No matter how far video games advance, there’s always going to be room for a series like Earth Defense Force. It’s the video-game equivalent of a cheap, juicy burger from the greasiest spoon in town. It’s not going to set the world on fire, or make you think about morality, but for several cackling hours, you’ll know the simple joys of blowing the ever loving hell out of some aliens just like the old days. Of course, even a burger from a greasy spoon needs to stick to the ribs, and even though Earth Defense Force 2025 tries so very hard to jam-pack a pick-up-and-play shooter with missions, weapons, and multiplayer options aplenty, it’s a game that has limits to its staying power, leaving the player hungry for something more substantial.
The story, as expected, is a trifle, and never, ever needed to be more than that. Five years after Earth Defense Force 2017 closed the door on the giant-alien-insect threat, big shocker, they’re back, now with a few new friends in the spider and giant-flying-lizard families, and humanity’s prepared with a few new classes of soldier and a slew of new weapons to unleash hell. The new classes include armored flying valkyries called Wing Divers, Air Raiders, a weapons drop and airstrike support unit, and the Fencer, a heavy hitter carrying a big spear and even bigger guns. The classes are actually well-conceived as far as gaming goes, and they handle so very differently as to essentially create four different versions of the game. Even with four classes, however, players just trying to learn the ropes and maybe blast things for an hour or two, only the Ranger, your standard, run-of-the-mill grunt on the ground, is worth a damn in single player. In multiplayer, the other classes definitely become more useful in a skirmish, and coordinating efforts between your varied squad does get the adrenaline flowing on harder levels, but the learning curve for each one is steep, and unless you have a group of three friends who’ve all got the dedication to the game to make the other classes work, they may as well not exist.
So, unless you’re a seriously dedicated fan of the series, you’ll spend most of your time as a Ranger, which is fine since EDF2017 worked perfectly okay with only the single class. But this essentially makes EDF2025 the same game warmed over. The tone is still intentionally B-movie bad, but it’s more grating than charming after a few hours listening to the government scientist preach the end of humanity or your commander issue self-serious words of encouragement. The enemies remain the same, though the new ones feel like they’re there more to justify the airborne classes than to actually pose a threat. The game does add an insane number of weapons (over 700 are available across the game’s five difficulty levels), but most are simply variations on a theme, and once you find your core dozen or so, you’ll try any new ones you pick up, then promptly ignore them in favor of whatever particular Old Faithful turns out to be for you.
In addition, the level of destruction in the environments is nice, but it’s also not as satisfying as it could be to destroy the bugs themselves. Most of them fly apart in the same ways no matter which kind of weapon you use, and the more mayhem going on at once, the more the insect parts start to pile up, the more the game’s pedigree as a budget title starts to show, as the game starts to shudder, shake, and slow the more the action reaches a fever pitch. It’s a shame, because these are the battles where Earth Defense Force has always felt the most alive. The fact that EDF2025 seems to not be up to the task of handling that is a pity.
Still, this is the experience Earth Defense Force is at least trying to aim for, and when it gets there and holds together, it’s got a glee to it that isn’t attempted often enough, but the amount of time and effort to put in to get the most out of what it offers is antithetical to what the game actually is: a budget arcade title in fancy last-gen clothes. This is the kind of game where the simple act of pushing a button and watching the enemy explode should be a joy. Your mileage may vary as to whether the game will justify its price tag by the time you’ve done that the thousandth time.