The biggest bugs in Earth Defense Force 2025 are not the iconic silver-backed ants that grace its outrageously ostentatious box art. The latest entry in Sandlot’s cult co-operative shooter series is a technical disaster, running a gamut of performance blunders larger than its colossal robotic adversaries. However, franchise fans will already be familiar with this fact, as its abhorrent framerate has forever been flaunted as one of the brand’s most defining features. The question is: in spite of its many flaws, is it actually any fun?
In any other title, we’d scrape points off the product like a beetle from the bottom of our shoe if it ran like this – but it’s hard to dispute that the fact the failings here add an indescribable je ne sais quoi to the experience. It’s almost impossible not to smile when the action slows to a slideshow, because the game appears to be aware of its own shortcomings – it just doesn’t care. There are occasions where the release will quite literally render hundreds of approaching enemies on screen, with little regard for its ability to actually cope with them.
And that’s undeniably entertaining. Carving your way through hordes of idiotic insects is mindless, make no mistake – but the game offers some real respite from more draining endeavours such as The Last of Us and Beyond: Two Souls. There’s no boundary breaking narrative to ruminate over, and no brain-bending puzzles either – just skyscraper sized Hectors and computer controlled companions who sing futuristic sea shanties about giant spiders and the shotguns that they’re going to use to blast their eight enormous eyes out with.
It’s all a bit daft, but it never really parades its stupidity. Radio chatter remains straight-faced throughout, as if it’s perfectly normal to be shooting helicopter-sized bumble bees with lightning. While it will have you in stitches at times, though, it can get a bit fatiguing. The action is pretty relentless, and if you choose to play for anything more than an hour at a time, your brain will dispatch pangs of pain right through your skull in an effort to make you stop. It’s a title that’s best enjoyed in short bursts, then, much like any other arcade experience.
It’s not the dumb one-liners and teems of creepy-crawlies that will keep you coming back, though, but the progression. The game awards you with the freedom to tackle each of its 85 stages at any difficulty, allowing you to tailor the excursion to a tier that feels right for you. However, it rewards you if you play on harder settings with better item drops, forcing you to constantly push the limits of your current gear against more equipped adversaries. This augments the adventure with an oddly compelling loop, where you constantly return to former stomping grounds in pursuit of better loot.
And some of the weapons are legitimately excellent. Much like any other swag obsessed affair, you’ll need to churn through piles of garbage before you find the right goodie for your playstyle, but once you happen upon the perfect incendiary infused assault rifle or heat seeking missile launcher, you’ll grow a curious attachment to its frighteningly tempting trigger. Perhaps most impressive is that there’s a full arsenal to unlock across four different classes, although these alternative characters aren’t always as entertaining as their associated armouries.
The default Ranger will be instantly familiar to fans of the franchise, as this customisable character resembles the standard ground grunt from previous games. The release recommends that you begin with the unremarkable mercenary, and it’s smart to suggest that, as the other options are a little more awkward. The jet pack equipped Wing Diver, for example, trades armour for titillating cleavage and the ability to fly, while the Air Raider can summon vehicles and the Fencer has guns bigger than a WWE superstar.
The problem is that none of them are especially fun when you’re playing alone. Aside from being impossible in many of the underground levels, constantly calling in airstrikes is not an especially enjoyable way to play the otherwise fast-paced game, while the last mentioned lumbering option is so slow that the only way that you’ll maintain your sanity is by spamming its boost move, which is only available with some weapons anyway. Playing in co-op does bring some strategic advantages to these alternate types, but you’ll still cling tightly to the standard soldier like your life depends on it.
Still, playing with three other people is an entertaining endeavour. The lobby system is well constructed, allowing you to cycle through a selection of preset messages and work through the entire campaign with friends and family if you please. The netcode is solid – even if it doesn’t necessarily need to be – but the performance hiccups can worsen when you’re firing off rockets next to a group of online associates with the same idea. You can also play locally with another person, and there’s a one-on-one versus mode, but we’ll grant it the goodwill of pretending that it’s not even there.
With an engine that emphasises enemy numbers ahead of smooth performance, it’s perhaps not overly surprising that the game looks flatter than a pancake visually, but there are some standout moments of scale where you’ll be battling flying drones deployed from an AT-AT Walker and a small silver asteroid that looks a lot like the Death Star. The soundtrack’s fusion of pompous orchestral melodies and cheap as chips synth riffs at least add a little quality to the presentational proceedings – and will help you to tap your feet through the many exaggerated loading screens.
Like a cheesy 80s pop record, Earth Defense Force 2025 is so bad that it’s almost quite good. There are more flaws here than a second-hand clothes shop, but there are worse ways to wile away your time than by blasting supersized insects in the antennae. However, while this big bug buster certainly won’t make your skin crawl, don’t anticipate a whole lot more than a really silly third-person shooter with even stupider ants.