Written for the gaming journal Lock-On, this is an affectionate tribute to the EDF and the shouting they do.
Noise, Violence and Destroy
It’s a game of colossal scale, is Earth Defense Force 2017. So are its sequels and prequels—as a series, it’s not afraid to go big. Cities are dominated by skyscrapers, the countryside is an endless panorama of verdant fields, and the enemies? Well, the enemies are GIANT SPACE INSECTS. From space, which I understand is quite a big place! The enemies’ bigness is sort of their thing. And the ships that they fall from dominate the skies whenever they appear.
It’s very much a game which uses bigness to make you, the player, feel like a tiny and insignificant cog in a tiny and insignificant machine*. Yeah, you have some hench weaponry at your disposal, but compared to the sods you’re up against, you barely register at all. You can shoot down a skyscraper with a rocket launcher—and that’s fun, cool and awesome—but are you really able to make a difference?
Well, yeah, you are. You can repel the attack, smash your way through the game, and emerge as a victorious saviour of humanity. But that journey is filled with loss, heartbreak and pessimism, and I don’t think I’ve ever played a game which uses noise—and the absence of noise—to evoke those emotions in quite the same way.
Lots of games use loneliness, isolation and silence in an effective manner. From Software are masters of this—even the Armored Core series feels sombre and solitary**. EDF approaches this from a completely different angle, though.
Early on, the EDF itself is portrayed as a rapid-reaction force. Not exactly gung-ho, but not exactly burdened with terror at the GIANT SPACE INSECTS they’re about to face. They’re brash, and confident—I don’t know what they’ve defended us from before, but golly, I trust those boys to save our mother Earth, I really do!
Slowly, this cheery, assured noise and confidence begins to give way to something a little more sombre. Radio chatter, which often sort of fades into the background as generic ‘my squad is shooting the monsters!’ nothingness begins to emphasise the ease with which the GIANT SPACE INSECTS are taking over the world. Eventually, during most later levels, the radio chatter devolves into screams, then… silence.
It’s the same for your squadmates. They’ll casually chatter about their wives and girlfriends waiting at home, about why they joined the EDF, about what they’ve planned for tea. But at they fall, one by one, gradually the friendly chatter—and even the screaming—stops. And you’re left alone, against impossible odds. Even if you beat a level, the radio messages from HQ are grim, informing you that while you managed to save a village, while you were doing so the GIANT SPACE INSECTS annihilated a continent. The eerie quiet you’re experiencing means nothing but death.
Not many games use pessimism, noise, and silence in this way. It’s maybe a bit much, but the EDF games revel in doing things differently. They’re B-games, and they know it. They give me that same feeling I get when I’m staggering, deafened and amazed, out of the exit of an Incapacitants or Sunn O))) gig.
Chaos and its aftermath. The EDF deploys. Dans le silence de leur départ.
* interestingly, it’s not trying to be a glorious work of arch satire. It’s not a commentary on the military-industrial complex. You’re just a guy, and oh no! a very huge bug!, and that’s the plot
** yeah, okay, apart from that weird multiplayer thing with the ‘operator’