Earth Defense Force 5 is about as close as you can get to the definition of a guilty pleasure. It scoffs at the realism and deeper philosophical themes that are proliferating throughout modern video games as they become a more diverse and ubiquitous entertainment medium. EDF 5 unabashedly keeps both feet planted firmly in the past with its outdated structure, unattractive looks, basic mechanics, and hokey presentation – but despite all of that, EDF 5 still succeeds in providing copious amounts of mindless fun by relishing in the fact that blasting through hordes of giant bugs can be a bombastically good time in short enough bursts.
Earth Defense Force 5’s refreshing uniqueness and indelible charm stand out in a video game landscape that’s growing increasingly self-serious. As its name indicates, this is far from the first EDF title, but it remains strikingly original and fresh 15 years after the series’ debut on the PS2. It’s essentially the alien invasion B-movie video game: a third-person shooter in which you mow down endless hordes of giant bugs and UFOs while copious amounts of hilarious one-liners, stilted news broadcasts, and hammy banter play incessantly in the background. It’s amusingly dumb fun – especially if you have a group of friends to enjoy it with.
EDF 5 is crammed with content that provides plenty of excuses to keep obliterating more alien life forms, but its lack of mechanical complexity quickly erodes the enjoyment that can be garnered from longer play sessions. There are four classes to choose from that make use of different equipment and class-specific abilities to spice things up a bit, but it all ultimately boils down to aiming and shooting at identical enemies while strafing in the opposite direction. You are rewarded for your efforts with new weapons and equipment that can be swapped into your class loadouts between missions, but their random nature causes them to feel less like well-earned rewards and more like the randomly assigned upgrades that they are. A few vehicle portions and boss battles are thrown in for good measure, but it’s still hard to stay motivated throughout each of the 100 missions.
To make matters a bit worse, EDF 5 has similar levels of polish and attention to detail as its B-movie brethren – that is to say, not much. Each new mission unceremoniously plops you into a sparsely populated locale with enemies that spontaneously spawn into existence. The muddy assets wouldn’t look out of place on a PSP, the rubble of demolished structures phases through the ground, the rudimentary menus lack any flair, and the frame rate is less stable than a chair that’s missing a leg. It’s all further worsened by the abhorrent enemy AI that frequently gets caught on the level geometry requiring you to spend a dozen minutes at the end of most missions finding and dispatching any stuck foes. All these glaring issues stand out like a sore thumb because any other high-profile development studio would spend large amounts of time and effort ensuring their game doesn’t seem so slapdash, but EDF 5’s brazen disregard for any semblance of overall polish adds to its charm. It’s not very pretty, but its ugliness is entirely intentional.
EDF 5 is at its best when playing in shorter one to two mission bursts or while participating in jolly cooperation to obliterate any and all alien adversaries. The missions vary in length, but they’re consistently too long. Even the ones that introduce a new enemy type or vehicle wear out their welcome about halfway through when all you’re doing is killing the same enemies over and over. By limiting yourself to a couple missions after a long day, its mindless nature allows you to more easily appreciate its accessible albeit shallow simplicity. Playing with friends opens the door to legitimately interesting strategy by requiring effective class and equipment combinations to perform well at higher difficulties, and the presence of both local split screen and online multiplayer make recruiting a fellow defender of Earth that much easier. It can be a lot of fun, but don’t expect to be surprised or enthralled by any of EDF 5’s meandering missions.
Earth Defense Force 5 is an intentionally bad-looking and dated technical mess of a third-person shooter that boldly relishes in its campiness and mechanical simplicity. Mowing down the endless seas of extra-terrestrial arachnids and UFOs while melodramatic voice clips play in the background makes for an excellent stress reliever or a fantastically fun time with some friends, but its complete lack of depth causes the monotony of repetition to quickly seep into what’s an otherwise joyous celebration of video game escapism. If this is your first giant bug slaying rodeo, there’s plenty here to keep you amused for dozens of hours, but it functions best as a distraction from our notably less zany reality.