I’ve played Sony’s biggest franchises on the Vita: Uncharted, Resistance, WipeOut, and Hot Shots. One of them even made the 2012 Game of the Year list here on MPG. None of them impressed me (on a technical level) more than Earth Defense Force 2017.
I should probably lead by acknowledging that EDF is one of my favorite games this generation, if not ever. What launched as a budget series in Japan morphed into what D3 published in America, a wildly kooky invasion saga that sells itself on sheer numbers.
The game was never visually appealing. Textures were coarse, details were low, and destruction was done in a minimal fashion… and yet, it worked so well.
It gained a cult following, the third-person “blast everything that moves” shooter popular enough to see life on the Vita. Coming down from the Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3, you expect concessions. Polygon counts will be lessened. Particle effects will be removed. Anti-aliasing will be slimmer. Textures will be muddier. Pop-in will increase.
And yet, the only noticeable drop is the polygon counts. Giant alien ants come to life with scraggly legs, and EDF forces outside of the main player characters have sharp heads, arms, and legs. Despite that, it is safe to that EDF performs better on Sony’s handheld than it did on the consoles. That’s remarkable.
With Uncharted, you’re dealing with closed off areas. WipeOut is much the same, and Resistance was so linear there was little to process. Another caveat? None of those Sony-issued games run in the Vita’s native resolution, leading to a fuzzy appearance lacking in sharpness. EDF runs native, and it shows off the capabilities of that screen better than almost anything.
There is also the nature of the levels which sprawl for miles with active objects. A building just coming into foggy view is a target. Aliens hopping in the background are live. Nothing EDF is doing on the handheld is a “lie” to sell scale. You can run to just about anything you see. Couple that with hundreds of targets, all running around, up buildings, or popping into the sky due to a rocket launcher shot, and you’re witnessing a technical marvel.
Famous for slowdown or frame rate dips, it’s odd that EDF only does so indoors on the Vita, and once in a hyper-crowded final level. A trip into the underground lair of an alien ant queen chopped the frame rate in half until numbers settled down. That performance is better than the console versions, and this is the port on still generally new hardware. Go figure.
None of this makes this goofy shooter better than any of the other properties Sony has produced mind you. This remains an acquired taste whether it is on a portable or not, but it’s just odd that a game designed to be cheap seems to have a better grip on the internals of the unit than the home production company.