Review: Earth Defense Force 2025

Shaun Pity poor Earth Defense Force 2025. It hasn’t enjoyed the most positive press. The top Google search result is this piece for Eurogamer, which whilst an entertaining piece of writing is not exactly rigorous criticism. Over on Metacritic it’s enjoying a 68% average, lagging behind its predecessors (both 2017 and Insect Armageddon) by a whopping 1%. For a game that’s been talked up more than any previous Sandlot game, for the latest iteration in a series that over the past seven years has cemented a love-it-or-hate-it cult following, and for what is so far the largest and grandest Earth Defense Force title, the response to 2025 is what we might describe as a bit of a damp squib. Or we might not. EDF games have never particularly concerned themselves with such vagaries as current trends in game design or the demands of a modern gaming audience. Like much of what Sandlot have produced, and like many other titles published by D3, EDF games exist in a design bubble. At the risk of sounding like Popeye’s lettered cousin, they are what they are: low-budget, unapologetically retro third-person shooters, designed to be played extensively by those who do not find such needs sated by more modern offerings. This is not to shield the series from criticism. The EDF games have always been far from perfect, always riddled with problems, and many people simply don’t get to experience the deep gaming pleasure the games can provide. It’s necessary to represent that perspective in reviewing 2025. But what’s also necessary is to source opinions on it that speak from a deep knowledge of the series and the context 2025 is seated within. So don’t worry. Arcadian Rhythms got your back. We know this series. We know how it works. EDF 2025 cutscene Let’s quickly rattle through the list of 2025‘s back-of-box selling points:

  • Four character classes: the Ranger, the Wing Diver (last seen in GDF and GDF Tactics), the Fencer (a little like Insect Armageddon’s Battle Armor) and the Air Raider (a smaller amount like Insect Armageddon’s Tactical Armor)
  • 85 levels at the traditional 5 difficulty levels, each with progress tracked separately for each character class
  • Over 700 weapons/weapon variants (divided by character class)
  • Over twenty-five enemy types
  • Online co-op multiplayer, a first in the Sandlot-developed EDF games, alongside local co-op

Two last paragraphs for those less familiar with the series, before we get stuck into the gory, ropey innards of how this newcomer compares to its ancestors: each level of EDF 2025 is selected and played in isolation, with your character class and loadout (of two weapons) selected in advance. Whilst in the mission you’ll be given loose objectives, but these always translate to ‘eliminate the red blobs on the radar’. Sometimes you go to them, sometimes they come to you. Those red blobs could be giant ants, to be sure, or they could be spiders, hornets, long- or short-range mecha, flying drones, enemy-deploying dropships, or any of the game’s later enemies – I shan’t spoil the novelty. When you kill said enemies they’ll occasionally drop pickups. Weapon crates give you a chance for a new weapon between levels, armor crates incrementally boost your total health, and health crates top you up within that mission. You don’t need ammo crates because, a few specific weapons excluded, your ammo is infinite. Got it? Okay, veterans. You’ve played a lot of 2017, maybe a bunch of Insect Armageddon, and maybe you’ve even secured a copy of Global Defence Force on the PS2. If you have a copy of Monster Attack I hate you and want it from you. But how does 2025 stack up? You’d be forgiven for mixed opinions early on. It’s shocking just how familiar everything is at the outset. Although cities enjoy more varied architecture now, the opening stretch of missions sees you fighting giant grey ants in much the same manner as you did in 2017 and GDF. For all Insect Armageddon’s flaws, at least it threw ticks, burrows and mecha at you in the first two missions. After a while there’s a mission where Hectors – giant mecha – assault a beach, just like in 2017. Other missions are also cut-and-paste efforts: destroy this sequence of three nests within a city. Waves of red ants are coming at you on a beach. Here we’ll show you dropships for the first time, and no you can’t destroy them. Look, there’s a walking fortress. If you’ve played the games before, there’s a risk of familiarity breeding contempt. If you’re fond of EDF, though, and perhaps haven’t touched 2017 in years, then you might be able to pass off the familiarity as something to be enjoyed nostalgically. Meanwhile your desire for something fresh and new may be carried by the new(ish) character classes: personally, I love the mobility of the Wing Diver. The online multiplayer is the biggest jewel in EDF’s weird crown, however, as being able to play with friends always was the game at its best, and getting to do so with full squads over the internet is splendid, even if you must now purchase your own beer. That multiplayer experience will also, eventually, remind you of just why EDF games are worth persisting with beyond the visceral pleasure of mowing down scores of gigantic foes, and beyond the steady drip-drip of new toys. With the difficulty set high enough, missions become extremely challenging but are eminently beatable with good teamwork. 2025 excels in this. 2017 made do with deployable turrets to supplement its two-player maximum; its successor’s four-person squads and mixed character classes allow for tremendous tactical flexibility.

EDF 2025 co-op

I think the guy in the bottom right of this shot is from the Ministry of Silly Walks.

