Earth Defense Force: Insect Armageddon Review
To dwell in the shadow of a game like Earth Defense Force 2017 is a sort of thankless position. How do you follow up a game that's loved for the same reasons it's hated and bad for the same reasons it's good? The fact that Earth Defense Force: Insect Armageddon not only lives but thrives in this position is a testament to a developer that “gets it” to an astounding degree.
The point of the EDF games is to shoot giant bugs and robots using a multitude of weapons all while laying waste to the very same city you're trying to save. 2017, the last entry in the series by Japanese developer Sandlot, presented a cheap, cardboard city with giant ants that were tossed around like beach balls at a Bon Jovi concert. Everything crumbled under the weight of your ridiculously explosive weaponry while your character ran around in little more than a jumpsuit and helmet.
The further you delved into EDF 2017, the more layers of depth it revealed. It always kept the shallow “shoot, shoot, kill” basics, but you'd have to be creative with your weaponry, master the not-easily-controlled dodge roll, and seek out the levels that dropped the best loot. Meanwhile, the robots got bigger, the bugs more plentiful, and the screams of your dying captain became more ridiculous.
On the bad side, the game had the visual fidelity of a souped up PS2 game, the controls were awkward, a third of the 53 levels were terrible, and the grind to finish the game on Inferno difficulty was exhausting. Depending on whom you asked, there was room for improvement, but it was great fun for $40.
Insect Armageddon developer Vicious Cycle understood all that and created a package that isn't quite as absurd or blindly ambitious but fixes the issues of classic EDF, making for a game that's more satisfying.
The first thing you'll notice is the graphics. This isn't Gears of War or Uncharted by any stretch, but it's vibrant where EDF 2017 was sterile and lifeless. In an ironic sense, the Japanese B-movie feel of the previous games was charming, but the attention to detail here makes for more exciting action. The first time an ant sends a car careening down the road toward you or your rockets crumble a city block or a UFO actually crash lands---well, you get the picture.
Like previous entries, EDF:IA offers around 300 weapons, but the variety is placed less on the weapon selection and more on the options you're given by selecting a character class. Whereas strategic decisions were often made in the weapon selection screen, they're now accomplished in the moment-to-moment combat with your unique armor abilities.
Take the Battle Armor class, for instance—armed with extremely powerful weapons, this brute has the most health but can't dodge roll from danger the way the other classes can. Instead, this class has an energy shield that absorbs not only enemy damage, but also its own. EDF vets may remember setting powerful explosives down and then shooting a rocket at their feet, knocking their soldier into an invincible recovery animation before setting off a mega-powerful explosion. This guy has that concept built-in.
Did you miss the jet pack from EDF 2 when it was removed for 2017? Insect Armageddon has you covered, offering up a Jet class that's a blast to zip around, do back flips, and snipe from rooftops. Did you spend way too much time screwing around with auto-turrets in 2017, watching that reload bar crawl across the screen? The Tactical class serves up extra weapon slots where turrets and proximity mines can be deployed.
Insect Armageddon adds a legitimate layer of depth that makes the action as skillful as it is shallowly entertaining. Make no mistake: if you're not a fan of shooting at things, Insect Armageddon won't change your mind, but it makes that repetitive act absurdly entertaining.
The game is broken up into 15 levels, each pitting you against hundreds of increasingly powerful enemies in an urban sprawl. Each chapter tends to have a unique focus---driving a mech or fighting a giant daddy long-legs, for instance---but its objectives never get too complicated.
In fact, it's in the objectives that the game shows its hand as a $40 budget title. You're going to spend a lot of time following waypoints through the city and locating downed gunships. Where previous EDF games might have gone in all kinds of wacky directions regardless of how poorly they came out, Insect Armageddon has you doing a limited number of things but in a very polished and well-designed fashion.
What you're getting with a western Earth Defense Force is all the goofy things that made the Japanese games great, shoved into a very different design philosophy. Most western games these days are designed around the “30 seconds of fun” concept, and EDF:IA is no different. Where EDF 2017 saves some of the more specialized weapons for hardcore players, EDF:IA puts those tactical options right at the forefront. Taking advantage of all your options makes the game feel like a greatest hits collection of awesome things you can do in shooters.
2017 was best with a friend, so the addition of co-op for three players is a blessing. If you already have buddies to play with, the integration of online play works so well you almost take it for granted. Anything less than a triple-A production and it's almost a given that a game will be a laggy mess, but EDF:IA is buttery smooth, even in the 6-player survival mode.
Where things go wrong is in the matchmaking, which tends to either drop you straight into a game no problem or toss errors at you for half an hour. It's a poorly designed interface that lacks a few simple options. With any luck, Vicious Cycle is already working on a patch.
And speaking of that 6-player survival mode---it has some issues. Repetitive waves and a sluggish difficulty curve make for long stretches of generally underwhelming action. That the mode strips out all the abilities and upgrades that make the campaign fun is almost a crime. Survival mode should have been what keeps players hooked long after they're bored with the campaign, but it's actually the other way around.
It rings false to be too negative about this game's issues. Even when it isn't quite firing on all cylinders, it's still entertaining. When it's at its best, though, you'll be having so much fun shooting at giant bugs for hours that you may start to question your own sanity. Insect Armageddon should have never been as good as the original games, but now the tables have turned, and whatever Sandlot cooks up next will have to live up to the new high standard for low-brow bug hunts.
[Reviewed on Xbox 360]