It’s kind of strange, seeing Earth Defense Force 5 as a full retail priced game. I say this because of EDF’s very humble origins as part of Japan’s “The Simple Series.” What is it? Well, I’m sure plenty of us are familiar with the concept of Bargain Bin games. The really cheap ones that usually don’t offer much beyond a couple minutes of entertainment, if that. Well, in Japan’s case, Bargain Bin games had an official name: “The Simple Series.” Games that came from various small time Japanese developers, published by D3 Publisher. They lived up to their name as very simple, cheap games that ranged from fun to just downright bizarre. At around the equivalent of $15 a pop at the time on the Playstation 1, and around the equivalent of $20 on the PS2, the Simple games spawned a few cult classics that would become full fledged franchises due to their unexpected success. Earth Defense Force was one of these games, released in 2003 by a small Japanese developer known as Sandlot.. And now, 17 years later, what started as a simple bargain bin shooter about blasting giant ants is a full fledged series, getting its own spinoffs on top of its mainline entries.
GENRE: Third Person Shooter and Insect Exterminator Simulator
GET IT HERE: Earth Defense Force 5 (Steam)
The concept of Earth Defense Force is a relatively simple one, at least in the mainline entries of the series. You are a member of the titular EDF, humanity’s first and only line of defense against hostile alien invaders. You take some guns, get out there, and start shooting anything that moves in the name of protecting mother Earth from any and all extraterrestrials and their minions who would dare cause her harm. And wouldn’t you know it? Such a simple gameplay formula of “Shoot anything and everything without a care in the world” can be surprisingly fun! There’s no complex objectives like defending areas, escorting things, or the like. No. EDF’s mainline entries have always been about one thing: If it isn’t human, kill it with overwhelming firepower, get upgrades that give you even MORE firepower, and use that to kill even more aliens and their giant bug minions. Repeat process until Earth is “saved” from the bug menace while noting the massive costs of reconstructing every city you blew up in the process. That’s the other thing about EDF: You aren’t penalized for property destruction, so by the time you’re done cleaning up a city block, there won’t be a city left, and that’s just fine! While you won’t be seeing any AAA levels of presentation in EDF, you will be seeing a lot of things to shoot at, and a lot of things exploding. It’s a series that has always put gameplay before everything else, and it shows despite the jank one would expect out of a small developer gone mainstream.
As the latest entry in EDF, 5 is a game that aimed to expand on and improve the experience that has been refined with each entry. EDF4 was one of the biggest game changers, introducing character classes that each had their own weapon types and specialties, adding far more diversity to the ways you could murder bugs and aliens in massive numbers. EDF5 took this new foundation and built upon it with new quality of life improvements and rebalances to each of the game’s soldier classes to make them far more enjoyable to play as, giving us what is probably the best EDF experience to date.
To understand why EDF5 is such an improvement over 4 though, we need to look at the shortcomings and issues 4 had in terms of its new classes. Prior to EDF4, you had two classes that typically were used: The Ranger, and the Wing Diver/Pale Wing. The former was your typical ground level ground, the latter was a lightweight, flight capable combatant. While these two classes worked fine in the latest entry at the time, EDF4’s newer entries, the heavy weapons Fencer and tactical Air Raider, were entirely new concepts. And as entirely new concepts, they lacked the kind of refinement and functionality the Ranger and Wing Diver already had from prior games. This resulted in those two classes having significant issues with balance: The Fencer was extremely slow without using specific loadouts that let you exploit special movement techniques, which in term limited your weapon options. The Air Raider was nearly useless in solo play unless you were extremely skilled with his support based kit that lacked conventional guns and a means to protect yourself if things got too up close and personal. EDF5 has had a chance to address these issues in order to greatly improve both of these classes, letting them stand proud alongside the others and shine in their own right.
