Game name: Earth Defense Force 5
Release date: July 11, 2019
Available on: Steam
Genre: Third person bug smashing action
Publisher: D3 Publisher
What would you do if during a full scale alien invasion the apparent overlords of the would-be conquerors revealed themselves as anthropomorphic frogs carrying over-sized energy weapons? If your answer is “freak out thinking that these alien beings look exactly like us, and loudly proclaim that I can’t shoot back at them because of that reason” then congrats, you are a human from whatever alternate timeline Earth Defense Force 5 takes place in. Me? I’d probably freak out in an entirely different way, but then again, I’m not an EDF soldier fighting to defend my homeworld from outer space frog people (by the way, that scenario actually plays out in this game, and it’s as hilarious as it sounds, though you might be too busy fighting for your life to appreciate the comedy).
Anyway, as you might have guessed from the title and the first paragraph, it’s time to take a look at the latest main line Earth Defense Force game. I’ve murdered more bugs than the Mobile Infantry ever met in Starship Troopers (and trust me when I say that’s a lot) and spent sixty hours getting through all the missions on normal difficulty, plus a dozen or so of the early ones on hard. So, does this alien stomping title hold up, or is it just another “so bad, it’s good” title only meant for a few hours of drunken joy? (I’m in a good mood, so I’ll give you a little tl;dr right now: the game is amazing and will give you dozens of hours of great fun, whether solo or in co-op. Now go and read the rest of the review, pretty please?)
I’m a simple man, I see an action game and I’m instantly drawn to it. That’s probably what kickstarted my interest in the Earth Defense Force titles, though I won’t deny that my love for Paul Verhoeven’s magnificent take on Starship Troopers also helped a bit. Why am I mentioning this often misunderstood 1997 satire? Well, although EDF 5 doesn’t really get into social commentary (or at least not in the same way), you can totally feel like Johnny Rico and his Roughnecks during most of the missions that make up the game’s forty hours long campaign. Defense scenarios where you have to hold off seemingly endless waves of bugs alongside hilariously underprepared teammates? You got them. Bug hunts in dark tunnels, with all sorts of insect-y things picking off your friends when they stray too far from the path? What did you think? Of course you got them! There’s even a particular mission where you start on a structure that looks almost exactly like a Mobile Infantry fortification.
But let’s not get carried away with movie comparisons, it’s time to get back on track. Earth Defense Force 5 is an action game focused on killing giant bugs and weird aliens. You can choose between four different classes, all with their own weapon types and play-styles. Your basic Ranger can wield shotguns, assault rifles, rocket launchers (basically all sorts of small-medium hardware), and if you get a bit further into the game, you can also call specialized vehicles such as tanks (though they carry limited ammunition). If that’s not your thing, then there’s the Wing Diver, an all-female combat unit that uses jetpacks and energy-based weaponry in order to deliver surgical attacks that cripple foes before they even get the chance to retaliate, as the speed and agility of the Wing Divers ensure that they will always be one step ahead of the enemy. Not into lightly armored flying units? Then maybe you’ll get a kick out of the Fencers, tough, exo-skeleton wearing heavies who carry autocannons, howitzers, shields, and other superheavy armament. And if that’s not heavy enough for you, then there’s always the Air Raider, who looks like the basic Ranger but can call down different kinds of air support, ranging from vehicle drops (that can include mechs!) to all sorts of screen clearing ordinance. Really, there’s a class for everyone and enough toys for each class to play with for hours and hours on end.
Of course having all sorts of classes and weapons is nice and dandy, but it wouldn’t actually matter a lot if the act of shooting said weapons wasn’t fun. Thankfully, the gameplay in EDF 5 is top notch. Every class feels great when moving around or shooting, and all the weapons produce an immediate effect on the enemies they hit, with parts flying off, or insectoids being turned into pulp as an artillery barrage hits them. There are some over-exaggerated physics interactions, but they actually add to the experience, as they make the weapons feel even more powerful, something that applies for both the player character and the enemies, as I found out when I was on the receiving end of plasma cannon fire and my body started to ragdoll as the projectiles hit me.
