It started with my Ranger holding an assault rifle and running towards the red dots on the radar. The graphics were a soupçon of PlayStation 2 mixed with a smidgen of grey texture updates. The loading times had been ludicrous. The terrible voiceover was touting the arrival of some GIANT INSECTS. GIANT INSECTS were swarming the city, GIANT INSECTS that haven't been seen in over SEVEN YEARS. GIANT INSECTS were last seen here SEVEN YEARS ago. SEVEN YEARS?! GIANT INSECTS.
Oh, I thought, I bet a praying mantis is on the loose or something. I bet a butterfly has got gigantism and landed on a house. What eventually crawled into view, feeling about on skyscrapers, were quite a lot of giant ants. "Is this game perhaps," I said, holding the controller hesitantly, "all about ants? Giant ants?"
"Yes," said my friend, who had played an Earth Defense Force game before, the last time they tried to sell us this silliness. In fact he had played all of the countless EDF titles before. They were all pretty much exactly like this one: fairly rough-and-ready animations and character models, some 'new' weapons to collect and slightly tweaked trophies. "It is all about giant ants. You shoot giant ants. That's all you do. Shoot giant ants."
"Well, s***," I said. "I hate ants." Then I added, "I am also really not into giant ants." And then I remembered that I'd gone to the pub with a certain editor of Eurogamer and ranted about how much I hated ants. "Oh my god," I said loudly. "I can't believe they have given me this game about giant ants."
I really don't like ants. But as wigged out by them as I am, Earth Defense Force 2025 is so 90s arcadey that playing it is like taking a leafblower and aiming it at some paper cutouts of ants. Once I started shooting away, there's a very palpable sense of slidy irrelevancy to them. There's so little impact as you unload all your copious ammo, from any number of silly upgradable guns, into hundreds and hundreds of very large ants climbing all over Japanese residential areas.
Accuracy doesn't seem that important either. It's like you're playing Time Crisis with your fingers going 'pew pew pew' and rudimentary death animations are somehow triggered on-screen. And then it does that thing that GoldenEye 007 used to do: the bodies will disappear in front of your eyes, leaving gaudy pickups saying AMMO on them. The slowdown when you explode things is sort of unforgivable, and there are very few good sound effects going on. The N64 had an excuse for this, but I'm not sure my PS3 really has one ready.
And yet the novelty of reverse-hoovering these ants is very satisfying in the beginning. It's the core of why arcade classics are still around: they're about the very simple act of clearing up. Most games, usually, at their core, are about cleaning. Tidying. Making things a bit less messy. Putting your pinny on. Cleaning away the baddies. This is that, but lacking any sort of self-important narrative whatsoever.
The music resembles a watered-down Lylat Wars. The barks of the terrified pedestrians are nonsensical, probably on purpose. They'll scream and scream and scream, and then someone will exclaim "I love you" as they run past. Your Earth Defense Force squadmates are no better, shouting "EDF! EDF! EDF!" in a shameless plug for Électricité de France. They sometimes have weird conversations with each other as you go into ant battle: "Did you propose?" "Don't keep your hopes up." "Where's my magazine?" Look, I don't know, honey. Get your own reading materials.
There are four classes you can play to mop up insects. A soldier, one that looks like a Japanese man's wank fantasy, one that looks like a welder, and one that looks like a man-tank. The soldier is our aforementioned 'Ranger' and can be equipped with assault rifles, shotguns, missile launchers, rocket launchers, and for some reason an acid gun. The Ranger is a pretty decent stock shooty guy. The Earth Defense Force of 2025 has also hired a Wing Diver with an elaborate robotic jet pack, a capacity for many different missile launchers and a boob window in her armour. Apparently she has reduced defensive capacity compared to the others, which is not surprising because they have virtually put a flesh coloured mark on her tits reading GIANT ANTS: BUKKAKE ACID HERE. This weakness can be incredibly frustrating, but the Wing Diver can also jet into the air with a really satisfying swoop and hang, so you let her off.
The welder guy calls in tactical air strikes and missiles, and is better as a co-op buddy, whilst the Fencer, the heavy, is incredibly slow, equipped with a shield and a gatling gun, and playing him is an advanced move that requires the patience of a new mother. All four can collect armour upgrades to unlock hundreds of new weapons with better damage and different shell variations, and the Fencer can even gain the somewhat titillatingly-named 'Vibro Hammer', which is something I think I saw in an Ann Summers once. You can play each level on a huge number of difficulties: easy, normal, hard, hardest, and inferno, which just changes ants' speed, health, and probably fluid retention. But by the time you've got to the 10th level, the novelty of everything pretty much wears off.
At that point, you are merely just shooting countless giant ants and spiders off buildings by yourself, in your house, in your underwear. In a way, this is every game, I started to think. EDF 2025 is a shorthand for every game. Just shooting GIANT INSECTS, whilst someone shouts SHOOT THE GIANT INSECTS from your TV. Get the GIANT INSECTS, it says, and then you gun down the GIANT INSECTS and then another wave of GIANT INSECTS comes along and you shoot those GIANT INSECTS. Some arbitrary measure will decide how many GIANT INSECTS you will shoot until MISSION CLEARED appears.
Sometimes there are spiders on webs, sometimes there are bees. But mostly ants. By the 13th single-player mission I'd been so worn down by the whole thing I hadn't realised that they had put another tactic in: shoot the UFOs whilst they spit GIANT INSECTS. "Well," I thought. "This innovation has surprised me."
There are three modes: the 'mission' mode, where it's just loads of levels about shooting giant insects by yourself or in co-op with another local player; an online co-op mode where you can create a lobby to recruit up to three other people to help you shoot giant insects in the same missions as before; or a third mode which is called 'versus', in which you can blow the crap out of someone else in splitscreen play with your weightless explosion-maker.
"EDF 2025 is a shorthand for every game. Just shooting GIANT INSECTS, whilst someone shouts SHOOT THE GIANT INSECTS from your TV."
The online mission mode doesn't particularly add anything, except that when other people are on the map they can revive you and you can use the ridiculously complex choose-your-own-text communication to say phrases like "Phooey" and "I wouldn't say it's impossible" and "Remember who you are!" which, to be honest, was something I stayed longer in the lobby to harass people with.
The local co-op is really just an excuse to share your disbelief with someone else. "Giant ants?" they might ask. And then you would nod. "Yes, giant ants. Oh, and there are also some bees. But the bees crawl. Like ants." In this mode, you can play through a level from the mission mode with someone else to revive you if you die, making the level a little easier to negotiate.
In versus mode, you can face off in split-screen with another local player. Some of the maps are absurdly large: the other player and I spent about an hour travelling around the labyrinthine hive map trying to find each other, like an extended Spinal Tap backstage trip. When we finally found each other it was like murdering a long lost brother who was raised on the other side of the world.
Here is the thing. Do you like shooting a lot? Do you really hate giant ants? Would you do this for hours without any other reward but getting a slightly different rocket launcher to murder ants with? Do you really miss terrible Japanese arcade games? If your reply is "SEVEN YEARS? SEVEN YEARS was the last time Sandlot put GIANT INSECTS in a game? SEVEN YEARS?!" then I admit defeat, perhaps you will think it good. Don't listen to Kieron, he thought giant ants would happen three years from now. EDF has sort of lost its weaponised bukkake novelty.