enemies. It's also the perfect example for the developer's understanding of how to effectively manipulate the player's emotions. The last time a battle was fought on this beach the player effectively defended Japan from an army of invading robots. This time there's absolutely nothing they can do to stop a foe they're completely unprepared to face.

The Juggernaut wades across the ocean, drops off a few robots and some gunships, then meanders away, unconcerned about the player's attempts to stop it. Up until this point the player has been able to kill everything they've encountered—and for a supposedly planet-imperiling threat, the Ravagers seem deceptively manageable.

The Juggernaut changes all of that. After failing to stop it at the beach, the player spends the next few missions watching it destroy entire sections of Tokyo, helpless to do anything but kill off the ground troops it deploys—after that, all the player can do is give up, and let it wreck huge sections of Japan. This allows the player to develop a grudge against the Juggernaut, and invites them to take a personal interest in defeating it.

So when, fifteen missions later, the player finally gets a chance to destroy the Juggernaut, it's meaningful. They've spent four missions After spending a quarter of the game waiting to kill the thing (and three missions failing to do so), actually becoming the first EDF unit in the world to successfully take one of the Juggernauts out is something worth celebrating, a feeling generated by absolutely none of the foes in Halo 3.

3 - Interesting Foes (who aren't run into the ground)

For the entire length of the game, EDF 2017 is constantly throwing new varieties of enemy after the player. Things start off simply enough, with swarms of giant ants swarming the city and the tunnels below—

Then they get a little more complicated with wave after wave or oddly-shaped gunships—

Before bringing out the big guns (literally) with a wide variety of robots—

Whose unique appearance is one of the most compellingly original pieces of enemy character design I've ever encountered. Everything about the "Hector Walking Arms" is just bizarre and alien. The discs that make up their legs, their strange, floppy body language, the way they're battered into bizarre angles by gunfire—

While managing to somehow stay vertical—it's all incredible stuff that deserved more awards than it received. More impressive, perhaps, is how restrained the game is at utilizing its shockingly large variety of enemies.

That, of course, is Godzilla. He's in the game. After getting a dramatic introduction in mission 18, however, he takes a powder, disappearing from the proceedings until mission 39—

Wherein the player is asked to battle two of him. It's terrifying, and the game probably could have gotten more play out of the model, but the developers understood the law of diminishing returns, and these two levels are the only ones in which Godzilla appears in the entire game. That's right—they made a beautiful model and risked a lawsuit from Toho, then still demonstrated restraint enough to keep him out of the majority of the game.

Mecha-godzilla, by comparison, appears just once. And it's basically the best thing ever.

4 - Competent Allies to Whom You Can Relate

While none of the other EDF members have names or established characteristics, the game does a fantastic job of developing a group personality for them nonetheless—which makes feeling camaraderie for them, and developing an emotional investment in the game, almost an inevitability.

What's the secret to this? Non-obtrusive, completely believable chatter. While the characters in Halo 3 might pause to tell a horrifying, yet overwritten story about the time they saw someone die, EDF troopers have no time for anecdotes. They're professionals doing a job for which they're completely outclassed, and they respond to it exactly like you think they should. During every mission the player is surrounded by requests for help, screams of agony, and cheers of triumph. That last one is vitally important to remember, because unlike the completely ineffectual cannon-fodder of Halo 3, NPC troopers will, on the first four difficulty levels at least, help the player get the job done.

Obviously the player has to do most of the heavy lifting (or there wouldn't be a game), but the friendly EDF troops actively contribute to the cause, blasting away with assault rifles, rocket launchers, and occasionally, laser cannons. They're so talented, in fact, that it's a good idea to leave five or six enemies alive towards the end of missions if you're at all concerned with picking up the weapons and armour they drop. Why? If any fewer enemies are left the surviving EDF troops will just go ahead and complete the mission for you.

When this mechanic really kicks in (which is surprisingly often) the EDF troops truly help give the player the impression that they're part of a large-scale battle. Way off in the distance friendlies are fighting and dying—and doing real damage before they go. It's up to the player to make sure that as many of them survive as possible.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in Mission 9—giant robots have wiped out the Chinese army, and now they're wading across the sea of Japan. It's up to the EDF to stop them, hopefully without being decimated in the process. It's a battle of nearly overwhelming scale, with gunfire and explosions buffeting the player from every direction. But if you manage to win it with enough of your side surviving, this happens—

They celebrate a victory. Which, considering how bad things are about to get, is actually kind of compelling. We accomplished something together, and it feels great.

