To paraphrase Sean Bean, one does not simply review an EDF game. I’m about to do it here with Earth Defense Force 5 and tell you what I’ve found out after dozens of hours of play but the fact is that these games tend to take a while to come into their own. Usually a few hundred hours in.
So while the game has had quite a few reviews and is sitting on Metacritic with a 72% metascore which is a mix of reviews from those who get it and those who really don’t. But none of them are qualified to really speak on the game and neither are we. With that in mind, we’ll be revisiting this review later on to see how the game feels a few hundred hours from now but we’re confident enough to get our thoughts on the game’s new features out in public having completed one complete run and played several levels as other classes either offline, online and in local co-op.
If you’re new to the series, here’s what you need to know about Earth Defense Force as a series. This is a b-movie creature feature of a game where you play as a soldier who, as part of the Earth Defense Force, has to protect our world from an invading alien army. A really big one at that.
EDF5 starts the same way as the others with you being besieged by gigantic alien ants. These inflated insects can easily pick you up with their jaws and fling you around. They also spit fire at you for good measure. One of them would be enough for a typical horror movie but the EDF games give you dozens of them all marauding around at the same time causing chaos.
The ants are a biological weapon sent down by the ‘Primers’ as super-hostile race of aliens who want to take over the Earth. Primers? That’s right. Fans of the series will be a little confused at first as this game doesn’t follow the events of 2017 and 2025 (where the invading force was known as ‘The Ravagers’) and is instead from an alternate timeline with the aliens invading in 2022.
Where previously the EDF were a branch of the army, now they are private military contractors and mission one starts with you showing up there for work and being shown the ropes just as the first alien attack happens.
What follows is 110 levels where the alien threat gets more and more deadly. Giant ants become red giant ants that can give and take more damage than their black counterparts while new enemies such as spiders and wasps are added to the mix, bringing an even deadlier threat.
It doesn’t stop there though with EDF5 bringing a host of new enemies, both biological and mechanised, to come and ruin your day. And as with the previous games, they don’t much care about things like frame rates. The main thing here is to put as many giant things on the screen as possible and when the enormous bullet sponge bosses show up, the game feels just about as epic as epic can get on a PS4.
The first couple of levels take place in an EDF base, the corridors and ramps making for a fairly ordinary first impression but it is during episode four, where you have to fight off multiple massive waves of ants while an NPC army of exoskeleton pilots helps you out by dishing out a ridiculous amount of firepower, that the game takes its foot off the brakes and gives you your first taste of the craziness that the game is capable of.
From there the ante just keeps upping with the numbers of enemies getting ridiculous until you’re just swamped in them and are trying to blast your way out of the bundle. EDF has always been about your damage output and, as ever, this iteration is absolutely full of weapons to play with and they cover the whole gamut from fairly traditional rifles and shotguns to super experimental tech weapons.
As with 2025/4.1 you get to pick from four classes. Each with its own introduction and take on the story. For example, the Ranger character starts work on day one as a security guard while the exoskeleton-piloting Fencer is a warehouse worker. It’s pretty funny though as they are stuck with their work uniforms for the first ten or so levels until the story advances five months. The four classes all have their own abilities and quirks.
Ranger: something of a ‘default’ class, the Ranger was the only class back in Earth Defense Force 2017. This is your typical soldier type and he can carry two weapons and a special item. This one can offer new abilities or vehicles. I mainly had it set to a drone mode which meant that it made it easier for the Ranger to pick up weapons and armour. Later on though, you’ll need something that will help you survive the battle.
Wing Diver: this air-based unit has a store of energy that recharges when it is not being used and can power her jet engines for flight or be used to reload any energy weapons she has. Somewhat overpowered, she has the best movement in the game and has some absolutely filthy weapons with which to do massive damage. She’s also great from range too.
Fencer: this is a tank-based class who initially seems slow but can use a technique called dash-cancelling to get around the levels pretty quickly, certainly faster than the Ranger. The focus here is on lots of armour (he gains it quicker than other classes) and big splash damage. The Fencer is very much a specialist class though as he’s pretty unwieldy to use and can easily destroy all of his team mates. He now has two support slots which allow you to add extra movement boosts and buffs to the character.
Air Raider: although usually he’s basically useless in single-player, the Air Raider is a great support class who can boost the abilities of other classes, drop turrets, summon vehicles and call in massive airstrikes. He was great in 2025/4.1 and even better here as it is a lot easier to use his weapons. We’re still entirely reliant on his turrets though and can’t quite give them up.
The four different classes all play sufficiently differently enough to give them their own flavour and the mix of play-styles really works online with each having an important part to play in the battle. Initially there isn’t much of a requirement for that kind of tactical understanding but when the difficulty levels go up, the base tactic of pumping out more firepower than the cast of Predator did against those trees just isn’t an option.
