Review: Earth Defense Force: World Brothers
By: Fernando Da Costa
Available on: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, and PC
Review Console: Nintendo Switch Lite
BLAST FROM THE PAST! - Introduction
Back in 1997, a movie by the name of Starship Troopers was released. It was the beginning of a series that spanned animated shows, video games, films, and even a novel. The plot was simple, and saw soldiers facing off with several giant insects. As an 8-year-old, that sort of thing scared the holy hell out of me. The bugs were disgusting, and the way they’d rip the humans apart was not a fun watch. Ignoring the possible trauma that likely induced, I never found anything quite like it until now. Earth Defence Force is a franchise that has actually been around for years, debuting way back in 2003. I wouldn’t lose my virginity to these games until this year with the release of this latest entry: Earth Defence Force: World Brothers. From what little research I did, this seems to be the first time Voxel graphics were harnessed and honestly, I dug it. I swear it has nothing to do with the bugs no longer looking realistic either. So how exactly will this stack up - no pun intended - with a newbie of the EDF world?
BUGS ARE EVERYWHERE! - Story Synopsis
Voxel Earth has been dismantled into several tiny pieces. As a result, the military superpower known as Earth Defence Force has split up. This, however, proves to only be a stumbling block as HQ is determined to not only reassemble the squad but also fight back against the cause of the separation - on both counts. You play as a Lone Ranger, venturing around and reuniting with many soldiers that include: cowboys, warriors, and men dressed as bears; all this to defeat the identified flying objects that caused the destruction. Blast your way through UFOs, giant robots, and especially insects as you slowly piece the world back together. It won’t be all shooting and killing, though, as you may even find love along the way. Prepare yourselves for an adventure full of wild antics and bullets.
HUMOUR’S A GOOD MEDICINE! - Writing
EDF is drenched in self-awareness due to the characters‘ meta dialogue. Their exchanges are a mixture of mission-based chatter and referencing their existence within a game. To add an extra layer of silliness, the stereotypical behaviour of actual countries is utilized. For example, there’s the Canadian trooper dressed up as a burly bear. While a Mountie would’ve been more appropriate, he does, at least, speak with an exaggerated accent. Words such as “about” suddenly become “aboot.” What’s probably the most known dialect trait is finishing sentences with “eh.” As someone from Canada, not only is this authentically used, but I say it far too frequently myself. Then there’s the American with an affinity for his pistol and a German woman with a thick accent dressed as a barmaid. Brazilians are depicted by a Samba dancer, while Mexicans are dressed in a sombrero, poncho and sport an impressive moustache. These depictions will assuredly upset some, but it never came across as malicious. EDF plays it safe by picking at low-hanging fruit. Most importantly, none of it spoiled my experience, and if anything, I reckon it added to it.
Earth Defense Force isn’t going to reinvent the wheel with a stellar narrative. It’s standard “save-the-world” drivel that dominates the medium. What’s more, it never attempts to differentiate itself with a unique tinge. I never got invested or immersed in the universe, but honestly, that’s pretty irrelevant because depth isn’t the selling point. It’s the unadulterated charm oozing from its pores. The willingness to poke fun lies firmly at the epicentre of why any time spent is time well wasted. And despite not being in awe of the overall story, my curiosity was still piqued. It tempted me to continue with its simplistic mystery. Sure, the revelation isn’t mind-blowing but having something to sink my teeth into was enough - even if it’s just a morsel. If, however, you aren’t one driven by your own curiosities, EDF will definitely fall flat. Both this and having an open mind to cheesiness are prerequisites if you plan on getting any enjoyment out of this.
GRAB YOUR WEAPON! - Gameplay
While the writing won’t knock your socks off, it’s silly and serviceable. I, unfortunately, struggle to say the same elsewhere. The core gameplay is amusing, but the mechanics surrounding it leave something to be desired. It’s a mixed bag of a bit of good, a bit of lukewarm, and a double dose of ugly.
The Good - Earth Defence Force: World Brothers is, without a doubt, a love letter to the entire franchise. Many characters from past games are present and accounted for, like: the Pale Wing from Earth Defence Force 2017 or the Wing Diver from Earth Defence Force 5. Because of these additions, the active roster is massive. When considering that, the methodology to unlock weapons correlates directly to them. You see, every level consists of three injured soldiers. By rescuing one, they not only become a playable character but whatever they use will become available to interchange amongst the others. Eventually, you do stumble on those identical to ones already on the team. When that occurs, expect some RPG elements to crop up.
