A Cautious Step Forward for the Fifth Installment
Sequels typically attempt to polish the rougher aspects of their predecessors. As such, Sandlot, the dominant developer behind the Earth Defense Force series has faced an atypical dilemma. If a follow-up doesn’t make significant advancements, its doomed to be regarded as a lazy cash-grab. But considering the B-movie charm that saturates the franchise, too much improvement could actually endanger the campy ambiance.
Adeptly, the PC release of Earth Defense Force 5 strikes a careful balance between those two forces. Incorporating a number of shrewd design decision and new monster types, the game safeguards its quirky appeal. Although, the fifth entry isn’t a huge step forward, there’s still plenty alien-dismembering fun to be found across the game’s 100+ levels.
Short on Story, But a Long-Lasting Campaign
As with previous entries, Earth Defense Force 5 doesn’t squander too much of its playtime on exposition. Two missions detail the game’s lead, a private citizen, touring an EDF base, when an outbreak occurs. After your chaperone is killed by a giant alien ant, you’re compelled to take up arms for survival. What follows are long stretches across impossible long inclines, plagues of bugs spilling into the compromised facility, and your comrades delivering absurd or farcical bits of dialog.
Once you leave the base, Earth Defense Force 5 reveals its true form, as dozens of enormous insects skulk in the distance before becoming aware of your team and menacingly head toward you. It’s here that EDF 5 demonstrations a hook that’s apt to keep you engaged over the long haul. Using a standard issue rifle to whittle away the hideous horde of bugs enthralling, especially as body parts fly off the creatures. But you’ll need to remain vigilant. The game’s AI is one of EDF’s unappreciated qualities and the game’s aliens have a treacherous tendency to distract while stragglers attack your back. Certainty, the frequent armor and weapon drops from downed enemies is another temptation.
A Complimentary Class System
Wisely, Earth Defense Force 5 doesn’t tamper with the synergistic classes of 4 and 4.1. You’ll be prompted to start with series’ long-standing, all-rounder, the Ranger. Showcasing a balanced approach to creature killing, they have access to a wide array of weaponry. The all-female Wing Divers are the game’s Valkyries, with an energy pool that shared for lasers as well as flight. They’re adept at hit-and-run style play. Raiders are the resident support class, able to summon air strikes, turrets, and vehicles. Finally, there are Fencers, which are slow-moving tank-types that pack one of the biggest punches in the game. But their sluggish speed means that allies will need to ensure they’re not encircled.
The previous EDF titles required players to cultivate each class separately, grinding up the stats and building the arsenal of newcomers, much like a role-playing game. Ingeniously, this outing takes a different approach. Whenever you pick up armor or a weapon crate, it will won’t just align with your current class. Now, as you play, you’ll gradually build up the fortitude and firepower of other character types as well. Additionally, when you pick up a weapon that you already own, there’s a chance of upgrading the armament. As such, it’s just as exciting to see a stat increase on an old favorite than it is to find a new device.
In keeping with tradition, you’re only marginally concerned with protecting Earth’s structures. Spot a building that’s crawling with creatures and it still exhilarating to demolish it with a missile, taking down a horde of aliens in the process. When the environment is beneficial, such as an alleyway offering a chokepoint, it can still be awkward to move around these types of areas on foot. In keeping with tradition, some vehicles are also awkward to use. Bikes, copters, and tanks are heavy hitters, but each feels unwieldly. But the game’s biggest offense is when control is seized from the player to focus on an event. When it’s returned, the camera will often point at the ground, creating a superfluous moment of vulnerability.
Issues That Are Forgivable
But largely, these minor transgressions are a part of the EDF experience, likely to be overlooked when confronting the gun-toting giant frogs and invading extraterrestrials. When playing with online acquaintances, the game’s elements seamlessly blend together. With solid net-code, a well-designed class system, and levels that offer a drip-feed of new enemies and rewards, issues tend to disappear into the backdrop. Fighting alongside comrades, collective kills permit vehicles to be spawned and dividends are split down the middle, fostering a sense of solidarity. Pleasingly, the game scales down proficiently, and if you’re playing split screen or single-player, Earth Defense Force 5 still retains much of the enjoyment. That is, until some checkpoint-less, late-game missions force players to grind in order to even out the odds against an overpowered onslaught.
Performance-wise, Earth Defense Force 5 improves on the sporadically sluggish framerates of its predecessors. While nowhere as bad as the slideshows of the past, the PlayStation 4 Pro version would sporadically fluidity when the number of on-screen objects escalates. With a robust enough GPU, those occasional visual blemishes are gone, with EDF 5 running at a solid sixty frames-per-second. The one proviso is that you have to play the game in a Windowed mode (or use an app like this one for Borderless Window play). Save for this issue, and a supplementary selection of DLC that costs more than the game itself, there’s little room for complaint with the port.
Operational Tempo: Proceed at Normal Speed
Earth Defense Force’s formula of using a myriad of weapons to battles throngs of creepy creatures remains effective in the fifth outing. While there’s some astute innovation, Sandlot is smart enough to not tamper too much with basic bug (as well as amphibian and alien) blasting. Unlike the gung-ho behavior of my character, the developers proceed cautiously. As such, fanatical EDF vets and those who have curiously observed the franchise from the sidelines are best served by the latest iteration.
Earth Defense Force 5 was played on the PC with review code provided by the publisher.