The EDF is once again gearing up for another planet-wide battle against invading aliens and all of your childhood sci-fi B-movie fantasies. Giant ants, flying saucers, and Godzilla knock-offs alike, it’s a fun formula that never really changes, just has more and more content piled onto it. With the power of the PlayStation 4 now pumping out its character models, this is promising to be the most bombastic game in the series yet.
But, is that what we really love about the series? Is it the drive for chaos, or is it something else?
I was a fan of Earth Defense Force 2017 when it first came out on the Xbox 360, and that one is the game I most frequently go back to. I like the simplicity, the tight controls, the protagonist’s awkward hips, and the overall cheap feel of the buildings, levels, character models, and of course, the ants.
With the more recent games, development studio Sandlot has become self-aware of the global cult that exists beneath the Earth Defense Force series, and it seems like the studio is both trying to cater to this self-referential dumb humor and make a more serious game at the same time. Two competing ideals that fly in the face of the cheeky innocence that made the series a hit.
Earth Defense Force 5 promises better graphics, deeper job classes, “realistic” physics when destroying buildings, smarter combat against smarter enemies. In other words, it’s the AAA sequel to this cult Japanese shooter, promising to be more of what you love to the point of choking itself.
With the PlayStation 4, Earth Defense Force 5 should have no problem chugging out the giant monsters that your character must bring down, and in my demo, it didn’t. The game ran smoothly in areas that the older games would slow down to a slideshow frame-rate, and while the graphic engine doesn’t quite have the same cardboard charm as EDF 2017, its monsters, robots, and ants all look great.
Relatively great at least. These models wouldn’t fly in a Frostbite game, so a context of the series is necessary to get what we’re saying is “great” here. And by that, we mean passable.
Anyone who attends Tokyo Game Show might know there is always that awkward moment when you want to invert the axis, but the cute booth girl supervising your area neither knows how or can understand what you mean thanks to your broken Japanese. You then can’t find it on your own, fumble through Japanese menus, accidentally restart your mission once or twice, and just try and deal with it, aiming wildly all over the place.
Yeah, that happened to me. Earth Defense Force 5 still feels like a technically stable and responsive shooter on its most basic level. No complaints about the basic controls, which the series has always been very good with, but come on guys! Let me flip the axis in these demos.
And then there is the content, which shouldn’t surprise anyone at this point. Each mission drops players in a map, usually a massive city or the countryside hills, and from there, they are tasked with eliminating all enemy threats. Nothing overly complicated, just kill everything. Sometimes a force field needs to be taken out or enemy nests need to be plugged up, but generally bullets are enough to get the jobs done.
Rockets and explosives bring down buildings that hide monsters, and the general idea is to ironically cause even more damage to these settings than the monsters themselves in your mission to destroy them.
All this happens while your comrade-in-arms shout both patriotic and terrified chants. pre-recorded and sometimes used out of context. This is still a highlight of the series.
Earth Defense Force 5 does offer a larger variety of levels based on what I saw from others playing in the demo, but I only was able to play one map, and obviously, I chose the city level with the most ants to fry.
As usual, the corpses of the monsters present players with armor bonuses and new weapons, giving the game a backbone with its important sense of progression. Of course, these are meaningless in a 15 minute demo, but they are still there.
The main difference between each game is additions to the enemies, weapons and job classes. Earth Defense Force 5 piles on the content on both sides of the conflict with the EDF now rocking massive laser tanks and just the most ridiculous weapons these minds can think of. And as for the invading aliens, on top of all the improvements made to their usual beasts, the enemy ranks now include giant frogs with enormous laser guns!
That in itself is silly enough, but then they start acting like they are in a more generic third-person shooter by taking cover behind buildings and poking their heads out only to shoot. Satire aside, unlike Marcus Fenix, our EDF soldiers have no problem wantonly destroying their cover with explosives. These new aliens add a little variety and even strategy to the formula, but in this case, more “brain” I think hurts what this series is about.
It’s just manic fun, but at the same time, I wonder if it’s getting old. I sunk nearly 100 hours into the Xbox 360 game, maxing out stats and my arsenal, and since then, I’ve barely been able to muster the drive to finish the campaigns of any other game. Should Earth Defense Force 5 come to North America, it will be the fourth game released in English, if we include the Western developed Earth Defense Force: Insect Armageddon.
I get it now. It’s a fun and competent shooter that gets by on mostly jokes, thrills, and its slow character growth. Maybe this one will be technically “better” than the previous two, but it’s crossing a little too much into the realm of being self-aware of why fans laugh at it, losing a little bit of that innocent “Look, we made a bad game that people love!” charm.
Most fans will like it, but if I were ever pressed, it would be back to Earth Defense Force 2017 for me, which is scheduled to happen next year, buy the way.