The worlds premier insect-destroying simulator finally gets a decent sequel in this ultra-cheesy but super fun shooter.
It seems a long, long time now since Global Defence Force first crawled onto the PlayStation 2; its shonky graphics and low budget charm qualifying it as both a hidden gem and a rough diamond. But that was over a decade ago and the series has never seemed to know what to do with its unexpected popularity, and like many overnight successes ended up just repeating itself ad nauseum until everyone lost interest. Which is a shame, as we can only imagine what a difference it wouldve made if this had been the original sequel.
Chikyū Bōeigun, to give it its original Japanese name, has a long and complicated history. It was originally released on the PlayStation 2 as part of a budget range of indie style games in 2003. The first entry was never officially released in the UK but did appear on the Continent as Monster Attack. The sequel is what is known here as Global Defence Force and arrived in 2007.
Since then theres been all manner of sequels and spin-offs, some by original developer Sandlot and some not. But somehow theyve all been consistently less entertaining than the first and often missing many of the features that attracted people to it in the first place. But Earth Defense Force 5 does finally seem to have understood the franchises formula, even if its a case of too little, too late.
Despite the wonky graphics and a general air of low budget unprofessionalism Global Defence Force was a hugely entertaining third person shooter. Its B-movie budget was a perfect match for its menagerie of absurd monsters that included giant insects, robots, kaiju, and UFOs. It never had a story though and thats one of the first ways in which this sequel differentiates itself from its predecessors. Naturally it doesnt make any sense, but in such a gloriously over-the-top way that it becomes hilarious.
The dialogue in Earth Defense Force 5 is absolutely terrible, so if youve been upset at the news that the Resident Evil 2 remakes script isnt quite as cheesy as it used to be then you are going to love this. You play as an ordinary civilian who witnesses the initial alien invasion and immediately signs up as a member of the EDF. There are four classes of solider to go into battle as, starting with the standard Ranger and the flying Wing Diver – who are analogous to the character choices in the original game.
On to top of that is the tank-like heavy weapons specialist the Fencer and the Air Raider support class, who is able to call in artillery strikes and vehicle drops. The Air Raider in particular doesnt make much sense playing as on your own but thankfully the game offers two-player split-screen and four-player online co-op, at which point the whole set-up comes fully to life.
Despite their low budget the Earth Defense Force games have always featured very large maps and levels of destructible scenery that would shame Battlefield. These have also always been accompanied by enormous amounts of slowdown – but no more.
In the very worst case scenarios you can experience some frame rate problems but 95% of the time the game runs surprisingly smoothly. Nobodys going to mistake Earth Defense Force 5 for a triple-A game but for the first time since the original its back to punching above its weight in terms of its scope and ambition. That doesnt mean the games not still full of minor bugs, from an easily-confused camera to disappearing in-game objects, but none of the problems are as serious as they used to be.
Watching Godzilla-sized robots smash apart cities, as hundreds of giant ants swarm towards you and artillery fire explodes all around is exhilarating in its spectacle and its complete absurdity. Earth Defense Force 5 is dumb and completely unrealistic… and it revels in it, always eager to please with ever more outrageous scenarios and even larger explosions and feats of destruction.
What stops the game from achieving even greater heights though is the controls. The gunplay is actually pretty good, and although there are some stinkers in amongst the thousand-odd weapons the basic handling is sound and the variety is a source of constant surprise and amusement.
Whats not so good is the movement of characters and vehicles, which is sloppy and imprecise. Thats a problem the series has always had but its one it needs to fix in order to truly be taken seriously. It can get away with near non-existent artificial intelligence because all youre doing is fighting insects but while many of the other faults have been fixed the controls are still an issue.
Many will also complain that the game lacks depth, but thats not entirely true. There may be zero nuance, but especially when playing with others co-ordinating attacks and prioritising your targets requires a lot of battlefield awareness and on-the-fly tactics. It all recalls the simple but addictive action of golden age coin-ops, particularly Robotron: 2084 and its dual-stick progeny.
Earth Defense Force 5 is as far from perfect as its possible for a still enjoyable game to be. Even with all its improvements its low budget and barely-competent technology only just holds together. But that, even more so than the cheesy dialogue and setting, is where a lot of the charm comes from. If only it was a little cheaper, wed recommend it unequivocally but at least Global Defence Force has finally got the sequel it has so long deserved.
Earth Defense Force 5
In Short: At last the Earth Defense Force series gets a sequel worthy of its early promise, even if there are still a few unwanted bugs left.
Pros: Gloriously over-the-top in terms of action, storytelling, and ultra-cheesy dialogue. Excellent co-op, with four very different classes and open-ended, highly-destructible levels.
Cons: The on-foot and vehicle controls are sloppy and filled with minor bugs (the computer kind, not the Earth-destroying ones). Too expensive.
Formats: PlayStation 4
Publisher: D3 Publisher
Release Date: 11th December 2018
Age Rating: 12