Acquiring all of the weapons we’ve talked about is a somewhat easy (if a bit boring) process, since they appear as green boxes that drop from defeated foes. The same thing goes for armor upgrades (which will stack up after we complete missions, improving our character’s armor and letting us take even more punishment before being downed) or health packs, that are consumed during the action in order to replenish our hit points. If we pick up a weapon or armor box in multiplayer, every player gets it, which is great as it doesn’t force us to run around looking for stuff like the campaign does (since the AI can’t pick up boxes for us). Still, even if I’ve never been completely sold on this mechanic, I can’t really say I hate it either. Oh, and this time around you get to keep some of the weapons/armor you might have collected even if you die, a nice surprise considering that previous games wouldn’t give you anything if you were defeated, even if it was near the end of the mission. Another thing that I quite liked was that there’s an obvious progression curve with the equipment we unlock, with weaponry getting bigger and better as the campaign progresses (something that shouldn’t feel surprising, but for some reason many games have screwed up in the last few years). The game also prioritizes drops for the class we are currently playing (you can switch classes between missions, and the armor you collected will serve as a general upgrade for all four), and any duplicates found will merge with the stuff we already have, improving its statistics.
Missions are varied enough to never feel boring, with EDF command sending us into populated cities so we can assist in the evacuation of civilians at one moment, and the next one deciding that our unit should spearhead an assault on the aliens’ underground breeding chambers, for instance. The objectives are usually as varied as the locales we’ll visit, though of course most of the time our mission will require the total extermination of the enemy forces, an understandable goal considering the game we are playing. Level design is often actually pretty good, though this might get lost on people as city buildings are destructible, which can lead to certain levels looking like barren wastelands once the last round has been fired.
Going back to movie comparisons for a bit (I swear this is the last time!), it’s not hard to see that the inspiration for the Earth Defense Force series has always been the same: B movies from the last century. This particular entry in the franchise reboots the timeline from previous games, so we start right at the beginning of the alien invasion, and no one has a clue about the events that are unfolding right in front of their eyes, and thus, act in hilariously incompetent or naive ways (like the alien frog-people scene I described in the opening paragraph). Of course this means there’s a lot of campy dialogue, with the voice actors gunning for over the top, hammy performances that would give Nic Cage’s character in Vampire’s Kiss a run for his money. By the way, this is in no way a negative thing. I found that the campy performances greatly enhanced the experience for me and my buddies as we played through the game. There’s nothing like a good laugh after getting through a particularly tough mission, let me tell you that.
While we are on the subject of tough missions, I feel that the difficulty spikes that rear their ugly heads from time to time are basically the only parts of the game that I didn’t enjoy. For anyone unfamiliar with the way EDF games work, you start the game on Normal difficulty, beat all the missions that way, and once you’ve done that and acquired a nice amount of armor and a cache of weapons that rivals the US’ entire arsenal, you move on to Hard, repeat, then do the same for Inferno (I’m not quite there yet). When I mention difficulty spikes, I’m talking about Normal difficulty missions feeling almost hopeless, and not just me jumping into Hard difficulty from the get go, without armor or useful armament. This is made somewhat worse by the fact that I didn’t experience the same issues with Earth Defense Force 4.1, as that game was actually really balanced when it comes to difficulty. Thankfully, this issue only presents itself in a few missions, and with perseverance and patience you can get through them (and fear the same thing happening in your Hard mode playthrough, but that’s a different story).
Aside from unwelcome difficulty spikes, I can’t really find much fault within EDF 5. I suppose I could complain about the game’s PS3-era graphics, but that would be incredibly unfair to a title that routinely displays hundreds of enemies on screen while still maintaining a silky smooth sixty frames per second. The controls are quite improved over the previous game, with very serviceable keyboard and mouse support, and pretty much perfect gamepad functionality if that’s your thing. The online mode worked fine every time I decided to play with my friends and I haven’t encountered cheaters (that was a problem with 4.1, sadly).
Overall, Earth Defense Force 5 is one of the best action games released on PC this year, and a must-have for fans of the franchise looking for a new fix after finishing EDF 4.1. Blasting bugs to pieces from the relative safety of a powered exoskeleton is still a hoot, and the cooperative experience doesn’t really have an equal in the medium.
9/10 – Great.