EDF 2025 Review: The sweet science of insecticide
In the grand list of satisfying video game moments -- somewhere between Peggle’s Ode to Joy and a killing spree in Call of Duty -- lies a well-placed rocket shot in Earth Defense Force 2025. There's nothing quite like it. Fire into a heavy concentration of the game’s trademark giant bugs and you’ll be greeted with a massive explosion followed by a confetti of insect parts. The game engine struggles for a moment, so in awe of your shot that it slows down to catch up with the mess you’ve made. Is it brilliant game design or a happy accident? Five EDF games in and I’m still not sure, but the endorphin rush comes all the same.
Most people in the West became familiar with Earth Defense Force when EDF 2017, the third game in Japanese developer Sandlot’s giant-bug-and-robot-shooting series, came to the Xbox 360. It was a true “B game” in so many ways. Stripped down to the bare essentials of graphics, gameplay, and aesthetics, the game’s goal was to throw as many enemies your way as possible while providing an equal number of ridiculous guns to dispatch them with. Despite a number of flaws, the game was highly addicting thanks to its satisfying bug-killing and replayable loot-grind.
In 2011, developer Vicious Cycle brought out a westernized take in the form of Earth Defense Force: Insect Armageddon. The result was about what you’d expect from a western-minded studio. Everything was more organized and polished, the campaign was streamlined, and online play was emphasized over split-screen. In its own way I found it to be quite enjoyable, but I played it for a fraction of the time I played 2017.
Enter Earth Defense Force 2025. The latest EDF marks Sandlot’s return to their series and a raucous return to the style and heart of EDF 2017. It takes a few lessons from Insect Armageddon, but more than that, it feels like a master collection of every idea the series has had up until this point, with another pile of new ones added on.
That also means 2025 retreads a lot of the same ground as past games. You’re still a little guy with a ridiculous amount of guns fighting an increasing number of giant ants, jumping spiders, robots, and more. Some of the environments are nearly identical beyond cosmetic upgrades, and some missions are actually remakes from previous games. The Ranger class from EDF 2017 and the Wing Diver from EDF 2 (and 2017 Portable for the Vita) make their return with the large majority of their weapons coming from previous games. Play as a Ranger in single-player for too long and you may find yourself with a wicked case of déjà vu.
What makes 2025 fresh is the way it brings together so many new and old features into a massive package. The two new classes, the Air Raider and Fencer, are wholly unique, with their own controls, playstyles, and weaponry. Bringing all four classes into online co-op is where EDF 2025 comes together and really shines.
The Air Raider class introduces some very Battlefield-style concepts to the bug-hunt. They have an entire class of weapons dedicated to marking enemy targets for teammates, and a third weapon slot for delivering vehicles like mechs, tanks, and transport trucks. Even better, though, is their ability to call in screen-filling air strikes and bombardments. They single-handedly turn the ridiculous explosion factor of EDF 2025 up to eleven. Just don't make the mistake of bringing an air strike weapon into one of the game's many underground stages.
The second new class, the Fencer is, again, extremely different. Its focus is on heavy weapons, slow movement, and power. Capable of carrying four weapons into battle, each with alternate functions, the Fencer has a lot of versatility if you have the patience for the lethargic pace. Everything about the Fencer is a bit sluggish and awkward, but in the right hands they can be really cool and devastating.
All told, between the four classes you’re looking at a whopping 700 weapons to unlock. Whereas Insect Armageddon more or less took the weaponry of the Ranger class and spread it thin across four classes, 2025 blows out the walls with more variety than most people will be able to stomach.
The amount of content is absurd. 2017 was already massive with its 53 levels, and 2025 ups that number to 85. The game still offers up five difficulty levels and encourages players to plow through them all sequentially so that they have the tools to take on the ridiculous Inferno difficulty. Completionists will meet their match, as the game not only asks you to complete it on five difficulties, but with each class as well. Where it goes a step too far is in making you replay missions if you jump between offline and online modes.
It’s easy to look down on that kind of excess in the world of slickly polished, 6-12 hour adventures, but Earth Defense Force is a break from all that. It’s a game that you can practically play forever, and despite how dumb it is, you won’t mind the wasted time. That’s because it gets a lot of the most necessary things right -- satisfying shooting, rewarding weapons and upgrades, and smooth online play.
That’s not to say it doesn’t make a few mistakes along the way. Teammates and enemy AI still have a nasty habit of running in front of a poorly timed rocket, and friendly fire (especially your own explosives) is absurdly damaging. Not every level in the game is a winner, either, so blowing yourself up towards the end of a dull underground stage can be a real party pooper.
If you’re a fan of EDF 2017, though, you likely come for the flaws as much as the good stuff. That camp will be happy to know the dialogue is as crazy as ever, robots still flail around ridiculously when hit, and vehicles still have awful controls. When a gun seems purposefully terrible, or an enemy reacts in a hilarious way, it leaves you wondering if Sandlot is full of comedic genuises, or if they have a lot of happy accidents. Whatever the case, they’ve managed to make the best Earth Defense Force game yet, so they must be doing something right.
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