Fantastic Co-Op Action on the 360
Every so often a game comes along that punches you in the face, shoves you to the ground, and stands on your neck, all while proclaiming, "I am awesome."
Most of the time when this happens, you're left looking up from the spit-shined and polished boots of a Triple-A title from a renowned developer; a tent-pole release expected to buoy a platform through a season, or drive a big publisher's finances for a quarter.
Not this time. Upon first loading up Earth Defense Force 2017, you're greeted with a simple, low budget title screen which, while functional, does not inspire confidence in the experience to follow. From there you navigate your way into the game as a single player or with a friend (co-op is local only, you'll have to look elsewhere if all your friends are on Xbox Live) and choose your weapons before deploying to presumably defend Earth from invaders.
When the first level starts, the graphics are underwhelming. You'll be greeted with a functional in-engine cinematic which sets the table explaining that UFOs have been spotted all over Earth. And then the good stuff happens. For the rest of the game (all 53 levels) you'll be besieged by wave after wave of giant insects and alien robots. These will come from above, below, and from all sides as the game progresses. As you kill them, they'll fall dead like rubber-b-movie props from ages past.
Some will drop upgrades as they die. These upgrades serve as the real backbone holding the game together, adding a mild RPG element to the chaotic action of the levels themselves. You'll get armor drops, each of which adds one Hit Point to your character permanently, provided you finish the level. You'll get weapon drops, which give you one weapon each, but not necessarily new ones -- again, provided you finish the level. There are over 250 weapons in all - From machine guns and shotguns, to rocket launchers, grenade launchers, bombs and turrets which can be remotely activated to shoot for you.
Collecting these weapons serves as a novelty at first, providing you new toys to play with as you progress through the campaign. As you start to progress through the higher difficulties, however, each weapon upgrade can become the difference between winning and losing. The game includes 5 difficulty levels in all. Easy, Normal, Hard, Hardest and Inferno. Any of the first three can be beaten right out of the box, depending on your skill level. Hardest and Inferno, on the other hand, will require some work to be put in collecting armor upgrades and weapons before you'll be able to stand any chance against the enemy hordes.
You can choose only two weapons per level (ammo is unlimited), and the weapons you choose will determine the tactics you'll need to employ to complete each stage. Most of the game's stages offer a number of methods of completion. Some, especially toward the end on the higher difficulties, require one of a few specific weapon choices in order to have a chance. There are no mid-level checkpoints, so you'll have to make it all the way through each level in one go. This can be extremely challenging, even with a friend helping, on some of the later levels the higher two difficulty levels.
The game will take about 10-15 hours to play through on each of the lower 3 difficulty levels. In order to complete the higher two, you'll be looking at a total of 50+ hours for 100% completion.
The graphics are poor, the framerate is inconsistent (often dipping into single digits during moments of extreme duress) and there is little that stands out in the way of story or presentation. Make no mistake, however - EDF2017 is one of the greatest "pure fun" experiences to be had on any console this generation, and shouldn't be missed by anyone who loves co-op action gameplay. It will make you feel like a badass, and then make you feel like a helpless little girl, but all the while you'll have a giant bug-stomping grin on your face.