Well, that took a while, didn’t it?
For me, an Earth Defense Force game is a particularly tricky review because despite the many similarities in each entry, the series has actually evolved over 16 years (yes, evolved!) into a game where you can choose a single character and dive in deep to uncover their rather massive set of weapons as you play through the different difficulties. While on the surface, Earth Defense Force 5 is a thrilling yet simplistic chunk of game to sink into, there’s a nice level of complexity in regards to how to approach missions in either single player, co-op, or online modes that makes if a fresh experience through multiple replays.
For many players, the easy to use all-rounder Ranger will be their initial pick, but I strongly suggest using Wing Diver for her air superiority and ability to snag more pickups than any other class. Or, you can play as each hero in any order, learning their unique skills (the Fencer and Air Raider require a bit of patience to master) as you challenge those aliens out to overrun the planet for the umpteenth time. It’s your call, and with 110 missions to tackle (not including DLC content), this isn’t a short game by any means.
It’s also the first EDF game with a proper (albeit awkward) tutorial for all four classes. It’s unskippable on your first play with any character even if you’re an EDF veteran, but it’s nice to see developer Sandlot make the game a lot more welcoming to new EDF recruits. For those new players, I’d recommend playing through each character’s tutorial just to see which one fits your play style and mess with “farming” a few missions to increase your arsenal. Of course, you can swap between characters between missions if you like, or stick with one for the entire campaign. Couch co-op play is supported via split screen in case you have an extra controller and a pal willing to dive in and get some bug and ‘bot blasting on.
Here’s a look at the Wing Diver intro level (all the EDF 5 videos in this review save for the official trailer are of me playing and there are quite a lot more of them on my YouTube channel, if you’re interested).
Although this is the 5th installment in the long-running series (and 8th EDF game, not counting a few oddities such as this and this), it’s somewhat of a reboot on a few fronts with new aliens added to the familiar ants, spiders, and saucers the series is known for. There’s an even more oddball element here in that while some previous entries have used the term “giant insects” to describe the obvious, EDF 5 revels in its intentionally silly decision to have humans somehow forget that similar, smaller insects actually exist on earth, a trend carried over from EDF 4 with its unwieldy renaming for some of its insect enemies. It’s more or less the same thing where you never hear the word “zombies” in The Walking Dead , something that’s always annoyed me about that show. But, I digress.
Approach this game as a simple “run ‘n gun” affair and yes, on Easy or Normal modes, it’s more or less what you’re expecting. Start experimenting with the better weapons as you acquire them (replaying levels helps out a great deal) and the game opens up significantly as it becomes wholly up to that combination of proper (or improper) weapons use and your chosen character having enough armor to survive some truly tough maps. While the expected gigantic insects are back (with all new and dopey names), this installment features a bunch of new aliens that range from oversized armored BEM’s and bipedal toads all packing a variety of deadly weapons, flying tadpoles that replace the dragons found in previous games, the return of some EDF 2 favorites, and a final pair of bosses that will be tough to beat if you don’t carry some decent ranged weapons and can dodge roll like a champ.
There’s also a new kaiju boss who pops up as unbeatable in a few missions until you acquire the means to best it but good later in the game. This also lets Sandlot drop in the intentionally methodical controls from its giant robot titles (Remote Control Dandy, Robot Alchemic Drive, Tetsujin 28) and let you have at the beast in a slowly paced battle that’s still exhilarating. As cool as that battle is, there’s a later map where you have to deal with an army of those big, bad stone-shelled lizards where you’re part of a massive force of EDF troops taking on those monsters with some help from multiple mecha airdropped onto the map. Vehicle control in general has never been this series’ strong point, but every class now gets at least one mecha or other vehicle to play around with as an option.
This game also adds light profanity and a surprising amount of alien gore, with dismembered enemies exploding in brightly colored blood that paints the surrounding area quite liberally. That said, it’s more amusing than icky unless you’re not expecting it and are easily rattled by digital ichor splashing or an alien body part or three flying off when blasted. Amusingly enough, while other games in the series have been rated Mature, this one is the first where you’ll see aliens expiring in assorted sprays and splashes (well, if you call assorted colors of alien goo “Mature” worthy).
On the performance front, it’s the most stable EDF game Sandlot has made to date, but there are still some lingering technical hiccups. Some EDF diehards *love* the series for these flaws, but I’m in more of the camp that wants all the destruction to be as smooth as possible as well as new games getting the polish a long-running series deserves. Sure, I don’t mind the visual quality not being as polished as many AAA games. But the series has always worked for my tastes in conveying a flawless sense of being in a crazy sci-fi film epic that, while made in the current age, feels straight out a Toho Studios lineup circa 1968. Modern updates aside, the game also often feels like some long-lost Japanese TV series or film franchise where the earth is always a half-step from total destruction until a few brave soldiers fight off the alien hordes.
Many of the maps will look and play similar to EDF diehards, and as with the still incredibly content-rich EDF 2, a few locations outside Japan add a bit of visual variety. There are a few nighttime missions, plenty of open fields with rolling hills, a beachfront map, a series of underground caves and more. Levels are reused (you’ll notice this more when flying around as Wing Diver), but it’s a case where the size of the bulk of the maps keeps you from seeing every inch unless you’re willing to keep an enemy alive and chasing you around while you explore. Below is one of my personal favorite missions, where rolling fog turns the map into an unintentional homage to the visuals in Silent Hill 2:
There’s a later variant of this map with different enemies and it’s even busier, but every map tends to get chaotic, particularly on the harder difficulties. Trophies in this game don’t drop until significant milestones occur, so if it’s that Platinum you’re after, expect to be a dedicated EDF fan for at least a few months straight. Fully completing an EDF game is itself an achievement in solo play, but it’s actually harder to some extent in co-op or online unless the people you play with are all experts and on the same wavelength you are.
There are two mission packs available (here and here) if you grab the Deluxe Edition or own the Standard Edition and buy them as separate DLC. These packs add much harder enemies and plenty of challenge to the point that I decided to record the mission below on Easy after getting destroyed a few times on Hard and Normal (hey, it was late and I was a bit sleepy). Playing on the harder modes drops new weapons exclusive to these mission packs, so I’ll be back into these missions once I clear up a few backlogged games.
I suppose I could gripe about the still intentionally campy tone of the incessant chatter being at odds with the game (and some of its more serious dialog) when things get good and grim as humanity ends up on the brink of collapse, but this is something the series has dealt with since EDF 2017’s English localization. Still, the most amusing thing is to unlock one of the harder difficulties and try to get a dry chuckle going when you’re under assault by everything moving much faster and blasting your poor hero with all it can fire your way. Buy hey, just as in real life, comedy is hard, dying is all too easy.
Sure it’s going to be a “niche” game to some of you “hardcore” types expecting AAA goodness all the way, but for me, Earth Defense Force 5 just works well where it counts and as with the rest of the games in the series, should be something action game fans of any skill level need to take a good look at.You’re certainly going to bet more than your money’s worth if you’re planning on seeing everything it has to offer.
Score: A- (90%)
Review code provided by the publisher