Earth Defense Force 4.1: The Shadow of New Despair is glorious in its stupidity. It's easily one of the worst looking games on the PlayStation 4, its general gameplay is incredibly basic, and quite frankly the whole thing's bloody mental. You rarely see such madness on home consoles these days – but all of this is part of Earth Defense Force's baffling appeal, and for fans of the franchise, this enhanced port of Earth Defense Force 2025 is essentially the complete package.
Stringing missions together with a downright daft plot, Mission Mode will likely serve as your introduction to 4.1's huge amount of content. Each objective boils down to destroying every enemy – whether they're giant insects or doomsday robots – across vast, destructible maps, using a range of guns, rocket launchers, and combat vehicles. And while you could call the mission design – or lack thereof – repetitive, the fun comes courtesy of how you choose to achieve your goal.
There are four different EDF classes to pick from, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. The Ranger plays like a standard soldier, but he's able to equip a multitude of different weapons, allowing you to decide which armaments are fit for the job. Similarly, the Air Raider has various tools and weapons at his disposal but he's more about supporting his allies rather than dealing damage, while the Wing Diver can outmanoeuvre her foes by taking to the skies but she's got less health than the other classes. Finally, the Fencer offers unparalleled protection and weapons that pack a real punch, but he's slow, and requires a bit of practice before you can learn to use him effectively. The four classes provide a decent mix of gameplay, and their varied loadout options keep things fresh even when you're tackling previously completed missions – and that's something that you'll be doing on a regular basis.
Although 4.1 has a huge list of missions to get through, the game's hook is its loot system. Much like a loot-based role-playing title such as Diablo III, you'll constantly be gaining access to new equipment, and as you up the difficulty level, you'll find increasingly ridiculous weapons to play around with. Indeed, as your enemies become more and more extravagant, so does your armoury, to the point where you're choosing your loadout based on how utterly over-the-top you want your character to look.
Indeed, there's a certain degree of carefree fun to be found in 4.1 that few other modern releases strive to create. Perhaps the closest thing that we can think of on the PS4 right now is Saints Row IV: Re-Elected, and that's purely because both releases are totally okay with the fact that they're completely stupid. Many of 4.1's best moments come when you decide to succumb to the madness; using the quick chat options to shout "EDF!" while you bleed out on the ground, all because you blew yourself to kingdom come with your own insanely overpowered grenade, for example.
Alone, Earth Defense Force is fun as long as you can keep yourself entertained, but the game is arguably at its best when you're playing with others. Co-op missions – which support up to four allies online – can be brilliant with the right people. The aforementioned quick chat menus make basic communication reasonably easy, and charging into the fray alongside other humans while you all chant the EDF battle song highlights just how spectacular the experience can be. What's more, if you're not a fan of online play, you can always find a real friend to join you on the couch thanks to two-player split-screen co-op.
It's not all good news for Earth's staunchest defenders, though. While it's easy to look past the release's obvious shortcomings when you're busy annihilating waves of gigantic ants, some missions just aren't as fun as they should be. 4.1 is at its absolute best when proceedings just devolve into unadulterated chaos, but a handful of objectives slow things down and task you with carrying out specific orders. Likewise, there are several foes that are more of an annoyance than they need to be – web-slinging giant spiders come to mind – and they also serve to break the otherwise manic pacing a little too often.
All in all, this new-gen port is typical of what we've come to expect of the property, but it does have one distinct advantage over its predecessors in that its framerate is actually stable – at least by comparison. The property is infamous for its often comical technical performance, but it would seem as though the PS4's power has finally given the giant insects room to breathe. The game still drops frames when you decide to level an apartment block that's covered in bugs, but it certainly doesn't dip into single digits.
From each individual line of dialogue to every jagged texture, Earth Defense Force 4.1: The Shadow of New Despair is so bad that it's actually pretty bloody good. A game that knows exactly what it's doing and sticks wholeheartedly to its stupidity, it's a refreshing experience that's bolstered by an admittedly addictive gameplay loop. Whether alone or with friends, it proves to be an accessible hoot that packs plenty of fun – provided that you leave your brains at the door.