According to B-movies, our planet's demise will be caused by one of two things: giant insects, or giant robots. Earth Defence Force asks an important question: what would happen if giant insects somehow teamed up with giant robots?
The answer, apparently, is that the world authorities would drop a team of marines into the midst of an infested city, equip them with the most advanced weaponry available, and then hire a woman with a longwave radio to tell them to go from street to street and eradicate the hideous menace.
In EDF you save humanity across 15 fairly short levels. Each one drops you into a walled-off section of city a few blocks wide and throws hundreds of enemies your way.
Earth Defence Force has plenty in common with the B-movies that inspired it. The boxy city blocks and low-poly monsters provide a dated, low budget backdrop to the straightforward, repetitive action. You'll mostly be blowing up anthills – giant anthills, naturally – holding points against enemy waves and, in the game's most honest moments, simply wandering through the streets clearing out every giant ant, spider, wasp and robot you find in the place. Your foes attack by fielding a variety of units assembled in huge numbers, so that battles tend to hit an intense sweet spot in which you'll find yourself on the verge of being completely overwhelmed. It's exhausting, but fun.
You play Lightning Alpha, leader of Strike Force Lightning. They're a bit like Revels: they come in multiple flavours and some are a bit rubbish. There's awesome jetpack man with his experimental electric shotguns, decent but boring assault man with access to a wide range of weaponry, sluggish heavy weapons man and annoying support man with an automated deployable turret and a rich, chocolaty centre.
You can take on each level with a couple of friends, or let the reasonably competent AI take their place. As you kill enemies, you'll level up and unlock more weapons. Levels can be replayed to earn improved scores and unlock more guns, but only obsessive high-score hunters are likely to keep coming back. As gratuitous and satisfying as EDF's fights are, it doesn't take long for the magic to wear off.
In its finest moments, EDF assaults you from all angles. Buildings crumble to reveal a nest of giant leaping spiders, each the size of a couple of London buses. Acidspitting ants swarm over buildings to get near you. Ticks the size of dogs try to latch onto you and suck you dry, and all the while robotic warships buzz overhead, pausing every now and then to target you with a laser. There are occasional enormo-bosses too, somewhat inevitably. For all the chaos, EDF can't help but be predictable.
The ageing visuals can't quite deliver on the promise of that 'Insect Armageddon' tagline, either. It's impossible not to become desensitised to the spectacle after a few hours. After that, EDF gradually loses momentum. Its extensive armoury can't stop the rot, and the end result is decidedly shallow. The weapons of each class are effective against different bugs, but taking down the hordes always boils down to strafing, back-pedalling and holding down the fire button.
The budget price reflects EDF's shortfalls and makes it a little easier to recommend. On a higher difficulty, played in co-op with friends, eradicating the swarms is good, straightforward fun, for a few hours at least. But if you're in any way arachnophobic, avoid this like a plague of flesh-eating spiders.