So, with all that backstory out of the way, let’s get into what you’ll actually be doing! EDF5 uses a simple, linear mission structure where you play a mission and complete it to unlock the next. Each mission’s objective is simple: Kill everything that’s hostile and don’t die in the process. Once you enter that mission, it becomes a pretty simple but fun third person shooter where you’ll have to deal with large swarms of enemies using a loadout of your choosing prior to the mission: Your goal being to kill everything and grab the loot from their corpses to strengthen your character, that loot taking the form of new guns and increases to your maximum armor (health) level. Ammo is typically of minimal concern, as you can reload most guns from an infinite pool of ammo you somehow carry on your person, though some special weapons cannot be reloaded. This means that you can focus purely on shooting things, and not wondering where your next set of bullets is, only needing to plan for reloading in so far as it being “those brief moments you can’t shoot” as opposed to “Where is a box of bullets!?” Once everything is dead, you move on. You repeat this across a large mission count, facing new foes in even larger numbers with each bit of progression you make. And even when you’re done, every mission has multiple difficulty levels, with the higher ones often introducing new enemy variants to make life that much harder on subsequent playthroughs, but also offering you much more powerful weapons to play with should you survive.
And that’s what makes EDF so fun: Despite the simple premise, there’s still a surprising amount of depth in its simple gameplay formula. The four classes I mentioned, plus the massive arsenal each can wield, means you’ll often end up thinking about what might best tackle a mission’s opposing force. For a massive up close ground assault, you may end up favoring a Ranger with a shotgun capable of mowing through entire groups in dangerously close combat. Another mission may present you with long range artillery mechs raining plasma mortars on you, resulting in you deciding to take your own artillery based approach as you bring out a Fencer with his own mortars and long range missiles to beat those mechs at their own game. Experimenting with each class and its weapons is a joy in and of itself as you discover all kinds of new ways to slaughter the invading aliens, like bringing out a literal laser chainsaw to cut through your foes while flying around in a jetpack as a Wing Diver, or calling in full on artillery strikes to level an entire city block as the Air Raider.
But what fun is doing that alone? EDF5 knows that destruction is best shared with friends, and with the gameplay as chaotic as it is in this game, friends just make it that much better. Friendly fire incidents, tragic in real life, can become moments of absolute hilarity in EDF when someone doesn’t pay attention to the fact they’ve just run into an air strike called in by another player. And who doesn’t love the feeling of triumph when they overcome overwhelming odds with their best buds? As a co-op game, EDF5 definitely shines due to the aforementioned options you have, multiplied by four.
While the game’s look may be a budget one, there’s still one thing EDF manages to nail in a way a lot of other AAA games don’t: Scale. While most modern gen shooters often limit how much can be onscreen at once to maximize graphic fidelity or whatever it is they call it these days: EDF focuses instead on lower detailed environments and models that allow for enemies to swarm you by the literal hundreds, creating battles that have a truly massive sense of scale. This isn’t the kind of shooter where you go in, shoot 10 guys and call it a day as you move onto the next kill room. In EDF, the entire level is your battlefield, and it will be swarming with things that all have one priority: Your death. And you’ll be spewing out lead and plasma in ridiculous amounts as you run and gun in a desperate bid to survive their onslaught, killing wave after wave of enemies in a fast, fierce gameplay loop.
As for what you’ll be doing your killing with? Well, let’s take a look.
First, we have the Ranger, your Jack of all Trades class. He’s armed with a balanced set of weapons to pick from, like full auto assault rifles, hard hitting shotguns, and wide area destruction capable rocket and grenade launchers. His large arsenal variety makes him able to adapt to virtually any situation, as long as you’ve found a strong enough weapon of the type you want to use for the job. On top of this, a percentage of life he has healed by health pickups is also granted to nearby allies What he lacks in the specialty of the other classes, he makes up for in adaptiveness, though one might easily find themselves overwhelmed by this sheer variety of options. But that’s where the other classes come in. That said, as EDF’s original class, he’s always a good first pick, and always one you can rely on.
The Wing Diver is all about air superiority. She lacks armor due to needing to be lightweight to fly, so speed is life. As a Wing Diver, the challenge lies in balancing your precious Energy meter, which fuels both your guns *AND* your flight pack. Mastering this delicate balance rewards you with a class that is able to stay above the carnage while they rain down destruction from on high, or engages in high speed hit and runs where they swoop down, obliterate their foes, then take back to the safety of the skies. She’s been a solid contender in prior EDFs and 5 just takes what she had and keeps it working with small improvements under the hood.