The Lukewarm - Everyone has proficiency with specific weaponry - be it melee, precision, or even rocket launchers. I really enjoyed the variety and how they all functioned dissimilarly - shooting in a line, a cluster, or ricocheting off surfaces. Furthermore, it was amusing trying to find one that complemented my kamikaze play style. Soldiers won’t always be shackled to a sole type either. Initially, yes, but as you continuously rescue comrades, that changes. For example, say you’ve saved a Ranger but have already recruited one. That same Ranger gets turned into pseudo-experience points that go towards building up a skill meter. It can increase a total of ten times, with each rank adding the capability to handle a new piece of artillery. On paper, this sounds extremely useful. I, however, would say it mitigates engagement. Assembling my miniature army became mindless because my single Ranger could eventually use anything. As long as I had three others at maximum skill level, I never had to switch up my team again. To counterbalance this, I began to limit everyone to only their default weapons. That way, the game retained a semblance of challenge. Otherwise, this mechanic felt haphazardly thrown in just to hold the player's hand.
SLOW AND STEADY! - Gameplay
The Ugly - Maps are expansive, and that's typically something to be praised. With EDF, however, that’s certainly not the case. The large areas here are bothersome at best, and while there’s plenty that adds density to it, there’s an absence of substance. Once you’ve rescued the injured soldiers scattered about, there’s nothing else but the enemies on screen. Because they’re usually found contained in groups or aimlessly wandering around, I had to bounce between them. As already mentioned, when I’m embroiled in the action, I’m having fun. It’s when I have to maneuver over to another cluster of insects that the utter tedium seeps in. The culprit is the movement speed of every character; it’s frankly abysmal. I had to undertake the arduous task of sluggishly crawling over to further creepy crawlers every time I cleared a section. Doing so destroyed the momentum I accumulated from the previous killing spree and brought me down from my dopamine high.
Now, to be fair, there are a handful of soldiers with the ability to propel themselves forward. This, however, plays to my gripe of limiting the experimentation. I want to be able to customize my party completely and find the best ability combinations. I, instead, had to constantly ensure one of these characters always made it into the active squad. It was either doing this or dealing with the snail-like motion. Additionally, even with the necessary party, reaching the enemy didn’t always guarantee victory. There were a few times that a bug or two leaped out of reach as I approached. One instance even saw a ship clip through a mountain and get stuck within. On a positive note, you could argue the AI was trying to avoid being killed - kind of smart. It did, however, force me to quit and redo the area again.
DID I STUTTER?! - Performance
The Ugly - From what I’ve seen, past entries are fast and fluent. It’s obvious I’ve been missing out with this franchise. Regrettably, that fluency only partially carries over to this iteration. Battling is at risk of being redundant, exciting and I loved taking down ships and exterminating insects. After a few seconds of mercilessly shooting, however, the game began struggling. Frames began to periodically drop to zero and interrupt the action. One would assume the cause to be plenty of objects on-screen - and you’d be kind of correct. Whenever there was an explosion and bug limbs flew, the game freaked and needed a breather. It fought to render everything that was happening but not to a grandiose degree. I, however, also encountered these stability hiccups when simply entering a stage. The four characters were leaping into frame, and there were still jitters. While none of this made Earth Defence Force impossible to play, it definitely made it jarring to see.
AND THE EARTH-SHATTERING VERDICT IS…
Earth Defence Force: World Brothers is an extremely fun romp but is marred by some bad decisions. The most baffling is the inability to sprint. This exclusion adds tedium where tedium needn’t even be. I firmly believe that by allowing every character to run, it would negate my biggest complaint. I also wasn’t a fan of how armour is now distributed. This essentially acts as your hit points, and after a battle, your team receives an increase. It’s, however, unclear how this could be manipulated to always assure the highest outcome. Although, even if I knew, it wouldn’t matter. The game barely offered any difficulty for armour to be beneficial. Frame stutters were frequent and happened at random intervals. Enemies will - albeit rarely - also clip through walls and get stuck. Again, I do fancy the core gameplay, especially the silliness of the characters. The stereotyping utilized never came across as malicious, seeming more lighthearted in tone. This is such a fun experience, just begging to fully flourish but needs a few patches to do so.
There’s a clear optimization problem, and while there’s fun to be had and the dialogue is humorous, it’s held back. The absence of a sprint button is the biggest conundrum. I’d recommend buying EDF either on sale or on PlayStation 4. Otherwise, this iteration of Earth Defence Force: World Brothers is a 6.
Thank you to OnePR for providing the review key for Earth Defense Force for the purposes of this review.