By comparison, all the Halo troops have to offer is that some of them are voiced by the cast of Firefly.

5 - Telling a Story Through Action

While selecting each individual mission from a master list isn't the best way of establishing a sense of building narrative, the missions do a great job of picking up the slack in that regard. I've already discussed the game's epic tales of taking down the Juggernaut and Mothership, but there are a dozen other smaller examples of mini-narratives developing within and across levels. Take, for example, the first appearance of gunships in the game. While the player is busy cleaning out the last few ants remaining from the initial Ravager attack, the radio describes the Air Force's attempt to wipe out the mothership. According to reports, it doesn't go well. Just moments later, what should appear in the skyline but-

The gunships that just wiped out Japan's air force. Another mission has the player heading out to the country to destroy some giant insect nests—it's successful, but the next mission involves the player being ambushed on the way back! It's set on the same map, but the player spawns in a valley, surrounded by giant robots. Another set of six missions involves the player trying, on two separate occasions, to wipe out a nest of insects and failing, before embarking on an epic four-mission quest to exterminate their home in Japan, once and for all. Again, the missions following that quest deals with the direct consequences of the previous ones—with all of Japan's remaining insects, deprived of their leadership, staging a last, desperate, all-out attack on the EDF forces.

In all of these cases the player is given a sense that actions (both theirs and those of their compatriots around the world) are having a concrete effect on the tide of battle, engaging them in the story based on their (admittedly completely linear) actions within it, rather than what some other people announce in a cutscene.

6 - The Genocide Gun

Beating EDF 2017 on the hardest difficulty is nearly impossible. Most of the levels are manageable with a strategic application of auto-firing stationary guns and careful planning, but the final boss is flat-out unkillable unless two players execute a perfect strategy and have more than a little luck. Once the game has been beaten on "Inferno", the player has literally seen all it has to offer, and the game is done. Except for one thing—by beating it the player is given the greatest reward a game has ever offered-

The genocide gun. One million points of damage to everything within a 75-meter radius. It doesn't work on Godzilla or dropships, but everything else is killed instantly. Observe—

The developers knew that, after enduring everything the game had to throw at them, they deserved the greatest reward possible. And players who spent the 60+ hours it takes to utterly complete the game were not disappointed.

How many games can say that?

And now, for reasons of fairness, I'll offer—

The 1 Reason why Halo 3 is better than Earth Defense Force 2017

1 - The vehicles don’t absolutely suck beyond all rational understanding of how someone could possibly design a vehicle that bad.

Despite having names that are utterly charming in their absolute nonsensity (Combat  Helicopter Bazelato! Battle Machine Vegalta! Combat Vehicle Gigantus!), the decision to not offer an aiming reticule of any kind while piloting cripples their effectiveness. Using them means firing blind, which isn't so bad when using gatling guns or flamethrowers,  but tank shells and missiles are designed to hit far-off opponents, which is entirely impossible without the ability to aim. Add that to the fact that the vehicles' health doesn't scale upwards with the difficulty, and you've got a situation where the tough-but-not-impregnable tank from Normal difficulty is destroyed by a single hit from literally any enemy on Hardest or Inferno.

That’s it. Halo's Warthogs are the only place where it wins.

Actually, but some warthogs and scorpions in EDF 2017, and you'd basically have the greatest video game ever made. Maybe Sandlot should get on top of that...

Category Tags
Platform(s): Xbox 360  
Developer(s): Sandlot   Bungie  
Series: Halo   Earth Defense Force  
Genre(s): Shooting  
Articles: Editorials  

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It's your fault I played

It's your fault I played (and loved) Deadly Premonition. So now I have to somehow get ahold of EDF, too.

Nice exaggeration

I like it when GameCritics champions a lesser known game, I think the Deadly Premonition series of articles are some of the best on the site and eagerly await the rest of them. That having been said, this article makes some pretty weak points.

