It’s been a pretty miserable week for me. Flu-ridden, hazey and dazey, throat infections that make it nigh-on impossible to sleep. Spitting up fresh blood last thing at night, then lying in bed feeling the blood coagulate in the back of my throat, knowing that the first ultra-painful coughing fit of the next morning is cough to result in more fresh blood and sputum of an unnatural colour. Not to mention the anticipation of discovering what new twists and turns my disease will take the following day. Oh yes, it’s been a rubbish week.
And yet, I’m utterly happy.
Because I never, ever, have to play Earth Defence Force 2017 again.
Don’t get me wrong – it’s a fun game to play… casually. If your mates happen to drop by and there’s a few drinks involved, EDF is a blast. But for the obsessive/compulsive amongst us – ie, me – it’s complete fucking rubbish.
OK, OK, that’s going a bit far… maybe. So let’s go back to the beginning: EDF 2017 is a 360 title from the Master Purveyors of Japanese Tat, D3 Publisher. It’s cheap in both price and presentation; graphics are decidedly cheap-PS2-era, sound is clear and repetitive, menus are basic (options even more so) and there’s no multi-player over Xbox Live (but, thankfully, a split-screen co-op mode). The storyline must’ve taken all of one solitary man-hour to write (“We don’t know whether they’re friends or foe – but The Government have named them The Ravagers”), and the voice acting probably took less time than that to record, edit, encode and embed. But where it’s cheap on aesthetics, it more than makes up for it in enthusiasm.
Pushing your simply-animated chap into battle against hordes of giant acid-spitting ants, giant goo-shooting spiders, and giant plasma-rific robots, you initially get blissed out with the silliness of the scale and spectacle. The discovery of new weapons is a treat: your first rocket launcher encourages you to level the city in front of you with scant regard for the civilians within. Your first decent sniper rifle is a revelation, enabling you to knock massive carrier ships out of the sky from the other side of the map.
Your companion AI kinda helps out along the way; early on your Earth Defence Force chums seem quite adept at killing the buggy foes. Later, though, your mates are absolutely piss-useless, frequently running into certain death with little more offensive weaponry than bad BO. Or – worse – running in front of you just as you decide to fire off your uber-powerful rocket launcher… KABOOM you’re all toasted. Best of all, though, are the comments that they’ll make when in earshot:
“I’m out of ammo… Give me some!”
“I’ll do it!” / “I can’t do that right now!”
“When this is over, I’ll buy you a steak.”
“Damn you Mothership, did we wake you?”
Pushing through the levels actually takes determination, grit; it can feel pretty samey in the mid-thirties, but there’s a few oddball boss-ish levels thrown in to spice things up a bit. The last half-dozen-or-so levels are insane, with waves of ants and spiders and robots and carriers swooping in to hasten your demise. The final battle with the alien Mothership – in level fifty-fucking-three – evolves into a massively chaotic mush of plasmic colours; greens and reds and purples fill the screen in ways that would make Minter proud, and all the while you pop away at the craft with your pea-shooter.
So you finish the game. After 6 or 7 hours. And your first Achievement pops up: “All Stages Cleared (Easy) – 50GP”.
Fifty. Bloody. Points.
Righto. Time to start on Normal, then. I guess.
It’s a touch trickier, but you’ve got the benefit of all the lovely weapons you found in Easy. Five hours later, the second Achievement toast appears: “All Stages Cleared (Normal) – 100GP”. And the O/C in me niggles a bit, saying “I know you don’t really want to play all those levels, but… you have to.”
So I start on the Hard difficulty. And something has changed; all of a sudden, the game isn’t a pushover – something you merely have to tolerate to win. It requires a bit of forethought, a bit of strategy – and weapons. The right weapons. And stamina – both in-game and perseverance.
Level 8 on Hard convinces me something’s gotta give; I’m getting slaughtered on the simple levels. Dreading the potential repercussions, I engage the assistance of my Significant Other, hoping to use her lack of gaming ability to at least distract the enemy long enough for me to make the kill. Trying to keep things simple, I empower her with one of EDF‘s most useful weapons, the turret. Careful instructions conveyed as to the handling and deployment of the turrets are ignored as she promptly drops them on the ground directly behind me and fired them off, causing them to decimate my meagre armour and leave me a sad corpse upon the ground. My SO remained blissfully ignorant of my demise – despite sharing the same screen as me – and wandered about looking at all the bugs.