The Fencer is the heavy of the group, sporting high armor and a variety of heavy weapons they are capable of dual wielding, giving them the ability to carry two pairs of weapons to the two gun limit of Ranger and Wing Diver. On top of big guns, they can also bring out melee weapons that offer high risk, high reward damage up close, and shields to take the brunt of damage they might have trouble avoiding otherwise. To aid them in movement due to their heavy armor frame, many weapons also come with special boosters that allow them a quick burst of movement in a direction, or the ability to perform a powerful high jump, and both of these boosters can be used in combination to give a surprising amount of speed and mobility (in bursts) to what would normally be the slowest class in the game. A Fencer can dig in and fire from behind the cover of a shield, rain down hell from afar, rush in to strike with a spear or hammer before backing away, their options are surprisingly vast for the “heavy” of the game. EDF4 greatly limited what he could use to achieve high speed in moments he needed it, something 5 has greatly improved upon in order to make the Fencer a much greater joy to play.
Finally, the Air Raider offers a more tactical approach to the madness of this game, focusing primarily on the use of combat vehicles and artillery strikes to dispatch their overwhelming opposition. A lack of up close options means an overrun Air Raider is a dead air raider, but those who learn to use his kit can often deal with foes before they get remotely close. Artillery strikes can be aimed at a desired location, even before the enemy establishes visual contact, giving you a great preemptive option, while quicker single strike beacons can be shot at foes to call in a series of swift, smaller shots to deal with your foes that are a more immediate threat. On top of this, the Air Raider can call in a variety of vehicles ranging from rail-gun equipped tanks, to fully loaded assault helicopters, to powerful mechs armed with a variety of close and long range weapons. And in co-op, they can bring in a variety of support tools to buff and heal their allies, keeping them going in a difficult engagement. The Air Raider is definitely a co-op focused class, but improvements to their kit and how it’s used have helped make him far more solo viable in EDF5 compared to his debut in EDF4.
So yeah, with all that said, you can just imagine the way these classes can work together as a team in a co-op game. Half the fun of co-op is forming an effective fireteam, as you are allowed to bring more than one of any class into the fray, or you could opt to do a balanced team, figuring out what works best is all part of the fun. And EDF5 makes sure to keep the co-op frantic by scaling up enemy threats based on player count. Stronger foes in greater numbers will show up per player to ensure the fight stays challenging even with four players on the field.
Now, all that said, a bit of things do get lost in translation on the presentation side of things. The game is meant to actually be taken fairly seriously according to its director, but at the end of the day, it just comes off as incredibly campy and silly. A key example of this being when the “colonist” type enemies show up, which are basically giant frog men. A soldier exclaims they “can’t shoot him because he looks like a human.” They continue to say these things look like humans, despite, well…Quite literally being frogs standing on two legs. On top of this, many of the troops sing as they march into battle, trying to keep their spirits up in the face of overwhelming odds and knowing they’re marching straight to their possible deaths. But on the english side of things, it just comes off as very campy and silly, despite the intended seriousness implied by the dev team. As a result, the entire game can come off as a very campy, nonsensical experience, though in my opinion that’s always been part of EDF’s charm. At the end of the day, we aren’t here for deep philosophy, we’re here to shoot a bunch of bugs, and that’s what EDF always delivers on.
So yeah, that indie jank I mentioned? Yeah, I’ll admit there’s a fair bit of it here. With ragdoll physics that can become incredibly silly, vehicles that suddenly flip over at the worst time, being sent into low earth orbit by an explosion. If you’re not an EDF veteran, you might find these things off putting at first, though to those of us who have been around awhile, it ends up furthering its charm. At the end of the day, it’s rare for the jank to ruin the gameplay as a whole, and if anything just ends up creating moments you can have a good laugh at, even if it’s a moment that killed you.
So at the end of the day, what you basically get is a game that isn’t the prettiest to look at, has campy voice acting and music you would come to expect from a lower budget title, but you also get an incredibly solid third person shooter that delivers nonstop action that is made only more ridiculous if you get some friends involved. All this from a series that originated as a 2000 yen bargain bin Playstation 2 title. If you enjoy shooting things, it’s really hard to go wrong with a game as fun as EDF5 is when it comes to shooting things in ridiculous numbers.