Unnoticed by many but loved by an ever-growing cult following, the EDF series (Earth Defence Force) is slowly biting its way into the gaming mainstream. We're pretty sure no-one would have thought that possible in 2003 when the first instalment was released in Japan as part of the low-budget series Simple 2000. Most other releases of this budget line for PlayStation 2 have long been forgotten - only Earth Defense Force prevailed. It got a sequel on the PS2 and later continued with entries subtitled 2017 and 2025 on Xbox 360 and PS3. The latter was turned into an upgraded version on PS4 which was called Earth Defense Force 4.1: Shadow Of New Despair, returning to a more straightforward numbering, and now we're looking at the brand-new Earth Defense Force 5.
In essence, all EDF incarnations are more or less the same game, including spin-off Insect Armageddon, which was the only instalment that wasn't developed by original developer Sandlot. Time and time again, outnumbered human soldiers are fighting for the fate of planet Earth, which is being attacked by a vast alien force that continually breeds entire armies of giant insects in the depths of our own planet.
This game is a kind of reboot, as we're once again experiencing the very first attack of the aliens, which are a bit different in design. Instead of shiny chrome, they now seem to prefer gold and bronze with a touch of steampunk. The look of their giant ants, spiders and wasps, however, has hardly changed, which is good. They now show battle damage and the "splatter factor" has been raised too, which suits the B-Movie feel of the series. After all, the mayhem of hundreds of giant insects meeting machine guns and rocket launchers is more over-the-top and comical than it is brutal when it comes to the EDF series.
Aside from the visuals, Sandlot has made some concessions to 'normal' western action games. Unfortunately, this includes a very clumsy introduction to the action, which is probably supposed to make the whole thing more 'cinematic'. This backfires spectacularly though, as the intro missions, during which the players turn from civilians into EDF warriors in an underground base, are just lame and ugly looking. It has to be said that graphics have never been the strength of this series, which has always prioritised quantity rather than quality. The engine is optimised to show massive hordes of enemies and city-wide collateral damage with skyscrapers falling like dominoes, all of which comes at the cost of low poly counts, weak textures, and bland lighting. Fortunately, it doesn't really matter that the first two or three missions aren't very good, as the game offers about a hundred more.
These levels usually turn into playgrounds of mass destruction. The maps are huge, and there are many old favourites which have been revamped with much more detail added, as well as some entirely new areas. The urban zones are basically doomed once the brave soldiers of the EDF arrive, and our forces are made up of four different units. Rangers are regular foot soldiers, but then there are the jetpack-equipped Wing Divers, the heavily armoured Fencers, and the supporting class of Air Raiders, which are capable of requesting equipment like tanks and helicopters as well as air strikes. This class system has been around for a long time in this series, as has multiplayer since EDF is more fun when played with friends. There are four-player online matches as well as local split-screen co-op, so there is always an option to play together.
All of this is well known to fans of the series, who will probably want to know what's new in EDF 5 - rest assured, there are quite a number of small but significant improvements. At first glance, the graphics are still ugly sometimes, mostly due to the completely unrealistic lighting and the strong aliasing. On the other hand, the maps are much more varied and more detailed now, as well as no longer being limited to Japan. Most importantly, the incredible action usually runs smoothly on a PS4 Pro, even if there are some small instances of tearing in the split-screen or even slowdowns when heavy chain reactions occur. But even these issues don't seem out of place when you consider the B-Movie charm of the action. The dialogue, about half of which is randomly created, is the cause of constant head shaking and laughter, and the players can choose from a number of pre-set comments, the most important of which can be easily accessed using the touchpad. Screaming "EDF! EDF! EDF!" or singing some soldier shanties at the most grotesque times in the heat of battle never gets old, especially as supporting units will join in these chants.
To improve accessibility, a lot of rough edges have been done away with. At its core, the EDF games are grind-fests with hundreds of different weapons to unlock, all of which drop randomly according to the mission's difficulty level. At the same time armour upgrades need to be collected to strengthen your soldier class, and in this regard, things have loosened up quite a bit. For example, a mission failure will still garner at least some of the collected weapons and armour crates, and collectables go towards each type of unit involved in the mission, even if they're only computer-controlled. By doing this, even classes that you don't use often get better and better, and that's a good thing because the long-term fun of playing EDF lies in trying different combinations of weapons, classes, and vehicles.
Within these combinations, there's also a bit more flexibility now as Rangers can now request vehicles, which was previously only reserved for Air Raiders. Wing Divers can fly longer and equip different energy tanks that prioritise weapons or flight time too, and they finally got a dash move, which is very useful. The heavily armoured Fencers can now execute boost jumps and carry even more equipment, while Air Raiders fight for their own survival more independently from other units now. Another big plus when grinding is that previously collected weapons are no longer completely useless - instead, they serve to upgrade your current weapon to a certain degree. This makes hunting for the coveted weapons crates even more addictive.
The bottom line is that what we've got here is a very typical new instalment of Earth Defense Force. It's not a revolution, but another solid upgrade, which is much more significant than the step from EDF 2025 to EDF 4.1. The design of some of the new alien units is certainly a matter of personal taste, the new introductory missions are nonsense, and the graphics are still average, so it's questionable whether the game will succeed in finding a wider audience. Of course, EDF is not for everyone, as a certain affinity for B-Movies is mandatory, but on the other hand, EDF games are unlike any other game series out there. So if you're in the mood for an orgy of destruction of epic proportions which offers weeks of entertainment with friends, check out this latest instalment as it is the most accessible yet. For any fan of the series, this fifth entry is definitely a must-have.