At this point you’ll be relying on a good Fencer to deal long range damage and kite enemies around the map with his dash-cancel move which allows him to move faster than anyone else in the game. A decent Air Raider will be essential for providing the boosts and protection to keep the team safe. And of course you’ll be needing the Wing Diver’s obscene firepower and the Ranger’s versatility to take down each level.
That is where the game has always been at its best and while the game gives you a ton of weapons to play with when it comes to dealing damage to the enemy, the battle is usually won with strategic thinking. That will only get you so far as usually acts of heroic bravery and occasional madness will also be required because sometimes you’ll be half an hour into a son of a bitch of a level with the squad all at death’s door and someone will need to be the hero that resurrects the team under a blanket of alien laser fire.
It’s those moments that really make EDF special and EDF5 doesn’t let the series down. Even in single player the epic moments are countless. In preparing for this review we took well over a hundred screenshots and didn’t even realise it. I was just hitting the Share button every time something cool happened.
Interestingly, the game’s massive arsenal of guns has changed a little. You still have your old favourites such as rifles, rocket launchers, homing missiles and all the experimental tech that you’d expect (and some that you wouldn’t) but now your guns level up. It’s an unnecessary change but it does work quite well and lets you keep hold of a weapon that is working for you when so many of them don’t (a standard EDF feature). Thankfully there’s no requirement to find all of the weapons now which is normally a traditional post-game EDF grind.
The series in general has an unfair reputation for looking a bit clunky, a bit dated. The thing is you can take a game like Red Dead Redemption 2 and swoon over its realistic horse testicles but the truth is it’s a lot easier to render some dusty plains, trees and bushes lovingly in 4K because for the most part there is nothing of note happening.
In EDF5, every building can be taken down either from multiple rocket launcher strikes, massive bombing runs or just from a 70ft monster deciding to walk through it. Add to that a few dozen ants and spiders all attacking at once while the sky fills with giant wasps and yeah, EDF might not have the greatest textures or highest levels of detail but what this game engine is doing is spectacular. In its own way EDF5 might be the best looking game of the year.
The ridiculous voice acting continues and leads to plenty of moments of, possibly unintentional, comedy while the stirring music blares out. There’s also a creepier vibe to the sound now with one of the new enemy types chattering away in some odd alien language while ’50s style spooky choirs sing away in the background.
While the game does add some changes, notably with some of the new equipment slots each character gets which does improve all of them, it’s also very familiar too. Apart from a couple of levels here and there, this is very much standard EDF. The new enemy types tend to be direct replacements for ones that are no longer here. For example, the new frog-like infantry are pretty much a substitute for the tall Hector robots and the flying flog “tadpoles” just replace the dragons from the last game.
One interesting change is that difficulty levels now stack. Beating a level on Hard, for example, will get you the medal for Easy and Normal, which is a very welcome change. Unfortunately, the game’s trophy set is now focused almost entirely on completing the stages with a trophy for every 5% of completion. However, this either counts for offline or online but not both so you can’t dip into each mode and keep your progression going and so there’s no reason to switch modes which is a shame.
Another issue is that a lot of the levels feel like filler. While the game’s environments are massive, there aren’t many of them. You’ve got your standard city, industrial, countryside and coastline environments and each is used many times across the game’s 110 levels so it can get samey and also the actual format of the levels gets repetitive with the usual mix of enemy types repeating itself.
A lot of the time each level is just a rush of enemies with a few infantry enemies at the back laying down long distance fire and then when you clear all that out another wave spawns and that might happen two or three times. Certain levels definitely stand out, especially anything different like a certain battle that happens during stage 83 and some of the epic later game setpieces but you could easily trim 60% of the levels here and not really lose anything.
As a long-time fan of the game, I do expect that and each of these levels will likely prove to have unique challenges when played at the highest difficulty settings, but even so it can feel like a slog to get through. That said, the action is basically non-stop and so if you’re from the gaming old-school where everything is about the destruction and violence and busy work (such as hunting missions and whatever) are anathema to you then EDF5 will make you very happy.
So there we have it. It’s difficult to commit to a score though. At its best, EDF5 is a very solid 9 but the grind of samey levels does hurt it a bit and ultimately this is a bit too close to Earth Defence Force 2025/4.1 to really justify the hundreds of hours it’ll take to get through it. But if you’re new to the series or just a fan of absolute chaos in gaming then this is pretty much essential.
+ Visually spectacular
+ Great co-op
+ Supports a lot of play styles
+ New alien types are worthy additions
- Overly long
- Frame rate is super inconsistent