You know that slight feeling of dread and disgust when you walk into your kitchen and see a roach or a few flies have made a home of it? The fight-or-flight adrenaline rush you feel as you clamour for the nearest cereal box or kitchen roll to smack them with? Then, finally, the troubled sense of relief as you swing down and feel the crunch of the bug under your makeshift weapon?
Imagine if there weren’t just a few bugs, but thousands of them, and they were a hundred feet tall. Also, your kitchen is actually the city of Tokyo. This isn’t a terrible nightmare the night before a big interview, it’s Earth Defense Force 5. Yet, despite the bone-chilling concept and my awful feelings toward bugs, Earth Defense Force has never triggered the feelings of fear or disgust that you’d expect it to. Instead, thse games have been thrilling, endorphine-triggering escapades of trigger happy havoc. And the latest release in the franchise is the best it’s ever been.
From the moment you start the game, Earth Defense Force 5 is steeped in a metric ton of 50s-style Hollywood cheese. As an unassuming traffic director on your first day at the job, your director is giving you a routine tour of the military building you work when, out of nowhere, giant ants appear. Your director is mauled and a military commander swoops in to save you, give you a gun and enlist you in the fight. From then on, you’re treated to a lengthy campaign with narrative beats delivered entirely through oh-so-hammy voice acting. Goofy army grunts talk about how cool their big guns are, British secret agents radio in to tell you about teleporting alien motherships, and so on for 100 missions.
Expectations of nuanced writing and character development should be checked at the door and tempered to an extreme degree. Every voice in this game is more goofy and amateur sounding than the last, and they all deliver lines from a script that sometimes sounds like it wasn’t even written by someone who speaks English. It’s an unapologetic mess, and yet, that’s exactly why it’s so good. If you’re someone who finds joy in watching awful movies with friends, you’ll get that exact same sense of satisfaction out of Earth Defense Force 5. There’s so much charm and heart in it that I couldn’t help but shake my head or burst out laughing in the middle of multiple missions.
The laughs of Earth Defense Force 5’s goofy story serve as the perfect seasoning to the hearty meal of explosive gameplay. Each mission sees you and up to three other friends dropping into a different locale as one of four unique soldier classes. Pick your class, customise your loadout with dozens of different weapons and vehicles and equipment pieces, and then start mowing down hundreds of giant, relentless bugs and aliens. Earth Defense Force is a third person shooter, which is for the best, because I can’t imagine how terrifying of an experience it would be to have giant wasps and tarantulas swarming you in a first person view!
In the same way as Dynasty Warriors games let you mindlessly slice through huge hordes of enemies, Earth Defense Force 5 triggers constant glee and satisfaction as you destroy waves of creepy crawlies with heavy machine guns, homing missiles, giant robots and more. Not every enemy will mindlessly walk themselves directly into the barrel of your gun, though. One of the interesting improvements this sequel has made is the addition of more tactical enemy types. Giant gun-toting frogs, for example, will form up into squads, take cover from your attacks, and even try to flank you. On top of the existing variety of enemies from flying drones to giant kaiju, these more intelligent enemies help to spice things.
Another area that has seen a sprinkling of fresh spice is the loot system. In EDF games, enemies will sometimes drop weapon boxes when they die and collecting these boxes rewards you with random equipment at the end of a mission. This helps introduce an addictive grinding mechanic to the game that gives you a big reason to return to previous missions. In previous games there was often a sense of frustration when you would clear a mission and discover that most of your loot was useless duplicate weapons, but EDF 5 gives these duplicates a major purpose.
When you get a piece of equipment that you already own, it’ll feed into that weapon’s level and eventually rank the weapon up to give it increased damage or better performance. It’s a great new system that gives meaning to duplicate loot, and also lets players continue to use their favourite weapons without fear of them getting rendered obsolete by newer equipment. There’s a huge variety of truly unique and otherwordly weapons to use in this game, so it’s great that each of them is a viable threat to the alien bug menace thanks to this upgrade system.
Normally, you would only get loot for the character class you’re playing as, but now you get a few weapons for the other 3 classes as well, which helps keep all of your soldiers well equipped. It also gives you more of an incentive to branch out and try new classes, which is a good idea considering the quality of life changes they’ve all received in this game.
Your default Ranger class can now use a unique sprinting ability to maneuver through terrain quicker, while Fencers and Air Raiders have special passive equipment that buffs their movement options. The Air Raider, a class specialised in calling in support attacks and summoning vehicles, now has a guided overhead lasersight with which to aim their nasty nuclear shells. They used to simply toss a grenade blindly at the enemy to indicate where these mortars should land, so this is a very welcome change.
Something that the EDF games are well-known for is their truly abyssmal framerates. These are games where dozens of enemies will be on screen at once, and they would frequently run like slideshows when the action got supremely hectic. Earth Defense Force 5, by the grace of the gods, had barely any framerate drops during my time with the game. Even in the most chaotic battles, things ran as smooth as silk, which is a wonderful change that truly helps make this a definitive EDF experience.
Unfortunately, despite all these tweaks and improvements, not enough has changed from the previous games to this one. While I love the unashamed jankiness and absurdity of these games, a few gameplay issues from the last entries continue to plague this one. Most notably, certain wheeled vehicles are still as impossible to control as ever. Riding a gun-laden motorcycle through hordes of ants would be satisfying as hell, if the motorcyle didn’t tip over and eject you at the slightest touch of your control stick.
Earth Defense Force 5 is as video gamey as they come. No frills, just kills. If you want to unwind after a long day and just blast some baddies and see explosions until your eyes go red, you can get no better than this game. The absurdity of the story and the increasingly opressive odds of the missions make this a hell of an experience solo, and one of the most silly and satisfying cooperative experiences I’ve come across. It’s a shame that a few nagging issues from old games continue to persist in this one, but despite those, this is still a fun, wacky, addictive video game.