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Earth Defense Force 5 deploys with a heart full of song

Why yes, that is a hot pink mech with anime paint.

EDF! EDF! One of my favourite ‘guilty pleasure’ games returns to PC today. Earth Defense Force 5 is the latest in Sandlot’s main series (the third-party spin offs aren’t much cop) of clever-dumb B-movie shooters. Dumb, because the game’s script could have been lifted from Axe Cop, and the giant alien bugs look like wobbly stop-motion props. Clever, because there’s a remarkably tactical co-op squad shooter under all the laughs, with some satisfying mech, vehicle, power-armour and jetpack combat. It’s like a comedy re-imagining of Starship Troopers. See some daft videos below.

While the EDF series have always been iterative improvements on each other, this one feels almost like a reboot, re-writing the gleefully daft script and re-tooling even some basic elements. And those are important, but you know what you’re here for. So here’s the new EDF song, which your NPC squadmates sing alternating verses of. The more followers you have, the bigger the chorus. Never has there been a better reason to keep your squad alive.

The best addition to the monsters is humanoid greys and frog-men with squad FPS-style AI, and severable, regenerating limbs. They’re a joy to fight, and hit them with a big enough gun and you’ll paint an entire city block with Ribena-hued frog blood. It’s when all the parts intersect that the game gets wild, though. Here’s a later mission (please don’t watch if you’re afraid of spoilers) featuring an army of Pacific Rim-styled mechs versus an army of kaiju while laser-toting armies blast away across the divide. The world burns, and (as this is the PS4 version) performance suffers.

While I’ve not had a chance to play it yet, I’ve watched some friends streaming a bit of today’s new PC version. It’s functionally identical to the PS4 version, only with optional mouse and keyboard controls, slightly sharper graphics and much less slowdown. Will it be enough to render the wildly over-the-top Mission 100 above in split-screen mode without choking? Fingers crossed. EDF 5 is chuffing enormous too, with 110 missions (some of them 15-20 minutes long) and higher difficulty levels adding higher-tier loot drops, entirely new weapons and faster, meaner enemies.

EDF 5 is the most refined so far. All four character classes have been overhauled. The Ranger is more agile, having a utility upgrade slot as well as two guns. The Fencer power-armour class plays like a small-scale mech game, with real play-style changing loadouts possible. You can be a borderline-stationary artillery unit or an air-dashing swordsman. The Wing Diver jetpack class can air-dash and recover from stuns faster, and the Air Raider artillery n’ vehicles guy has an embarrassment of riches. Most vehicles and mechs are highly viable now, and recharged by murder.

As you can see, motorcycles remain comically useless. As they should be. But they can be pretty heavily armed too. There’s also less grind and more reason to switch classes, as weapon and armour drops are shared between all four, and online co-op appears to work just fine this time. There’s even options to cap HP and weapon level so higher levels can play with lowbies without blowing up the entire map in one shot. Somehow, they’ve made EDF more subtle, complex and accessible all at once, and without compromising on just how unhinged and broken it can be.

Earth Defense Force 5 is out on Steam and Humble for £37.19/€39.99/$47.99. Nic Reuben, who is significantly less weird than me, is working on a full review. Best wait for his opinion if you’re not as broken as I am.

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