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Earth Defense Force 4.1: The Shadow of New Despair
Score: 60%
ESRB: Mature
Publisher: XSEED Games
Developer: Sandlot
Media: Download/1
Players: 1 - 2 (Local); 2 - 4 (Online)
Genre: Action/ Third Person Shooter/ Online

Graphics & Sound:
Earth Defense Force 4.1: The Shadow of New Despair isnít in the running for any end-of-the-year awards. If I could, Iíd give it one for weirdest name. But superficial jokes aside, games like these are incredibly difficult to review. Not because their systems are difficult to explain or because itís difficult to put a critical opinion into words. Thereís just not much to say. However, if youíre a fan of a very specific type of action game, you can take that statement as faint praise. Everyone else, however, can safely skip this one.

It doesnít matter which way you look at it: Earth Defense Force 4.1 is a relic of design. This is perhaps most true of its visuals, which peak at merely middling. None of the EDF games of past years have been particularly impressive from a technical standpoint, but they managed to keep their own kind of bizarre charm. Now that weíve made the leap to PlayStation 4, however, itís much easier to question what a game like this is doing on such a reasonably powerful machine. Destructible environments are always fun, regardless of how rudimentary and canned they might seem to be (and EDF 4.1ís are most certainly both). However, the art style is, for lack of better words, boring. It would be nice to see this series go the extra mile in embracing its Z-movie roots and deliver a game that looks like a poorly-produced film. That would be more interesting than the current blandness.

The cheesiness extends from what you see to what you hear. Itís constant onslaught, from the streams of gunfire to the explosions and demolition in and around buildings. Voice acting is universally awful, in that so-bad-itís-good kind of way. Every human character in this game overdoes it a hundredfold: soldiers, panicking citizens, and commanders alike devour the scenery with the zeal of Al Pacino in the middle of his career. To cap it all off, the fanfares that intermittently pepper the experience are almost self-parodic. Itís all madness, but itís an example of the art outweighing the technicals.

Nobody will accuse the Earth Defense Force series of existing under false pretenses. Take the most brilliant, thought-provoking shooter you can think of, and try to imagine its antithesis. That is Earth Defense 4.1: The Shadow of New Despair not only in essence, but in reality. It is to narrative ambition as shovels are to clouds. They do not compute. Instead, here are a bunch of giant insects in a smattering of sparsely populated metropolitan locales. Go paint the town with their dismembered, twitching thoraxes. Oh, and if you level entire cities in the process, whatevs.

Initially, thereís some amusement in playing games like Earth Defense Force 4.1, but it wears out its welcome within minutes of starting up. Perhaps this is an extension of my hatred of the "musou" genre, which is well-documented at this point. I find nothing stimulating about committing genocide as an overpowered death machine by mashing buttons. Thereís no Pavlovian response, and Iím usually bored to death by the time I earn my hundredth kill. Earth Defense Force 4.1 is essentially a musou game with guns. If you can aim, move, and shoot, thatís all you need to know.

Earth Defense Force 4.1: The Shadow of New Despair offers a handful of difficulty levels, but the differences are the unwelcome kind that involve lowering the amount of damage you do and increasing the amount of damage your enemies do. Regardless of what setting you choose, your game plan will never change. Youíll always beeline for wherever the game has scripted the next encounter and pick the bugs off from as far away as you can before moving in to clean up. Itís the same rote gameplay regardless of how you stack the odds against yourself.

Game Mechanics:
My enjoyment of any mindless shooter is contingent on a few factors, two in particular standing out in the forefront. First, there must be quickness and freedom of movement. Dumb shooter classics of both this year and of years past havenít forgotten this cardinal rule. Instead, Earth Defense Force 4.1: The Shadow of New Despair has you plodding from cluster to cluster, with nothing to do in the intermission. Second, the shooting has to be viscerally satisfying. Iím not saying that every organic enemy must go down in a gelatinous spray of blood and giblets, but the reward for precise aiming and smart weapon choice must be substantial enough to keep the player interested in the core action. In Earth Defense Force 4.1, you dump rounds into giant bugs until they emit a weird red cloud and ragdoll to the ground. Yawn.

I have to give developer Sandlot credit for trying to extend the prognosis on the core idea behind this franchise, which to me has felt like itís been on life support since its inception. The fruit of these efforts are the new classes. Youíve got your standard Rangers, which are bog standard ground troops, but the others are actually kind of interesting. The Wing Diver is a jetpacked soldier, the Fencer is a slow but heavily-armored bruiser, and the Air Raider can call in for tactical support on land and in the air. While these classes spice up the act of playing, the enemy types and combat scenarios donít evolve with that, resulting in just a few more ways to play the same boring game. Ultimately, itís a missed opportunity.

While I will readily admit that weíre long overdue for a classic old-fashioned mindless shooter, Earth Defense Force: 4.1: The Shadow of New Despair just isnít good enough to merit consideration. And though it isnít a full-priced release, itís still a difficult sell.

-FenixDown, GameVortex Communications
AKA Jon Carlos

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