Earth Defense Force 2017 - a soldier fires rockets at an oncoming group of mechs

Earth Defense Force 2017 – A Chaotic Mixture of Terror & Exhilaration

Earth Defense Force 2017 brought utter mayhem to the Xbox 360 fifteen years ago. From the moment you start the game, you spend much of your time being overwhelmed by giant insects. Fired upon from all sides by starships and giant robots. Stomped by colossal beasts. All the while, buildings will come tumbling down around you as explosions shake the screen every few seconds. It’s a game that revels in chaos and this sense that you’re always on the verge of being overrun. It’s simultaneously terrifying and exhilarating, and there’s very few games out there that can match it.

Aliens are attacking the planet, and they’re largely using giant bugs to do it. So, you need to repel this massive force using rocket launchers, machine guns, and other weapons. While you have powerful guns, the enemy force is beyond massive. Facing hordes of dozens of crawling ants and spiders is fairly common throughout the game. And that’s just when the game isn’t sending huge groups of attack ships and mechs after you.

Earth Defense Force 2017 loves to pit you against huge crowds of monsters. No matter what you’re fighting, expect to fight lots of foes at any one time. Things can often get so hectic that you can fire your gun in any direction and hit something. Swarms of ants can get really thick, to the point where you’re completely surrounded by insects. It’s a gross scenario if you hate bugs, but even if they don’t particularly scare you, being neck-deep in foes can create an interesting sense of panic. The kind where you just start firing wildly as the bugs rush all around you.

a horde of red ants rushes toward the player across a beach

I also need to stress that these are giant ants and colossal machines, too. Like, ants the size of a small bus. Mechs the size of a building. When you see these monstrosities looming in the distance, you don’t really appreciate their size, at first. In stages where small starships come pouring out of larger ships, there’s a sense of intimidation by their numbers. But you don’t feel that sense of how big and powerful the enemy is at a distance. When you shoot a single one of these ships down and have a starship the size of a large truck crashes beside you, you really start to get a sense of the scope of the enemy.

As Earth Defense Force 2017 pits you against these huge enemies in great numbers, that sense of being on the verge of collapse starts to set in. You feel a pressure from the onslaught that’s coming your way. Once you’ve seen a few of these things up close, you grasp the enormity of the enemy force that’s currently running toward you. I wouldn’t say I ever felt afraid of the goofy spiders and ants that were coming to kill me, but I was afraid of the swarms of bugs and machines. Felt unease at watching their numbers close in from a distance. I wasn’t scared of the individual creatures, but of their sheer numbers. Of the chaos that would come when they reached me.

The game builds on that chaos with the destructibility of its world. It really doesn’t take much to blow up a building in this game. A stray explosive shot is more than enough to topple a skyscraper. Thankfully, the wreckage doesn’t crush you on the way down. However, it also means that you won’t be hiding to take cover any time soon. As you and your enemy exchange blasts, you’ll just clear whole blocks, making it feel like everything is coming down around you as you try to fight. There’s nowhere to hide to catch a breath. Plus, most of your enemies can climb walls, so it’s not like you’re especially safe hiding in an alley. The danger could be right over your head.

Earth Defense Force 2017 - a soldier reloads a rocket launcher as a swarm of spaceships desceneds on them

Earth Defense Force 2017 even uses your own weapons against you to breed more chaos. While your machine guns and shotguns only fire small shots into foes, your better best is explosive devices. Rockets and missiles can clear out foes quickly, and with this many on-screen, you want to eliminate crowds fast. The trouble is that your can hurt yourself if you aren’t careful. As an example, there’s ridiculously powerful missile that travels slowly. So slowly you can actually outrun it. This thing does absurd damage, but it’s so slow you might actually forget you fired it and find yourself caught in the blast a few minutes later.

When you’re not hurting yourself with your own weapons, you’ll still cause the screen to buck and shake with your explosions. The screen shake adds to the mayhem, especially when there’s bombs and missiles going off in the crowd of ants and mechs around you. If the enemy returns fire with their own explosive shots, that makes the screen buck even harder. Smoke and fire fill the air, the screen is rumbles so hard it’s difficult to focus, and huge mechs and bugs bear down on you.

Earth Defense Force 2017 - a massive alien monster bears down on a tank.

Earth Defense Force 2017 is full of this kind of chaotic moment-to-moment play. It’s an endless barrage of enemy swarms surrounding you, explosions rippling through friend and foe alike, and buildings tumbling down in each direction. It’s overwhelming to experience, and each of these fights can make it feel like you’re only moments from death. A single mistake away from failing the mission. Will it be your own error, or will one of the enemies take you out from behind? Which one of the dozens of ships shooting at you will score a hit? It feels like everything is exploding, blowing up, or shooting at you. And all you can do is hold on and keep shooting, praying you somehow make it through it all alive.

Earth Defense Force 2017 comes at players from every angle. From huge enemies to massive forces to screen-shaking explosions, the game is a torrent of chaos. It’s an experience that makes me feel like I’ll be overwhelmed any second (especially on higher difficulties), creating an incredible tension in what is, essentially, a goofy game inspired by B-movie sci-fi and horror. For all those inspirations, it captures a frightening sense of being crushed by the mayhem of a massive battle – something few games have captured as well since.