If you were to ask me, most days, what my two favourite things were I’d most likely choose spaceships and robots. So, y’know, it’s probably fortunate that I play videogames because if ever there was somewhere with a surplus of spaceships and robots, that’s videogames.
Earth Defence Force is a game that makes up probably around 92% of robots and spaceships in videogames in each of its incarnations. (Well, except Insect Armageddon but that’s a bit like Doctor Who:The Movie or something like that – we don’t speak of it in polite company. Or impolite company for that matter. Woe is the person who speaks of it, basically).
It also manages to cram in more robots and spaceships than any other game anywhere. Each console generation that Earth Defence Force has seen a leap to seems to have worked on the principle of ‘how many more robots and spaceships can we fit on the screen at once?’ – in the latest incarnation I put the count somewhere in the region of ‘holy shit, that’s a lot of robots and spaceships’
Seriously, within a few missions you’re presented with a field swarming with spaceships and it’s the sort of swarming with spaceships you don’t see in any other game. Like, the screen is full of spaceships.
And you have to shoot them all.
And the robots when you’re faced with the robots.
And the ants the size of houses.
And the spiders the size of houses.
And the spiders the size of skyscrapers.
And the really big spaceships that hover overhead dropping tens of smaller spaceships at a time.
And and and the other stuff that’s also big and robotic, you know – dinosaurs and dragons. Yeah.
Look, Earth Defence Force is a game where you shoot everything. Including the skyscrapers which crumble to the ground with a most satisfying thud.
Without a doubt Earth Defence Force is the single most stupid, the single most ridiculous, the single most absurd series of videogames I’ve ever played.
I adore them. I adore them to bits.
I adore them because everything explodes.
As you progress through the stages and the game throws more and more stuff at you, more and more combinations of spaceships, giant ants, bouncing spiders, enormous killer robots and whatever else, you’re lucky if you can see *anything* on the screen. It’s a game that finds its joy in absolute wanton destruction of everything. It’s a game where you aren’t knee-deep in the dead, the dead have buried you under a pile of more dead and you still come out shooting things until you’ve reduced everything to roughly knee height, if that.
One of my favourite things is finding myself so absorbed in shooting the huge amounts of things in front of me, I turn around to find even more things to be wiped out which somehow I hadn’t noticed. In so many other games I’d sigh as so many games are bullshit – in EDF, it’s someone stacking up the shooting gallery again because you’ve won a free turn and a rubber ducky. Except you probably have to shoot the duck now. Look, this got away from me.
There’s a stage fairly early on in 4.1 where enormous robots are clattering out of the sea and heading inland. It’s one of my favourite set pieces in the Earth Defence Force series. Looking out so far into the distance and seeing this line of enormous robots heading towards you, tanks storming across the beach, your soldiers and the public yelling constantly. It’s beautiful in a way only videogames can be.
And so, you wipe out this row of robots and look out to sea and there they are, an even bigger row of robots. It should by rights be a “fucks sake” moment in the game but instead I find myself near giddy with excitement, knowing the size of the explosions, the chaos and the carnage this will unleash as they head up onto the shore.
4.1 isn’t the first time this setpiece has been used but the amount of stuff the game pushes round now, it works so so much better than at any time before.
It helps a lot that it’s a game that lets you balance your own skills – whilst it withholds the more OTT weapons for more difficult to play with classes (Flying people! Beefy armoured soldiers!) and higher difficulty levels, it’s happy enough to arm you to the teeth on easy and let you enjoy the fireworks. Whatever, it wants you to enjoy its show.
It’s a show that hangs together by a thread too. There isn’t a moment where it doesn’t feel like it’s all going to fall apart, it is the videogame as Spinal Tap and everything is up to eleven except the eleven is the amount of giant robots standing in front of you. There’s another sixteen or so behind you, hiding behind some huge jumping spiders.
It’s one of my favourite videogames, perhaps because it’s the most videogame videogame series ever made.
It is dumb. It really, genuinely, is a game where you mainly just shoot ants with a side order of robots and spaceships. That’s why I love it though. Why I’ll always love it.
Because the ants and spaceships and robots fucking well explode everywhere and there’s lots of them.