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.