Earth Defense Force 5 (Playstation 4 Review)
Earth Defense Force, to me, feels very much like a strange man’s Dynasty Warriors. Each iteration of the game has its own nuance, but, for the most part, remains the same; keeping the core gameplay intact. There’s nothing better than mashing button’s until your fingers bleed, knowing full well you need not put as much thought into playing the game as you do just heartily enjoying it. Although the appeal of this can vary gamer to gamer, some may find this style of gameplay pure unadulterated bliss while others get bored of its repetitive nature quite quickly. Earth Defense Force 5 tries to rectify that by tweaking its form ever so slightly but is it really enough to keep people coming back for more?
After several main entries in the franchise, and a few spin-offs, Earth Defense Force takes a breather from its continued storyline and starts fresh; A soft reboot to the series. This lets developer Sandlot carve out a new and proper narrative for Earth Defense Force 5 and is really what now differentiates it from its predecessors. You play as a newly enlisted civilian staff member for the EDF — cleaning the gutters and hauling crates– until an unforeseen alien invasion ravages Earth and are then recruited into the armed forces of the EDF to fight off this alien menace.
The idea behind revitalising the story starts off well enough, giving the player time to develop an understanding of the world, and grow into a particular play style that suits them. This new overarching story now ties level transitions together, making the player feel like they’re on a journey for the whole campaign. However, dialogue and exposition can only do so much for a story, especially with it being delivered through what I can only describe as ‘sound bites’. Pieces of dialogue that feel distinctly different from one another are mashed together to form some kind of context to what’s happening onscreen and off. There aren’t any cutscenes nor are there any distinctive characters to latch onto with 90% of the story being delivered through radio chatter and the other 10% through mission briefings. What should’ve been an evolution to the franchise’s story ended up being nothing more than ambient noise for the mundane environments you traipse through.
On every other front, Earth Defense Force remains the same. The environments in particular remain almost unchanged since EDF 4.1. Dreary city streets and roads with the occasional skyscraper are used to mask the flat square arenas. Sometimes you’ll be dropped into interior levels, such as caves, or given free roam of the countryside to change up the setting but this doesn’t happen nearly enough to keep things interesting. Then there are the graphics, textures look as if they’ve been filed down with sandpaper and the end result looks like a port of a Playstation 2 game. The only saving grace in these vapid locales is the chatter you get from your fellow A.I. squad mates, with voice acting is tremendously bad that it’s comedic, akin to the now iconic Resident Evil 1, and is delivered deliberately so.
Let’s be honest though, nobody is picking up Earth Defense Force 5 for its riveting story telling or its Playstation 2 graphics. They’re grabbing it for the big bugs and big gun, of which there are plenty. If you’ve ever touched an Earth Defense Force game, or even glimpsed at a trailer, you’ll know all you need. You kill giant insects with an ever increasing arsenal of weapons. The traditional menaces are all still here like ants, spiders, wasps as well as a few mechanoid enemies too, like flying saucers. The real downer though is that there are only a handful of new enemies to encounter that could leave returning players a bit disappointed. An added bonus, however, is that there are twice the amount of stages with just a little over 100 levels. There is also the added bonus of playing all these in either split screen co-op with two players or multiplayer online with up to four friends. Regrettably, save states are separate for both online and offline play, so you’d best stick to one unless you feel like completing the game more times than necessary.
While you don’t necessarily need to play with friends for Earth Defense Force to be any fun, that is where it truly shines – utilizing all the classes it has to offer as a team. Players have a limited selection of classes to choose from, but each has a wealth of weapons, gadgets, and vehicles at their disposal. The Ranger is your typical grunt class being able to use all forms of standard weaponry from machine guns to rocket launchers. The Wing Diver utilises a jetpack for quick maneuverability and favours regenerating plasma weapons for the added flair. The Air Raider acts as the primary support class and can call in airstrikes and vehicles to fight with. And the Fencer is the heavy weapons class who can enter the fray with four weapons at once, ranging from large melee like lancers to Gatling guns and the like. You can easily switch between who you’d like to play as between levels too, so you aren’t stuck with one particular playstyle all the way through. This may not seem all that much to those who are fresh off of playing Earth Defense Force 4.1 since they were featured prominently in them too, but newcomers to the series will have a plethora of weapons and tools to play about with. And in a game that’s all about killing things with bigger and nastier weaponry, the more the merrier.
That really sums up what Earth Defense Force 5 is, a culmination of all its parts. A diverse cast of soldiers with tons of weapons to choose from, a library of over 100 levels and chance to play all this with up to four friends. Earth Defense Force had the opportunity to evolve itself beyond its simplistic nature of shooting everything that moves but it didn’t, and in hindsight, it’s not all bad. Just like Dynasty Warriors its core mechanic is its strength and if it works why mess with it. Those who enjoyed the series before this will have as much fun if not more with Earth Defense Force 5 and if you’re new to the series then his one is as good as any to jump right in.