Review: Global Defence Force (PS2)

“Run! It’s Godzilla!”

“It looks like Godzilla, but due to international copyright laws, it is not!”

GDF Saurus

Holy copyright infringement, Batman!

There’s a lot that feels very familiar about the PS2’s Global Defence Force, the direct precursor of Earth Defence Force: 2017 and the second of three EDF games from original developer Sandlot. In part I’m speaking of how they’re fundamentally the same game – more on which shortly – but I’ve also got to note just how how obviously GDF lifts its design inspiration from classic skiffy and monster b-movies of the 50s.

It would be easy to sniff at such a statement and observe that the same is true of 2017. Well, yes, but they went to a little more effort to hide it. Look at that screenshot up there. That *is* Godzilla. There’s no two ways about it. Total rip-off. Utterly brilliant.

Check out the saucers, too. Just you try and tell me that those aren’t straight out of the wet dreams of Ed Wood. 2017’s dropships are pretty cool (except that they never, you know, drop anything) but they don’t have that classic profile.

Then there are the giant killbots. Yep, those mecha-inspired Hector “Walking Arms” from 2017 are pretty awesome, but GDF’s smallest metal titans recall the Martian tripods of Wells’ War of the Worlds, don’t they? That’s not to mention another type of robot that later shows up. I won’t spoil it for you. It’s too awesome.

GDF mothership and quadpods

"Too awesome" is my capsule summary of Earth/Global Defence Force in general.

It’s indisputable that beneath their surface veneer GDF and 2017 are the same game. Close variants of the same engine power both, with gameplay and controls feeling similar and the visual style featuring the same low-texture high-enemy-count don’t-fuck-with-our-draw-distance sense of scale. The story and level design is startlingly similar, even down to almost identical levels (fending off three swarms of red ants assaulting a beach? Don’t mind if I do. Mecha-Godzi- sorry, Mecha-Saurus returns thirty levels after you beat Regular-Saurus? Well of course he does). The weapon types, effects and names are even pretty much the same. Even the Bound Gun is present and accounted for, and is still one of the funniest ways to shoot yourself in the face.

What’s interesting is in how the games differ. I think this is best summarised as GDF being the more expansive and wild game, whereas 2017 is the more polished and tactical experience. Let me unpack this a little bit.

”]GDF LondonGlobal Defence Force offers up two playable character classes: the Infantry we all know and love from 2017 and the Pale Wing, an elite trooper packing energy weapons, a jetpack and an outfit straight out of Battle of the Planets. They play differently, have wholly distinct weapon types and can approach levels in different ways (it is quite possible, to use a whimsical example, to land a Pale Wing trooper on top of a flying saucer and ride it around). This doesn’t quite double what the game has to offer but it does make replaying the same levels a lot fresher.

GDF is also packed with a number of enemy types that don’t feature in its follow-up. I can only guess at why this is: perhaps the limited budget Sandlot and D3 had to play with meant they couldn’t afford to add in bombers or bullet-reflecting saucers or giant centipedes after upgrading the game engine, let alone including the Pale Wing. Or perhaps they really wanted to make a simpler, tighter game. I really can’t say.

(I can however say that yes, I did mean “giant centipede”, and yes, it is very cool. It is the length of an entire level, scuttles around at high speed whilst draping itself over skyscrapers, breaks its segments into smaller centipedes when damaged and every so often fills the entire sky with acid spray. Yeah, you’d better run.)

GDF centipede

Nightmare fuel.

For all that GDF’s 71 levels are packed with a decent amount of variation it can be mildly aggravating at points, particularly if you’re as familiar with 2017 as… well… many of us here at Arcadian Rhythms are. It’s a bit easier to get stuck on bits of scenery, the radar mini-map isn’t as precise and collecting power-ups is a bit more fiddly as a result. The visual feedback to your attacks is, with some enemies, not as immediately obvious and informative as it could be. AJ has informed me that in split-screen the game has been known to hang, although I should note that I’ve not experienced such a thing at any point whilst beating the game solo.

There are other things I missed, too, chiefly among them the AI soldiers and narrators of 2017. There’s no voice acting at any point in Global Defence Force, in fact, which means no hammy commander spouting “Damn you, mothership, did we wake you up?!” mid-mission. There are no AI EDF troopers shouting “You’re scared, aren’t you?” at each other. At no point does anyone chant “EDF! EDF! EDF!” There are still the occasional mobs of civilians to distract enemies, or hopelessly try to protect if you’re into that kind of thing, but they just scream a little in an unconvincing way.

An honourable mention must also go to 2017’s incredibly useful turret weapons, which are notable by their absence here. Some of 2017’s hardest levels all but demand co-op play and clever turret deployment, and I was genuinely saddened to find they weren’t included in this title.

The conclusion here is obvious: if you’re as big a fan of 2017 as I am then you really ought to try out Global Defence Force. I imagine that approaching 2017 after playing this might have felt a little disappointing due to the significantly smaller amount of character/weapon and enemy types on offer, but contrarily going back to this rougher-edged game and experiencing all of its extra ideas and bizarre inventiveness was an absolute delight.

GDF Pale Wing

EDF! EDF! EDF! Um... Pale! Pale! Pale!