As someone who has enjoyed videogames for many years, I’ve come to love assuming the role of a space marine and blowing up giant insect aliens really good. It’s been a staple of the medium for as long as I can remember and something that just feels immensely satisfying. However, as times change and systems evolve, those simple pleasures just don’t seem so sweet anymore. So, while I can’t deny that I still enjoy a site of a giant insect carcass exploding into goo because I pulled a trigger, it’s just not enough to keep me going for hours on end anymore. Earth Defense Force 4.1: The Shadow of New Despair really tests the patience of anyone who enjoys that old timey gaming pleasure (hell, even the title is long enough to test your patience). This game is no masterpiece and not even particularly good. It is fun though, in bursts and spurts (particularly of the alien goo variety). So that’s something.
There’s not much plot to speak of. Giant bug aliens are attacking earth and an elite group of alien-killing specialist need to do their job (i.e. killing aliens). You’ll load up as one of four soldiers equipped with a big ol’ arsenal of weapons. There are guns—lots of guns—but also giant armoured battle suits and jetpacks of sorts that allow players to fly for brief periods of time. Truthfully, it doesn’t really matter all that much what you equip, beyond how powerful those weapons might be. The AI aliens are pretty dumb, just wandering around causing mild trouble and waiting to get shot. So, you suit up and go out to shoot them until they are dead. End of concept, pretty much.
The graphics aren’t spectacular by any stretch of the imagination. That’s not too much of a surprise, given that this is merely a mildly spruced-up version of Earth Defense Force 2025 for the PS3. Aside from some lighting and frame rate upgrades, the thing essentially looks like a last-gen title, maybe even like a really good PS2 title if I feel like being unkind. The levels are all blocky and contained. Sure, buildings can fall, but it seems to happen randomly. There are almost 200 missions available between on and offline options, but they are essentially all the same. Find the aliens and smash them real good with whatever you have at your disposal. It’s about as repetitive of a game as possible.
However, there’s also no denying that the game can be pretty fun. There is a simple, satisfying joy to be found in firing a rocket launcher at a big bug and watching the goo fly. That’s also true of climbing the side of a building in a tank to shoot a giant hornet or marching around in a skyscraper-sized robot to battle a dragon (yep, there are dragons in this game too and no, I’m not sure why). The dialogue is all so corny and silly that it inspires ironic giggles that add to the stupid, silly fun of the experience.
Essentially, Earth Defense Force 4.1 is the videogame equivalent of a ‘so-bad-it’s-good’ B-movie. There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s a guilty pleasure that has appealed to twelve-year-olds and adults with the attention spans of twelve-year-olds for generations. A title like Earth Defense Force just updates that lovable nonsense for the videogame era. Now, that being said, this is not a game for anyone who values top-tier graphics, engaging storytelling, or who firmly believes that videogames can and should be art. Nope, this is pure trash for trash lovers and those who like to turn their brains off and revert to their basest, silliest entertainment instincts. To them, I say, “suit up and enjoy for as long as your attention span will allow.” For anyone else, go out and find another game. Pretty well any other game. This is not for you.