Slowly we progress. Farming a few key levels for weapons, we manage to find (all weapon drops are random – cue biting of the O/C Lip in frustration) the mother of all turrets – the ZE-XR. Suddenly tricky levels become easier, and we progress through Hard with only minor disruptions. The first time we attack the Level 53 Mothership, my half of the screen was a frame-droppingly stuttery green-and-purple mess until, by fluke, I get blasted through the bottom of the map… only to re-appear at the top of the map, whereupon I drift slowly to the ground, able to dispose of my foe in relative comfort. My SO, meanwhile, is happily laying turrets and shooting nothing in particular… but her turret-handling is getting better.
“All Stages Cleared (Hard) – 150GP”.
I hate those Achievements.
The poorly named penultimate skill level – “Hardest” – is another noticeable step up, and encourages more early-difficulty-level farming, this time for health. Many many many more hours are spent farming key levels, building up the EDF’s health/armour/stamina (it’s never made clear which is the correct term) stocks. Many hours. I swear, I could play Level 52 blindfolded now. Eventually, I stick my wetted finger in the breeze and declare that our health/armour/stamina stocks are sufficient, and we engage in our quest. And, by and large, we do alright. There’s a few levels that we barely scrape through, and they lodge themselves in my mind with The Fear… The Fear of facing them one last time.
“All Stages Cleared (Hardest) – 200GP”.
One last difficulty level… Inferno.
For the most part, it’s smooth sailing… if a little tough. Choppy sailing, then. We claw our way through the levels, only occasionally being forced into repeat attempts. And, sitting to my right, my SO is actually starting to play well; she’s thinking strategically, she’ll revert to a support role as appropriate, she’ll manage the frontline when necessary. And we’re starting to act as a team, with the fallen one urging the other to complete the level.
We’re genuinely enjoying the game now: the first of the levels of The Fear that I was afraid of tackling – the final attack on the quadruped fortress – sees us both giggling with relief at the bizarre “woohoo” noise at the level’s end. Level 43 takes many, many, many attempts, but the joy we both felt at its completion (after 10 minutes of tense dodging) was tangible. The Tricky Trio – levels 50, 51, 52 – were wonderfully white-knuckled battles, the two of us side-by-side, methodically tearing the enemy apart. Then came the final level, the Mothership.
It’s no spoiler to mention that the Mothership becomes more difficult over the different skill levels; each more difficult skill level adds an additional element to its evolution. This time, though, we tackled things differently… my SO rolled and turreted her way around the Motherships strike-zone, whilst I took pot-shots from afar with the gorgeous Lysander Z sniper rifle. She got belted mightily by the Mothership’s offense, I was barely noticed. I almost teared up when I saw her die onscreen, saw the Mothership start to focus its weapons on me… just before the final, fatal shot.
“All Stages Cleared (Inferno) – 300GP”.
We whoop in joy, but I notice a little sadness in my SO’s eyes; as much as she doesn’t want to admit it, she’s really enjoyed her role in this task. And it’s over now.
But not for me… there’s still 200GP up for grabs for collecting all the randomly-dropped weapons. So, it’s back to my favoured farming levels for what could be an age… but 30 minutes later, I’ve got my 171st weapon. I thank my lucky stars as I see the Achievement toast pop up…
“All Weapons Acquired – 200GP”.
I go to save my game with a big, stupid grin on my face, and…
…my 360 hangs.
The grin freezes, teeth clench, and I can feel the corners of my mouth start to agonizingly droop down. I check my profile online – EDF 2017 shows 1000/1000, but my heart knows that my saved game is anything but complete. I throw my head back and howl – I know that I’ve got to farm and farm and hope and farm to get that final weapon again, just so I can know that I’ve 100%-ed the game. Undeniable proof. The curse of the O/C Gamer.
It’s OK, I’m all better now. The weapon has been found, the game has been saved. And despite all the fun and joy and togetherness(!) that 70 hours with this game provided, I’m safe in the knowledge that I never have to play it again.