1) EDF's support troops beat out Halos? Wow that's some impressive nostalgia you've got going on there. Halo marines have literally hundreds of unique (and often humorous or endearing) lines while EDF voice acting is both some of the worst to ever appear in a video game and starts repeating over and over by mission 2. Halo marines can also drive and gun (not extremely well, but I can't think of another franchise where they can do this at all) and are always good for switching weapons with. EDF allies steal easy kills, get murdered horribly, and end the mission while you're trying to pick up powerups. SO HELPFUL.

2) The enemies of EDF are well paced? You kill ants for 6 or 7 missions straight when one or two missions was MORE than enough to get the idea. EDF was horribly paced and even though I wanted to like it, changing nothing for 7 or 8 missions in a row made that really difficult. I would've LOVED to have seen that mothership or Godzilla or Mecha-Godzilla, but the game got horribly boring well before that. And the robots you praised are what finished off the game for me. Enemies that fire shots that both juggle the player and travel faster than you can dodge them? How "fun". And you pointed out pretty precisely why using the tank is not a good way to counter their appearance...

3) The powerful enemy thing is just a bonus side effect to how stretched EDF's content is. While most games would make one long level that has you defeating the Juggernaut in the end, EDF has 3 levels that differ from each other not at all, and then finally a pay off. It does this to you over and over and over again. When other games do this, it's called padding and your critics bash the game. In EDF, it's apparently brilliant pacing that makes the taut, measured pace of Halo 3 look stupid. :| And none of the enemies do that? In both Halo 2 and 3, they make sure to establish the Scarab as a MASSIVE threat to your guys before asking you to take it down in any way you can.

4) EDF's random city-scapes are "well-designed"? In what way exactly? In that there's no landmarks or points of interest in most of them? In that the graphics are N64 bad to achieve the size they wanted? In that you destroy every building in mission A and then in mission B which takes place in the exact same area, all the buildings are mysteriously fixed?

I'd be happy for the author to argue his points here, but I expect to be deleted by the mod team instead, as has happened any time I didn't agree with the author's thesis as presented. -_-

Gelles, I blame Dan for my

Gelles, I blame Dan for my purchase of Deadly Premonition, as well. Spectacular. And I just gave in and am downloading EDF 2017 on Games on Demand. I didn't have high hopes for finding the disc form, in new condition, for less than $50.00. Oh well! The trailer sort of reminds me of Jet Force Gemini. Memories...

Well, it is exaggeration...

That's clear, right?

Seriously, though, I completely understand where you're coming from, obviously there's a lot to like about Halo 3 - but I stand by 2017 as the more entertaining title overall.

On the subject of soldiers, I'll take practical help in battle over Adam Baldwin talking about Full Metal Jacket any day. Halo's troopers can't drive, but they can shoot - only when you're driving of course. They're spectacularly useless in every other situation.

Then there's the Juggernaut, which doesn't prove to be a disappointment the way the scarab does. We're just interpreting the delayed gratification differently. I thought the frustration of being unable to destroy it for hours before finally getting a win was an effective technique. The Scarab, by comparison, blows up a few tanks before being disappointingly easy to do away with. Any millie

No landmarks? Really? I know each of those levels like the back of my hand - the beaches that lead to rolling hills, Millenium Tower downtown the Space Needle in the park - yes, it's a little silly that the game keeps being rebuilt between levels, but overall that's a minor sin.

You didn't like the robots? Okay, the stun-locking was nasty, but it only happens if you let them get right on top of you - which is why you have to use strategy while battling them. Setting up minefields to lure them in, ducking through alleyways to get some distance - the robot city levels were some of my favorites in the game.

Until the release of Deadly Premonition I considered EDF 2017 to be the ultimate $20 game, simply by virtue of the wealth of fun gameplay it offered for such a reasonable price. Which is why I'm so dismayed to hear Matt's report that it now goes for sixty dollars. I can only hope that with the sequel coming soon EDF might make its way to Xbox's downloadable games service, so more people can enjoy it for a reasonable price.

That's precisely why I'm stocking up on Deadly Premonitions right now - I hope to avoid a situation just a few years from now where I tell someone to try the game and they report it would cost them 80 dollars to do so.

