Earth Defense Force 4.1: The Shadow of New Despair PS4 Review

The latest incarnation of the budget title that became a minor cult franchise perfects many aspects of the thrilling original gameplay, whilst unsuccessfully attempting to graft on others.

For those of you who don’t know, Earth Defence Force 4.1 is an arcade-style 3rd person shooter that puts you in the role of a soldier attempting to defend the earth from alien attack, as part of the eponymous organisation. It’s fast, frenzied, defiantly unpolished, and full of the kind of B-movie absurdity that some of gaming’s cultured prophets in either the triple-A or indie moulds would quite like to see consigned to the annals of history. That’s only part of why it’s great. The aliens in question are giant insects (naturally), and they scurry, hover and spit acid all over the screen as you blast them to bits. They’re accompanied by their mechanical overlords dubbed ‘Ravagers’, who attack from the sky in small and large ships, or newly introduced mechs ripped straight from an 80’s anime.

The enemy roster is wide and varied, and there’s always a new bug or mechanical titan to take down with your ever-expanding arsenal. The weapons in question number in the hundreds, and are acquired during missions along with armor, dependent on difficulty setting and stage attempted. The higher the mission and difficulty, the better your loot. It’s a boot sale of alien death with everything from machine guns to rocket launchers and unorthodox superweapons like laser chainsaws to take advantage of. Laser. Chainsaws. This practically limitless array of weapons is spread across four varied character classes that mold themselves to your own gameplay style (the aeronautical Wing Diver is my favourite), and provide the game with excellent longevity, assuming the addictive gameplay grabs you.

The giant insects return, apparently with some new friends.

The giant insects return, apparently with some new friends.

Action takes place in generic cities mountainous regions and caves, with largely destructible environments adding a level of strategy as you must choose, for example, between taking cover and exposing your enemy. Strategy is a key point, because despite what I’ve said, EDF 4.1 is actually a game of two halves. In single player, a moderate veteran of the series may be able to complete the game comfortably in the first two difficulty modes (there are five) by progressing through the game naturally, acquiring the weapons offered, upgrading armor, honing basic skills like accuracy and evasion, and remaining what feels like one step ahead of a growing enemy. Personally, I reached the latter few stages of the third setting, Hard, before I felt a huge spike in difficulty. The enemy was overwhelming in number and resilience, and the game became a seemingly impossible endeavour. At this point, if you haven’t already, you may choose to take your game online. There are two reasons for this. First of all, you can farm weapons with high-level players playing high-level missions (up to four may play at a time), and these weapons may be taken back to the single player to aid in unblocking your path through the hordes. The second is of course the online experience itself, and you may find in the absence of a local co-op partner (oh yes, EDF is famed for couch co-op), that this is the best way to progress at higher difficulty settings. On such difficulties, newcomers will quickly learn that without a surprisingly high level of strategy and coordination between different players and classes, weapons and individual skills can count for little. The sophistication is evidenced by the complexity of the in-game keyboard, which provides quick communications to other players for any strategic purpose at the push of the D-pad. Familiarity with this tool is important when playing seriously at higher levels online, although the community is by and large a forgiving and friendly one.

The graphics in the series have always been renowned for being a little rough around the edges, with frequent frame-rate drops compounding the budget feel. Some find this endearing and others unforgivable, which in my experience largely relates to how long you’ve been playing games. Certainly this game could have been accomplished last-gen, and indeed was in the form of EDF 2025, of which this game is effectively an enhanced edition. The textures are smoother, the framerate is significantly more stable, an impressive amount of action features on the screen as you progress and the game clearly looks better than it ever has done. Still, if you buy games solely to push the capacities of a system (and what a sad gaming existence that must be), EDF 4.1 is not for you.

The graphics are the finest yet, but if you're looking for the next big thing in tech-demos you can still move right along.

The graphics are the finest yet, but if you’re looking for the next big thing in tech-demos you can still move right along.

The sound compliments the experience perfectly with rousing action jingles and cheddar cheese voice-acting from VA’s clearly enjoying themselves. As you would imagine the game is massively self-aware, with the exchanges between EDF scientists, commanders and soldiers on the ground being a source of frequent hilarity. Frequently some of the exchanges between soldiers in your platoon appear randomised within a set of stock questions and responses. “EDF never leaves a man behind.” “That’s not true!” “Did you tell her you love her?” “That’s not important right now!” ”Where’s the ammo!?” The cacophony of nonsense rises to a crescendo as a horde of insects rips your squad to pieces.

4.1 is the distillation and amplification of everything that came before, but it is not the perfect EDF game. The introduction of giant controllable mechs in to the game is poorly managed, with the prospect of a Godzilla-esque kaiju confrontation falling a little flat as a poorly executed and unsatisfying slugfest. The later difficulties in single player could also be enhanced significantly by making your A.I squad members a force to be reckoned with rather than fodder for enemy guns. At earlier difficulties this isn’t so much of an issue, and even feels faintly empowering as you emerge the sole victor from countless seemingly futile deathmatches. To be sure they’re still more capable than they ever have been, and in numbers can even deal with small groups of enemies, but it’s incredibly frustrating that their abilities do not scale in proportion to the threat faced. Although the game features four character classes, one is virtually impossible to use effectively outside of multiplayer, being more of a tandem support unit. Another has it’s own control scheme to master, making it rather uninviting for new players or those set on playing the established classes. Still, assuming you only ever play the two more conventional classes, the game has tonnes to offer. It may be said also that the stock environments offer little variety, but they are frequently massive and employ the clever trick of starting you in different locations in the vast and frequently mutating environments, creating a satisfying illusion of variety that somehow persists even when you tread over old ground and become suddenly aware of it.

They look impressive, but the showdowns between the EDF mechs and giant creatures are not the game-transcending moments they should be.

They look impressive, but the showdowns between the EDF mechs and giant creatures are not the game-transcending moments they should be.

The game is huge at close to a hundred levels, with some very reasonably priced DLC that makes an already vast experience half as massive again. Trophy hunters should take note that in order to achieve the Platinum for this game it must technically be completed sixteen times. There are sneaky ways to shorten this slog, but I shan’t divulge them here. Overall, despite scope for improvement in future installments, EDF 4.1 is an accessible, enjoyable and unique experience to any newcomer prepared to suspend triple-A gaming logic. For veterans, it’s the the best outing yet for this beloved oddity. EDF!! EDF!!

8 out of 10