The Earth Defense Force series of games has been around for some time now and has made quite the cult following for itself. Its straightforward arcade style of shoot-'em-up action has made it popular among gamers looking for a visceral experience that they can play in brief bursts or for prolonged gaming sessions. Earth Defense Force 5 is that latest installment in the long-running series and the first made specifically for current-gen consoles. And while it may not be perfect, EDF 5 definitely keeps the right things the same while making some very welcome improvements to the series’ formula.
A bug's life
EDF 5 tells a story inspired by the classic sci-fi b-movies of yesteryear: Aliens are invading from outer space and not only do they have advanced technology like giant UFOs and laser beams, they’ve also got a nearly endless army of giant monster bugs at their disposal. It’s up to the EDF to defend the planet’s populous from massive leaping spiders, acid-spitting ants, and ginormous bipedal frogs with blasters. And that’s just scratching the surface: As players blast their way through the game’s 100+ levels of third-person shooter arcade action, the ante just keeps going up as new and more difficult enemies appear.
Players will be able to choose from four different classes to complete their missions. Ranger is sort of the standard starter class and is all about running and gunning. Wing Divers are a slightly more advanced class with flight capabilities and energy-based weaponry. Air Raiders can be a bit tough to use in single player mode since they mostly just offer up support to all the other classes by doing things like setting up healing towers or calling in air strikes. Fencers are a heavy infantry class that can carry twice as many weapons as the Ranger, but their movement is very encumbered.
While there’s still what I would consider to be a somewhat unbalanced learning curve to the class systems, there have been steps taken to improve each class’ core functions as well as a few new tweaks here and there to make each a tad bit more accessible. For instance, Rangers now have a dash skill as well as an extra inventory slot to carry things like extra armor or a deployable vehicle and Wing Divers can now upgrade their plasma cores.
In previous installments when players collected armor or weapons during a mission they’d only be for that class. Now, items collected throughout a level are split up among all the classes, but the player’s main class still seems to get the king’s share of items. It was definitely convenient no longer having to start at square one each time I wanted to try a new class this time around. Unfortunately, I still don’t think the advanced classes were made accessible enough even with a slightly lower bar for entry.
Feeling a buzz
Visually, EDF games have never been at the forefront of graphical pioneering, but there have been vast improvements made to the overall graphical quality in EDF 5. Creatures now take battle damage and splatter blood onto the environment making battles even more amusingly chaotic and ridiculous. The buildings and roads that make up urban areas of the game are much more detailed than before as well. While cave environments and outdoor areas have gotten a facelift, they too still tend to be massive and sparse making for a rather dull or bland visual experience on some levels.
While the plot has never really been a key element to enjoying an EDF title, there is a real effort to keep a narrative, however loose it may be, throughout each level. The dialog in particular in EDF 5 is so bad it’s good, I feel like it might’ve been translated from Japanese and then into something else before finally being dubbed into English. Honestly, though, it adds to the whole cheesy b-movie feel of it all.
That’s sort of the thing about EDF 5 and the series in general: The things that would normally not make a game good actually only serve to further endure the series to its fans. I hesitate to say it’s just mindless fun because you do have to think about things like your character’s loadout and how you approach a mission, but that’s what it is sometimes.
Some of those flaws are still just downright annoying though. For instance, I would have loved it if things like inviting a friend to a multiplayer session were more self-explanatory. I also would’ve appreciated not having to replay earlier missions on harder difficulties to grind for better gear so I could advance the main game.
Even with it’s inherited flaws, this is still one of the best installments yet for the series. EDF 5 makes no apologies for what it is and is more accessible than its predecessors. The game has just the right blend of cheesiness and action-packed gameplay that makes for a cult hit.
This review is based on a PS4 code provided by the game’s publisher. Earth Defense Force 5 is available now for $59.99 on PS4.
Earth Defense Force 5
- Kicking alien butt
- New tweaks to classes
- More gore
- Lots of small improvements
- Bland cave and outdoors levels
- Lingering UI issues
- Regrinding older levels
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