When Earth Defense Force 2017 arrived on the Xbox 360 circa 2012, it was a somewhat a unique third-person action game, drenched in the flavor of low-budget Japanese sci-fi films. You know, those often poorly dubbed masterpieces where cities are attacked by hordes of giant insects and the special effects are hilariously low-rent. The Earth Defense Force series has, er, soldiered on through three additions to the franchise but the formula has only incrementally changed.
Earth Defense Force 5 once again presents humanity under siege from alien swarms of giant ants, spiders, toads, dragons and flying saucers and through 110 missions, the player lays waste to uncountable numbers of Buick-sized bugs and their kin. Some of the missions are very brief, some are more protracted, multi-stage affairs but all have basically the same premise: kill all the insects (or flying saucers, or tear down the alien pylons), wait for or move to the next wave, and repeat. And repeat again.
Variety in Earth Defense Force 5 comes in the form of four basic soldier classes and an ever-growing catalog of conventional and fanciful weapons that become available. The four classes — Ranger, Wing Diver, Fencer, and Air Raider — cover collectively a wide range of land and air approaches to combat and are most effective and fun when combined in the four player co-op. Unsurprisingly, enemy types are weak against specific classes as well. The towering insect-spewing pylons are easily toppled by the jet-pack wearing Wing Diver but some of the more ground-based critters are best attacked by the infantry-like Ranger or heavy-armor wearing Fencer. Although most of the enemies in the Earth Defense Force series — including the fifth installment — have been insectoids, there are multiple size and ability variations of each bug type. Some vomit acid, others are oversized, some are armored in a specific way. Still, the franchise has not exactly plumbed the depths of imagination and there are no real surprises on the alien side.
The Earth Defense Force games have always made their less-than-cutting-edge visuals part of the overall, low-budget sci-fi vibe of the presentation and while 5 looks a lot better than the first game did in 2012, it still has all the detail and textures of a last-gen product. Likewise, the “hilariously” bad voice acting — both unconvincing and over-the-top — sounds just about the same as it did three games ago, with many of the same weapon and sound effects. It’s a one-note joke that has become very stale and repetitive. This is a game with no real story or characters, just a premise and some filler exposition along the way to the next bug hunt.
Having said all that, blasting the giant alien spiders and ants into mincemeat and watching buildings and bridges crumble under the force of a well-placed explosion (and the Havok engine) is still mindlessly entertaining, at least for a while, and each class and all their weapons are fun to jump in and out of at will. The biggest bummer is that what was a unique hook in Earth Defense Force 2012 has become less inspired and not really infused by much in the way of new material. Earth Defense Force 5 is strong evidence that the series is in need of reinvention.