A case in point: AJ, Potter and myself recently took on a mission at the game’s midpoint, in which you essentially reprise the final mission of 2017 against an alien mothership. The first time we attempted the mission we went in half-cocked, working as a band of individuals, each focusing on whichever targets he wanted. Our failure was inevitable, our deaths certain. Our second attempt was more planned: we covered one another, we focused on the enemy types our comrades were ill-equipped to fight, and we dissected our foe bit by bit, constantly discussing our plans, providing distraction or covering fire where needed, and pointing out health pickups to those in need. Our plan was a success, our triumph earned. There were nonetheless points where it got a bit hairy. And that’s only on the middle difficulty setting (dubbed ‘Hard’ in a marvellously Japanese manner). There are areas where EDF 2025 has faltered. Frankly 85 levels, plus another 45 via DLC, cuts a corpulent figure. I could have happily seen 20 removed from the core game, so long as they were 20 which essentially re-hashed earlier level concepts. A side effect of the game’s bloat is that the armour increase rate has been slashed, although that does also vary by character class. Similarly the banding which dictates weapon unlocks feels less natural than in 2017. Any player who obsessively hunts down those green weapon crates is going to have found everything in a band at least five levels before anything new begins appearing, and this gives the impression of ‘progress’ being throttled. Given that, in so many ways, 2025 feels like an attempt at an Ultimate Edition EDF, it’s surprising that some old enemies have not reappeared. GDF’s goofy yet near-impenetrable armoured saucers, for example, were a lot more interesting to fight than the bullet-sponge red gunships of 2017 and 2025. My personal greatest disappointment is that the city-sized centipede of GDF hasn’t returned; others may miss the absence of creatures that are emphatically not based on Godzilla or Mecha-Godzilla. This latter point is particularly surprising when you consider that of the ‘new’ enemies 2025 features over 2017, many are drawn from GDF. The newcomers we do encounter are welcome but can be counted on the digits of one hand. It’s probably the one area in which 2025 has actively disappointed me (I am only passively disappointed that its level bloat has produced an experience that feels a little more prone to grind). But setting aside these problems, EDF 2025 has indisputably improved over its predecessors in every way – and this despite still being an effort produced on a fairly modest budget, by a team small in comparison to the overwhelming majority of retail console releases. Its multiplayer is an addition so fundamentally important that I can no longer imagine EDF without it. Its varied character classes offer the tactical breadth and depth that high-level play has always cried out for. And, of course, it has replicated the pure adrenaline joy of b-movie anti-alien carnage that has characteristic the series at its best. Bloat or not, I will be playing EDF 2025 with friends for years to come. And I haven’t even talked about how much I like the songs yet. Yes: the AI squadmates will occasionally sing songs to you about the EDF. They grow more ridiculous and melancholy as the game bears on, providing all the story you really need about the tragicomic narrative of EDF 2025. Your family and lovers have died, but the hero has returned.

EDF 2025 loading screen

And so have these helpful loading screen tips.

AJ reckons

I’ve seen a couple of vids on YT and it appears fairly generic. Like a Japanese take on gears of war: add effeminate soldiers fighting huge ass robots with oversized guns

This is the latest in a long line of comments I have received about Earth Defence 2025. I figure I might as well list out the others:

It looks like crap The AI is terrible, the robots fly around with little purpose It is just some army dude shooting ants, what’s the big deal about ants? There is no story

It is dispiriting to see the complete apathy with which Earth Defence Force 2025 has been greeted as it is by far the best EDF game yet released. Sandlot have managed to take all the ingredients that have made their versions of the game phenomenally fun (e.g. hordes of enemies onscreen at the same time with scant regard for framerates) as well as extremely addictive (e.g. random weapon drops combined with drip-fed health boosts) and then added the good parts from Vicious Cycle Software’s Insect Armageddon (the Fencer / Air Raider classes and weapon loadouts are reminiscent of the classes in that instalment). It could be argued that there is some filler in later areas of the game but given that no level takes more than about fifteen minutes to complete they never outstay their welcome. Another thing that I had almost completely forgotten is how much strategy and team work is required on later levels of the game. Playing alongside Shaun and Potter, I had been able to successfully bully my way through a number of the early levels on Hard. However when we first encountered the Mothership and tried to barrel through it we ended up being annihilated. After licking our wounds we changed our loadouts and restarted. Shaun dashed around in the sky focusing on using close-range energy weapons to take on the enemy flyers. Potter played as the Ranger class, using medium-range weapons to take on the towering robotic Hectors and pick off errant flyers. Standing as far back as possible, I took nothing but mortars and giant sniper rifles so that I could systematically take out the Mothership’s outer defences before triggering the next stage of the battle. Our tactics worked and we came away relatively unscathed. For a game that is considered to be a big piece of dumb fun there is a lot going on under the hood. EDF definitely deserves the accolade of the Starship Troopers of video games.

EDF 2025 ragdoll

Getting ragdolled: never not funny.