Sandlot’s latest third-person shooter, Earth Defence Force 4.1: The Shadow of New Despair, is by most modern measures a bad game. The graphics appear at least a generation behind, the gameplay lacks depth, the story is laughably bad and the game is undeniably repetitive. If you manage to look past or at least find amusement in the games many flaws, it can actually be strangely fun and addicting.
My first impressions of the game were bad. From the moment the game boots up with the off-puttingly poor visuals and absurd character designs I knew I wasn’t in for the latest AAA blockbuster. When I loaded up my first Level things only went from bad to worse as I was almost dumbfounded by the overly basic gameplay and Level design.
For the first 15 or so Levels I found myself wishing for my time with the game to come to an end. I’m not sure the exact turning point of this or the reasons why however my disdain for the game started turning into indifference then a strange addiction. Before I knew it I wanted to keep playing, just one more Level, and I wasn’t exactly sure why. I wasn’t engrossed in the story and I sure wasn’t impressed with the gameplay but I didn’t want to put it down.
The story in Earth Defence Force 4.1: The Shadow of New Despair follows the Earth Defence Force’s (EDF) attempts at repelling an invasion of aliens and giant insect. You naturally play as the only competent soldier in the EDF on a quest to repel these invaders and save humanity.
The story feels like a desperate attempt to string together a bunch of levels more than anything else. It is one of those games where if you think too much about what is happening and what people are saying you are not going to enjoy it.
The gameplay is very much intertwined with story progression but not in a good way. Everything that happens is directly related to who you are about to fight. What I would define as story progression in this game primarily involves the introduction of new enemies, the off-screen terror they are causing and consequently your efforts to try and stop them. This old-fashioned bare-bones story is matched by the laughably bad voice acting and script in which it is delivered.
Despite all the doom and gloom spouting out of the various characters in the game, when you face the enemies they don’t tend to be that scary. They pretty much are what you expect from the words giant insects, alien robots and low budget. Most rely on numbers rather than individual power however given how powerful you are compared to them, it doesn’t really matter if you are facing 2 or 200.
The gameplay goes back to the basics of what a third-person shooter is. Unfortunately, this means that although it is simple to pick up, it is lacking in depth. A quantity over quality approach has been taken in several game design choices such as weapons, levels and enemies. The obvious drawback of this is none of them seems particularly balanced or well designed.
An obvious area where this focus on quantity has taken place is the Level design. Each of the 89 single player levels takes place in a massive open world full of destructible environments. As you would expect from such a large number, the levels do feel like almost carbon copies of others. There is a small pool of environments which the game continuously cycles through. Whether it was the same or not, it felt like I played through the same ant filled tunnel mission a dozen times.
In each Level you can play as one of four diverse classes. Each class comes with their own unique look and set of weapons. The Wing Diver, my favourite of the lot, comes equipped with a jetpack which, as you would expect, allows her to fly. The other classes are all restricted to the ground, each playing a different role in combat from support to frontline.
Venturing out to try new classes proves difficult due to the way the upgrade system works. In each level enemies randomly drop giant crates which can increase your maximum health or unlock new weapons. These improvements are restricted to the class you were using. As a result, if you switch your character 20 Levels into the game, like I did, you will find yourself 20 Levels short on health improvements and weapons.
One of the many areas where the game comes up short is the graphics. I have to give the game some credit for having such massive open Levels with an incredible amount of enemies and destructible environments. It seems however that graphics drew the short straw and consequently was sacrificed in order to achieve the great scope whilst still maintaining a smooth frame rate.
You can play through the game in either single-player or multiplayer. With multiplayer you have the choice of playing online or split-screen. The most fun I had with the game involved sitting down with someone and playing good old fashion couch co-op. Online is also a good option due to a small but surprisingly present online community. The interface for finding games is actually really good, allowing you to quickly view and jump into online matches.
While there is a lot of negatives to talk about with Earth Defence Force 4.1: The Shadow of New Despair, many of which I scarcely touched upon, the game can surprisingly be more fun than it sounds. Going back to the basics, playing the game feels almost refreshingly simple, suiting those times where you want to play a game but you don’t want to think about it. I would find it hard to recommend this game to most gamers, however there is an audience out there that would fall in love with this game.
Released: June 2016
Platforms: PlayStation 4
Genre: Action, Shooter
Publisher: PQube Publishing