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Earth Defense Force 4.1: The Shadow of New Despair (PlayStation 4) artwork

Earth Defense Force 4.1: The Shadow of New Despair (PlayStation 4) review

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If you've seen any Earth Defense Force 4.1 screenshots or gameplay footage and felt that it looked overly familiar, there's a reason for that: The Shadow of New Despair is actually a high-definition re-release of last year's Earth Defense Force 2025 (itself an expanded take on EDF 2017), not a proper new installment in the series.

The newest addition to the EDF family boasts improvements beyond just the obvious graphical upgrades, however, including a mostly improved framerate. Even with the improved processing power available, there are times when the frame rate hitches. Typically, that happens precisely when you might expect it to. Whether the culprit is too many spider-type enemies shooting webbing across the screen, or skyscrapers tumbling in the midst of the destructible environments, such performance issues are disappointing even when they're understandable.

Perhaps the most noticeable improvement from a typical player's perspective, though, is the newly snappy load time between missions. Gone are the minute-plus delays seen in the game's PlayStation 3 version. Here, I rarely had to wait more than 10 or 15 seconds. More often than not, I would find myself heading to battle even before I even had time to read the provided on-screen tips.

Generally speaking, Earth Defense Force 4.1 makes no effort to shy away from the series' established formula and gameplay loop. The recently released Vita title boasted a stable of unique weapons and classes with which to combat giant bugs and aliens, but 4.1 offers a more diverse shooting experience. In addition to the three classes that were already playable in EDF 2, you'll find here a new fourth option: the Fencer. This heavily armored combatant wields four weapons at once, and can swap them out in sets of two at a moment's notice. From shoulder mounted cannons to blasthole spears and classic melee-focused shields, the diversity in the Fencer's arsenal makes the class a personal favorite of mine when I'm facing up-close combat. Thanks to some unique dash mechanics and boost canceling, the Fencer can dash about the battlefield even faster than a Wing Diver, when played correctly. The result is a special combat feel that I haven't experienced since the Armored Core series.

Another of my favorite classes is the Air Raider, particularly during cooperative play. Their armament focuses on crowd control. They can call in artillery and cruise missiles, for instance, which helps them to hold back the giant insects so that they can get blown up from afar. If the situation calls for a closer, more personal approach, the Air Raider also has access to a number of unique vehicles, courtesy of a hasty supply drop. Options such as the miniature power suit are the most useful, while helicopters and flying vehicles rank among the worst. Even after I had spent most of a dozen hours as the Air Raider, I couldn't quite grasp the helicopter controls. If I attempted to pilot one, I wound up crashing sideways into an enemy hive more often than not.

New vehicles are available to other classes besides the Air Raider, as well. Intense firepower is necessary if you're hoping to survive a toe-to-toe encounter with Kaiju-like enemies such as the Erginus (a successor to EDF 2017's Vallak). A new mech called the Balaam adds a literal walking fortress to your arsenal, one that can be controlled by each class. Though the Balaam is slow and cumbersome, piloting it is one of the more satisfying experiences offered in EDF 4.1. Rarely has the franchise provided a more thrilling moment than when you find yourself essentially playing Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots with four giant Balaam suits pitted against a single Erginus.

While the team AI feels more competent in Earth Defense Force 4.1 than it did the last time around, the enemies you encounter have similarly improved. Bugs no longer stand around as much as they did in the game's PS3 version, which means they less closely resemble cannon fodder and now present a truer challenge. The downside is that it's now more common for enemies to swarm their opponent (that would be you). Their attacks can come in seemingly endless waves. All too often, I would find myself snatched up by a giant ant, chewed up and spit out, only to be picked up a second time by another such creature before I even had time to roll out of their way. Such situations were frustrating to no end, and on the higher difficulty settings, a swift death was all but assured if I couldn't get clear in time to find some health boxes. A lot of battles take place in confined cavern areas, which meant my encounters with the giant ants were far too common for my liking in online co-op, but at least having someone at your back to blast the bugs away can be a huge lifesaver.

The amount of fun you're likely to personally have with The Shadow of New Despair is governed by both your skill and a random number generator that almost always works against you. The EDF formula has always left weapon drops up to random chance, and there's no guarantee that you'll get anything new a lot of the time. With so many fun and unique weapons being locked away behind random drops, it could take a long while before you have more options than just the generic machine guns and rocket launchers. Nothing is more frustrating than playing through on the Hardest or Inferno setting, picking up a few weapon drops over the course of the mission, and then finding at the end that they're all repeats of gear already available in your current arsenal. It works both ways, though, which means that you'll sometimes acquire a weapon on one of the early Inferno missions and find that it is powerful enough to carry you all the way through the lower difficulties with only minimal effort.

I've long looked forward to the day when I could play through an Earth Defense Force game with a steadier frame rate and faster load times in place, so I'm glad to see that the PlayStation 4 now plays host to a worthy entry in the series. I spent countless hours with its PS3 predecessor, though, so I found that while 4.1 offers a more enjoyable experience overall in this definitive edition, it also offers little incentive to take up the fight when I've already been down this particular road...


Gregarious's avatar
Freelance review by Kai Powell (December 19, 2015)

As an aspiring FGC contributor, Kai has earned enough tournament accolades to earn the title 'Eternally Second'. When not pouring his heart out over covering the games industry and running a corporate games store, he also spends his mornings at a ramen-ya

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