The Wos Games Of The Year 2007 Part 2
No.2 – Earth Defence Force 2017
EDF is a game designed to be played through more than once. You can actually select from its five difficulty levels on a mission-by-mission basis (that is, you can play Mission 1 at Easy, then Mission 2 at Hard, then Mission 3 at Normal etc), and in a similar piece of design to Dead Rising (but one that’s executed much less clumsily), the game actually wants you to.
The step up from Normal to Hard is huge. (And there are still two more levels after that – Hardest and Inferno.) Whereas tackling the first mission in Normal is usually a one-attempt job, my first stab at Hard – starting with a new save game – saw dozens and dozens of deaths without ever getting particularly close to wiping out the third and final wave of ants. Eventually, in a flash of inspiration, I went back to the old save game, selected some of the improved weaponry I’d picked up while beating 30-odd levels at Normal, and used that to cream some Hard GIGANTIC SPACE ANT ass.
At first it felt like cheating, until I grasped that it was how the game is meant to be played. Your savegame percentage details how many of the missions you’ve beaten in total, treating each mission at each difficulty level as a separate one. (So if you beat the entire game at just one difficulty setting, you’ll only have a 20% completion score.) And that’s fair enough, because they effectively ARE different levels, because you have to adopt different tactics to play each one as you move up in difficulty. The weapons and strategies that get you through a stage in Normal, as I discovered, just won’t cut it against the same level in Hard mode.
The other side of the equation is that the game rewards you more for taking on tougher challenges. So if you beat an early level at Hard, the weapons you pick up from alien corpses will be more powerful than the ones you find on Easy or Normal. You can then take those weapons into later stages – even at the lower difficulty settings – to give yourself a better chance on a level you’d been stuck at.
That was how it worked for me – playing entirely on Normal, I’d run into a brick wall at level 34 (Breach), where I just couldn’t bring down the huge walking fortress no matter how many rockets I fired into its hatch. But using the weapons I’d earned while getting that far, and taking them back to beat a few early stages on Hard, I managed to get myself an awesomely powerful Goliath missile launcher, which took the behemoth down in next to no time, and I finally got to see the delights of the last third of the game, including GIGANTIC ROBOT SPACE DINOSAURS! about which I’m not even lying.
Realising the game’s structure of interchangeable stages and weapons, you don’t even feel so bad if you resort to beating a particular stage on Easy just to get it out of the way and move on. With medals for each of the five settings displayed on the Mission Select screen, you know you’re going to have to go back and beat it properly at some point, so it’s not like you cheated.
The game emphasises this point by not awarding any Achievements for reaching the end by itself – you score them only for completing every stage at a particular difficulty setting. (eg 50 points for beating all levels at Easy, 100 points for beating all levels at Normal etc, up to 300 for Inferno.) A man able to openly acknowledge his shortcomings, and who accepts no unearned rewards for them, is a man with no reason for shame.
There are few games I ever bother going back to after the initial session, whether that session be half an hour or several days. But EDF is so well structured, so simple (none of the agonies of having to re-learn convoluted controls that put me off going back to so many games), and most of all so much pure fun to play that putting in the extra hours needed to see all the levels was a joy rather than a chore.
Far too many games ration out fun sparingly and mean-spiritedly these days – for every entertaining bit you have to put in hours of grinding or carrying out tedious fetch quests or watching godawful cutscenes of endless po-faced plot exposition. But every moment of EDF is fun in its own right. It never gets old diving into a huge pack of GIGANTIC SPACE ANTS with a multiple grenade launcher and watch them splatter, or any less wonderful to take down an enormous gleaming silver robot with a ridiculously powerful missile in the face just as it’s about to blast you with a massive laser cannon, and watch it crash to the ground and explode in a cataclysmic fireball that shakes the ground below you like an earthquake.
It took me 16 hours to get to the end, and I loved every minute of every one. And with 0 achievement points earned so far (because I did resort to Easy once), I’ll be going back for more.
But what was the very best game of 2007? Tune in to WoSblog next week to find out!