You know what I hate? Bugs. I hate just about everything about just about every bug. They’re gross, they’re annoying, they’re intrusive, and occasionally they kill people (y’know, if they’re like, allergic or whatever). Really, the only way you could make me hate bugs any more is by making them gigantic and have notions of world-conquest.
Earth Defense Force 4.1: The Shadow of New Despair (wow, that’s a mouthful) is the most recent installment of Earth Defense Force series developed by Sandlot, acting as a sort of stand-alone expansion to the game before it, Earth Defense Force 4 (released in the States as Earth Defense Force 2025). The overarching plot of the EDF series involves an alien race known as Ravagers attacking the Earth in the year 2017 with a hybrid of UFOs, mechs, and giant, mutant insects (and arachnids, lest we be bug-racist). Cobbling together all of the world’s military resources, the Earth Defense Force (or EDF for short, as the constant chanting will remind you) was formed, and after a brutal war, the Ravagers were driven back. Eight years later, in 2025, giant ants began to swarm cities, signaling the return of the Ravagers. It’s up to the brave men and women of the EDF to show those aliens we won’t go quietly into the night.
As far as narratives go, it’s on par with a Japanese monster B-movie; it’s incredibly hacky and dumb, but darn if there isn’t something charming about it. The game has a bit of a cheap feel to it, with a lot of simplistic textures and slightly weird hitboxes (I swear I once saw an ant crawling around a lamppost as if it were twice as big), but it’s clearly not trying to be a big triple-A production, and I can respect that. The voice actors also all give really overly-dramatic performances, especially the screaming civilians, though I get the distinct impression that at least a few of them were laughing their heads off in the sound booth.
On the battlefield, there are four classes to choose from: the Ranger, the Wing Diver, the Air Raider, and the Fencer. The Rangers are your bread and butter infantry, hitting the ground with just their feet and their guns. They can use assault weapons and explosives launchers, as well as kooky experimental launchers that can lock onto enemies and pulverize them with tiny missiles. Despite their simplicity, the Rangers are actually really fun to play because their weapon variety allows them to adapt to most combat situations. A Ranger with the right loadout can get you through most missions.
The Wing Divers are a female-only squad armed with jetpacks and plasma weapons. Wing Divers can launch into the air and strafe a battlefield, peppering enemies with laser fire and plasma explosives, and are generally great at crowd control. They’re probably my favorite class to play as, if only for the cathartic thrill of swooping in heroically and subjecting enemies to my laser blender. The only drawback is that Wing Divers’ weapons are tied to their jetpack batteries, so using them too much will cause the pack to overheat and disable for a few seconds.
Air Raiders are a support class that specializes in calling in artillery and air strikes, as well as ordering vehicle drops. In multiplayer, they’re very helpful, as they can also spawn health dispensers and energy rechargers for the Wing Divers, but in single player they’re… kinda worthless, honestly. They only have one type of gun for actual engaged combat; everything else is for calling support. The only real upshot to playing an Air Raider is that, along with Rangers, they’re the only ones that can drive vehicles like tanks.
The Fencers are the big guns. When you want your target to be well and truly dead, you call up the Fencers. Fencers wear heavily armed power suits, and can carry four heavy weapons at a time, including Gatling guns, rocket powered spear launchers, and large shields for deflecting. Of course, as you may expect from guys who lug around four gigantic firearms, the Fencers are incredibly slow in both moving and turning, so they’re really only useful against stationary targets. They do have boosters in their packs for evading and jumping, and with a little skill, it’s actually possible to dash cancel and move twice as fast.
The game takes place over eighty missions of bug-killing madness. The missions are all pretty much the same: kill all the bugs. They come in waves, with tougher enemies spawning as the mission goes on. Starting out with giant ants, the game eventually moves on to giant spiders that reel victims in with their threads, drones dropped from Ravager motherships, technicolor dragons, and even gigantic bio-mechanical dinosaurs. When the Ravagers do bring in the giants, you can call the Mobile Fortress Balam to even up the score. It may not have any weapons, but punching stuff as a giant robot will never not be satisfying.
It all takes place in the same city because, as monster movies have taught me, monsters only ever attack one city, but the city is so impressively large that you rarely, if ever, see the same landmarks twice. Buildings can be completely demolished with enough firepower from either side (not that there’s any real reason to, it’s just neat that you can break stuff).
The game also features both online and split-screen multiplayer, which is functionally identical to the main game, though it does allow you to make practical use of the game’s canned chat system (though voice chat is also supported). I kid you not; you can actually make your character sing the EDF’s entire multi-verse anthem, capped off with a triumphant cry of “EDF!” Also, any weapons you pick up in multiplayer are carried over to your main game, and with hundreds of weapons to choose from for each class, there are fun times to be had both on and offline.
So now you might be saying “wow, this sounds like a fun-time shlock fest! What’s it cost, like, twenty bucks?” Well… no. That’s really one of my only major sticking points with EDF 4.1: its price. At base, the game runs on Steam for $49.99. It’s a fun game, to be sure, but it ain’t fifty bucks worth of fun. Much as I appreciate a good B-movie aesthetic, I’m not super into paying out the butt for it; it’d be like paying fifty bucks for a screening of Manos: The Hands of Fate. Without Rifftrax, I mean.
Still, price tag aside, EDF 4.1 is a genuinely enjoyable experience. There’s tons of weapon variety, most of the classes are fun to play, and blasting bugs is visceral and cathartic. It’d probably be a great game to play with some friends, but you might wanna wait for that price to go down. After all, one of the nice things about seeing a B-movie with friends is how cheap the tickets usually are.