Like the Onechanbara games, the Earth Defense Force franchise began as a budget Simple Series PlayStation 2 game. Sometimes there were entries that made it to the west and when they did, they always stood out. Earth Defense Force was always a guilty pleasure franchise; they’re not deep or polished, but always delivered a satisfying experience.
The appeal of Earth Defense Force has always been being a human soldier in a massive environment that is swarmed with enormous alien bugs. Staying alive means having to blow these intergalactic pests to smithereens, and trying to not die of laughter from the voice acting and dialogue.
The series has made refinements and added many features over the years, culminating with Earth Defense Force 5. Touting more features and content than ever, this latest invasion is the biggest and most feature complete entry yet.
Earth Defense Force 5
Publisher: D3 Publisher
Platforms: Windows PC, PlayStation 4 (reviewed)
Release Date: December 11, 2018
Entering Earth Defense Force 5 as a newcomer to the franchise is a surreal experience. At first the visuals will fail to impress, the gunplay is basic, and the gigantic enemies will moronically charge forward. The acting and line delivery is seemingly crafted to be intentionally hokey; and then things click.
Your rocket launcher side-arm can level entire buildings in a couple of shots, which has impressive destructible geometry and physics. Collateral damage is not an issue and every Earth Defender gets infinite ammo, so players are encouraged to go nuts and melt entire cities if they wish. Hilariously, the player will cause more destruction than the invaders.
Character chatter is like if Tommy Wiseau wrote an Independence Day remake script, had Google translate it into Japanese and then back into English. Every male sounds like they are delivering their lines with a gun pointed to their head; manically panicked and shouting.
These poor boys will have fear in their cries as the lament an incoming “SPACE WAR!” When the towering bipedal cyborg frogs show up brandishing laser cannons, the soldiers are shaken how “They look just like us!”; because apparently big space frogs are the same as humans.
Female character chatter is equally amusing in different ways. Most of the ladies sound like doped up news anchorwomen and way too relaxed. Wing Diver units all sound like excitable cheerleaders, and dress like them too. Their battle cries are numerous, and every single one is intensely ditzy.
Gameplay follows a very basic third-person control scheme for the four main classes, with each one getting its own advantages. The Ranger is your basic soldier boy who carries two weapons and can take a special item such as calling for a vehicle. These guys are well rounded, and are always reliable for any player skill level.
Air Raiders function as a support class who focus more on vehicles, and have the ability to heal other soldiers or buff them. Their utility is best in co-op, since their load-out is less robust than Rangers as they get a dedicated vehicle slot.
Wing Divers are the all female class who prioritize airborne combat and charge weapons. Playing as these girls is also a risk, since they get the lowest HP and demand mastery of evasive tactics. As Wing Diver being on the ground is a liability, and their effectiveness depends on how good the player is at mastering the flight controls.
Fencers are the trickiest class of the four, and play unlike any of the others. These guys wear exoskeletons; carrying oversized weapons and capable of evasive dashes. What makes these guys tricky is their sluggish and unwieldy handling. They get the most HP, and become most effective later in the game when they have more of their mods and perks available.
Regardless of who you play as, every stage will have you tirelessly holding the fire button at everything that moves. The frame rate buckles under intense stress of hundreds of enormous bugs covering the screen. There is little need to aim, since the entire field of vision will be teeming with something to shoot at.
Pieces of the aliens will be all over the battlefield, and compounded with the destructible architecture, makes Earth Defense Force 5 be both impressive and unimpressive at the same time. The developers were completely uninterested in responsible work load for the PlayStation 4, leaving the huge amount of effects run completely unchecked.
The developers applied physics to almost everything; most notably the dead alien parts and building rubble. There is no regard for weight, so every object with physics is like a hallowed out styrofoam prop. Everything collapsing on top of your character will not even hurt them; at worst it impedes movement and blocks vision.
The wanton destruction is undeniably appealing. Every stage is big and full of things to blow up with no penalty. The stages are so large that when the game recycles them in later missions, it isn’t notable since every location is full of unique geometry, signs, and landmarks.
Because of the large enemies it’s easy to avoid getting lost, and always have something to shoot at. The attention to detail within stages is impressive; with little businesses realized in districts, and fully explorable farms and industrial zones. Large and complex scaffolds that pepper the factory areas can be scaled, and be used as sniping positions against UFOs.
The environmental variety is strong despite the low quality aesthetics that come with the Earth Defense Force 5 experience. It is the trade-off to have so much interactivity and freedom to blow it up. After extensive periods playing, it becomes part of the flavor and you won’t want it any other way.
The earliest moments during a stage will have a few monsters to contend with. This is when things are most manageable, and it’s reasonable to use the environment. It isn’t long before a horde of monsters overwhelm the horizon like a tsunami, and the only option is to run backwards while firing everything you got.
The variety of enemy types are commendable, yet are ultimately wasted by the absurd numbers of threats on screen. Due to so many monsters swarming the landscape and blocking your vision, trying to formulate any semblance of strategy is futile.
The utter bedlam and absurdity that happens in these encounters is the heart and soul of Earth Defense Force 5. It has an unbelievable ambitious scope for such a rag-tag and haggard looking game. It is unafraid to unleash a full-scale Godzilla-knockoff and an enormous mecha into a bustling city, where every step they makes causes skyscrapers to crumble in real-time.
Earth Defense Force 5 has vehicles, and most of the time they prove to have unreliable handling and are a liability. Even though driving the Akira-style police bike is cool looking, it’s easy to get thrown off it and get flung like a rag doll. The slipperiness applies to many of the vehicles, and demands a high level of finesse to master.
You become a much bigger target, and you lose the tight controls of being on foot when driving machinery. When missions get really wild, the best option is to bail or else the player-character risks dying in a terrible fire. This dynamic also is highly entertaining, since the overall default difficulty is low so the game rarely feels punishing.
Despite the lack of cutscenes, there is a story to follow. There is no central cast of characters outside of the broadly defined EDF, who are made up of heroic and selfless soldiers who die by the millions. The narrative plays out by catching background chatter of NPCs and news reporters explaining events as they happen.
When the events happen over the news, its a good chance that the player-character is going to participate. There is a sense that the human forces are advancing with every mission despite the impossible odds; and this gets reflected in the low level recruits gaining higher ranks and technology advancing.
There is always a sense of progression; with over one hundred missions, a plethora of weapons to earn, and upgrades to gain across four classes. Whether it’s a new mission or replaying one, drops for gear or HP upgrades always drop randomly, which makes Earth Defense Force 5 have high replay value.
While the constant barrage of monsters piling up on top of you can become tiring, it becomes less so with a friend. The game shockingly supports local co-op split screen. No internet required, but if you’re so inclined to squash bugs online with friends, the option is there and supports four players.
Mission variety is irrelevant due to the chaotic war that each encounter devolves into. Blowing apart the insects and the individual pieces wafting into the air as your character pushes through it all is what makes Earth Defense Force 5 such a cathartic and therapeutic experience.
It is not a polished or deep game, but it is definitely thoughtfully designed and ambitious. The scope is enormous, and the imagery is legitimately epic in the truest sense of the word. It does have its rough spots, but it makes up for it with captivating experience.
Earth Defense Force 5 is an immensely generous package that is bursting at the seams with content. Fans of the series will be undoubtedly satisfied with the all-you-can-eat-buffet approach to the range of options and playability. Newcomers will also find this latest entry the best place to start, as it is the best representation of what the series has to offer.
Earth Defense Force 5 was reviewed on PlayStation 4 Pro using a review code provided by D3 Publisher. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here.