"Oh we are the valiant infantry. We are the alpha team with passion and camaraderie" begins the chorus from my squad as an angry swarm of gigantic wasps take to the skies and gather above our unit, raining clusters of lance-like spikes down on us as a line of infantry men unload their machine guns and rocket launchers. A wing diver continues the song, leaping up among the wasps and unleashing a ball full of pink, homing attacks in their midst before quickly rocket boosting away.
Below, an Air Raider strikes up the next verse while calling in a health dispensing support vehicle, ready to help when a team mate falters. As the final verse is picked up by a hulking Fencer, clad in heavy armour and hauling some serious fire power, the cloud of insects has become a pile of mashed abdomen, wings and mandibles at our feet. "EDF! EDF!", comes the cry from those who survived as a wave of brightly coloured ants scurry over the horizon and toward the fray. We brace again for the carnage about to begin as someone strikes up the song a second time. All I can think is that I'm so glad I joined the Earth Defense Force.
That moment I've just described, slightly contrived as it is, captures the core of what Earth Defense Force 5 is all about. It's you and a small gang of soldiers against entire armies of aliens. Pick your class from the four alluded to previously, select a pair of weapons and a support item to tweak your class abilities and brace for battle against a cast of freaky creatures. It's as simple and pure as a shooting game can be and it's great for some casual fun with friends. In a rare case for a PC release, Earth Defense Force 5 has a local, 2-player split screen mode as well as an online 4-player mode, so it's ideal for having a friend over for some bug bashing or just kicking back with online associates.
Mission objectives mostly amount to "Kill all the things" but the variety of situations you find yourself killing all the things in is huge. Battlefields are vast and provide a sense of scale that's constantly played upon, as open fields highlight the sheer number of enemies charging at you, cities hammer home the sheer size of some creatures and cramped caves and tunnels become jammed up with insects crawling over each other to get to you. In some cases you'll be charging headlong into an outright battle while others offer up scenarios such as the airforce bombing Godzilla style beasts before you hopelessly try to avoid it's rampage. Another time you'll be stumbling upon a huge, laser covered, walking alien base or locating a giant wasp nest in the countryside. To that end, there are a whopping 110 missions in the main campaign, including 2 online exclusives, with five difficulty levels to boot.
Compared to EDF's previous PC outing in EDF 4.1, this new entry in the series does a lot to improve on past issues. For a start, the grind required to progress has been massively reduced thanks to the way armour and weapons are acquired. Where previously you'd kill enemies and collect dropped armour and weapons for the class of character you were playing as, now you get upgrades for each class regardless of who you're playing as. The result is not having to begin the entire game again if you want to try a different class, which is obviously a huge time saver and lets you play as you want on a whim. On top of that, duplicate weapons are used to improve the stats of what you've already got, with each weapon now having a selection of stats to max out. Completionists are in for a serious challenge here, as the sheer number of weapons available is close to being absurd.
Another improvement is to character mobility, with each class aside from the vehicle reliant Air Raider having new tricks. The standard soldier can now begin a high paced sprint, picking up items in a radius around him as he goes, while the wing diver can fly high into the air before flipping to avoid fire, quickly getting in or out of battle against even flying enemies. The Fencer though...oh boy can it move, using it's short boosts to quickly slide around the battlefield and get in close for some melee attacks, if you've equipped yourself for that kind of close quarter action.
The most exciting element for anyone returning to the series is going to be the new enemies and Earth Defense Force 5 doesn't disappoint. Things kick off with the series standard of acid ejecting ants, but it's not long before towering frog men, armour clad grey aliens, a roly-poly kaiju style monster and more are making attempts on your life. You can blow the arms and legs off of the frogs and greys, taking weapons from them and slowing them down, while other enemies such as the previously alluded to laser covered walking fortress have numerous weapons to shoot off before you can focus on it's weak point and bring it down. Variety is the spice of EDF and with these new beasts as well as more I'd rather not describe so you've surprises to find, Earth Defense Force 5 is a tasty treat indeed.
Expansion of your enemy's ranks isn't the only improvement made on that front too, with visible damage now being rendered in realtime to the foes you fire upon. Where previously the ants, spiders and robots you shot reacted with nothing more than a spasmodic shudder, now they lose patches of flesh and spew brightly coloured bodily fluids onto surfaces around them. Picking targets out in the middle of a melee becomes so much easier when you know what's been hurt already, allowing you to switch to a quick firing but weak gun to mop up groups of already damaged enemies or switching to something with more punch for the hardier, healthier foes.
While the graphical fidelity of Earth Defense Force 5 isn't massively improved over it's predecessor and it's sometimes charming, occasionally muddled English translation begs questions of proof reading here and there, EDF 5 sidesteps a lot of critique it might otherwise have earned by remaining truly unique and worthwhile in it's ambition to provide huge scale battles and throw incredible numbers of enemies onto screen at once. What shines about the series is bright enough to make concerns over looks a moot point. Anyone looking for a new game to play with a group of friends is going to find some intense, mindless fun with this entry and fans are going to be well served too by the improvements made over the last PC release. Now sing it with me before the next wave arrives, "We shall not allow these aliens, to rule we homosapiens!"