Re: Exaggeration

The Halo troopers offer battle help in the sense that they often talk about enemy weaknesses or conditions (That guy is throwing a grenade! Dang snipers! Enemy Ghost! etc) while the EDF troopers babble meaninglessly. They CAN drive, they just function better as back-ups to your driving. As a wingmate or assistant Warthog they aren't that bad. They are also quite capable of killing enemies unless you're playing Legendary or sometimes on Heroic. Are you claiming that the EDF troopers are helpful on Inferno or whatever difficulty? I doubt it...

Delayed gratification is fine, but check out your site's recent review of Lost in Shadow. It's made pretty clear that many of the reviewers on your site believe in frontloading good content, not making you slog through repetitive actions, even for an effect. I think the Juggernaut sequence sounds like a good idea, but EDF's awful presentation (in terms of text, menus, translation, etc) would seriously diminish even the best story of all time... which EDF does not have by any means. Halo 3 is a story about winning the war, if you want to see stories about losing it, you have to go with Reach or ODST.

It's hard to mark any buildings as a landmark when a single rocket will destroy any one of them (that I encountered). Seriously Battletanx on the N64 had a better/more realistic city destruction aspect.

In the first robot level, they deploy on the beach and they tell you to use a vehicle. We both know why the vehicle advice is awful, and the beach makes it so that "ducking through alleys" is an impossibility. Up till then, you've been fighting ants (who don't fight back at all) or saucers, who basically are just harder to hit. The difficulty leap presented by the robots is ridiculous and unjustified.

EDF might be "good" for a $20 game, but I would say that many downloadables are better at that price. Shadow Complex, Hard Corps: Uprising, Scott Pilgrim Vs The World, Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light, and several others all strike me as more fun action game options for $20 or less. If we broaden our scope to games that have dropped to $20 or less since their release, EDF starts to look pretty bad. When you realize that EDF has since dramatically increased in price, it looks downright terrible.

EDF:IA and EDF4

Daniel Weissenberger wrote:

Until the release of Deadly Premonition I considered EDF 2017 to be the ultimate $20 game, simply by virtue of the wealth of fun gameplay it offered for such a reasonable price. Which is why I'm so dismayed to hear Matt's report that it now goes for sixty dollars. I can only hope that with the sequel coming soon EDF might make its way to Xbox's downloadable games service, so more people can enjoy it for a reasonable price.

2017 is already available for download, at least in Europe it is.

Regarding Insect Armageddon, it isn't being developed by Sandlot, though they are working on a port of EDF2 to the PSP, and on a true EDF4, target platform undisclosed. One can only hope that 4 won't be a NGP exclusive...

Consistency

For those who comment that the reviews on the site don't match up with Dan's piece, I'd like offer a reminder that GameCritics is not a monolithic entity. Every contributor is entitled to their own opinions as long as they can back them up, even if they differ wildly from the "official" line represented by the first opinion reviews.

This philosophy doesn't compromise the legitimacy of GameCritics. If anything, it enhances it.

Re: EDF troopers

Shoeboxjeddy wrote:

Are you claiming that the EDF troopers are helpful on Inferno or whatever difficulty? I doubt it...

Not only are they helpful, they're ESSENTIAL for some missions, unless you're willing to grind until you have a preposterous amount of health and can kill everything on your own. EDF is rather more clever than most people give it credit for, and AI allies need to be a significant part of your strategy.

Hmmm

I heard about EDF2017 through Gamecritics and bought the game on your recommendation, because you've steered me to a bunch of good games I otherwise might have overlooked over the last 10 years. So far I haven't been crazy about it. There wasn't much variety or tactical complexity to the early levels, and I remember feeling like I was spending too much time running around pretty barren and drab environments looking for the last couple dozen bugs and listening to repetitive voice samples. This article does make me want to go back and give the game another chance, but honestly, I kinda doubt it's gonna come close to unseating Serious Sam as my favorite hectic-shooter-with-insanely-many-and-insanely-huge-enemies. If nothing else, Serious Sam is crazy and fun from GO.

It does sound a bit like your admirable love of the underdog and frustration with the (p)reviews-as-marketing overhyping of polished but square and charmless games like Halo is clouding your judgment. IMO both games have a lot going for them in their different ways, but ultimately both offer a pretty flawed and limited single-player experience.

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