I cry foul on the creators of Earth Defense Force: Insect Armageddon – some arcane, other-worldly, black magic must have driven the Vicious Cycle development team. How it is possible for a game to be so thrilling and audaciously enjoyable – while blatantly baring all of its numerous inadequacies for everyone to see, is a complete mystery.
Earth Defense Force: Insect Armageddon (aka EDF:IA) is the sequel to the 2006 cult-hit Earth Defense Force 2017. If you’re unfamiliar, 2017 was short on story, depth and presentation, but was ultimately saved by its entertaining and gratuitously-lengthy combat sequences. EDF:IA appears to be the very same game, but with updated graphics, a delicious building-destruction mechanic, and several co-operative multiplayer modes, both on the couch and over Xbox Live/PSN.
The game puts you in the boots of a member of the EDF’s special forces unit, known as “Lightning.” Players begin each mission by picking an armor class, two weapons and a special kit, before heading out into the fray. There are four armor classes to choose from — Battle Armor, which serves as the heavy, tank class of the game; Tactical Armor, which allows deployment of tactical assets such as sentry guns and mines; Jet Armor, which comes with a built-in jetpack and a penchant for energy weapons; and finally the Trooper Armor, which has no secondary abilities – just high mobility and increased damage output.
Additionally there are some three hundred weapons in the game. All but the lowest-grade weapons are locked out at the beginning of a bug-killing career, but from the second weapons tier and upward, things start to get real explodey. I developed quite a fondness for the tier 2 assault rifle that fired heat-seeking bullets, and a grenade launcher that spat out four separate sticky grenades on a five-second fuse. That combination pretty much got me through my first run of the game.
Each mission drops players at a set point on the map, whereby they are immediately set-upon by a rapidly-growing mass of giant ants. The main combat gameplay loop begins here.
Waypoint objectives are communicated sequentially (via the disembodied voice of Queen Amidala of the Naboo, apparently) and appear on your mini-map. These serve to move players on a generous path through the mission’s landscape, all the while fighting-off impossibly-large numbers of enemies. Objectives crop up from time to time, and usually come in the form of huge ant hills that must be detonated before moving onward. It is at these moments, when the squad flounders in a maelstrom of bug guts and explosions, that the waypoint objectives serve to bring a little more concentrated team focus to the proceedings. These don’t tend to last very long however, and before you know it, you’re back in the thick of it, resting on the trigger button and sweating into your headset.
The intensity of the skirmishes cannot be undersold. Vicious Cycle throws wave after hideous wave of overgrown insects at the squad – as you make your way from street to street. Every tenth minute or so, enemy forced go for broke, and throw everything they’ve got at players. Each mission is a thirty-minute slice of Starship Troopers mayhem, punctuated by an Independence Day finale.
Earth Defense Force: Insect Armageddon applies a super-accessible, arcade-simple control scheme as well as provides gamers with a wide arsenal of ridiculously-overpowered weaponry – and throws wave after wave of increasingly more powerful enemies onto the battlefield. Every weapon has unlimited ammo, reviving downed teammates takes a mere two seconds – and as long as you only deploy one turret at a time, you can keep dropping turrets (as each successive one is destroyed) until the bad guys dry up and the level ends. Nothing stands between you and the endorphin-rush of mowing down an impossibly-vast army of giant ants, spiders, wasps, ticks, mecha-giants and spaceships.
Finally, when the dust settles and everything has been reduced to flaming rubble, players and any squad-mates receive the XP racked-up during the mission. The XP works to earn promotions over time – with each promotion unlocking a higher tier of weaponry.
You’ve heard the old saying – that game design is about keying-in on 20 seconds of great gameplay, and repeating those 20 seconds over and over again. The entirety of EDF:IA consists of nothing but that great 20 seconds, over and over again. This could be good or bad – depending on what type of gamer you are and what kind of experience you are looking for.
Players on a strict gamer-diet consisting only of the deepest, most cerebral fare, should avoid EDF:IA. If, however, you wish to diversify your gaming collection with a little mindless action – purely for the sake of having fun every now and then, EDF:IA is ideal, and most players will love it. At $40, it’s almost as if the title was crafted from the ground-up to satisfy this particular type of gamer-craving. It makes no attempt at being a triple A title – or anything more than fun-in-a-can. In any other game, everything that happens within EDF:IA would exist as an alternative game option, like Horde Mode in Gears of War 2, but here it is the triumphant main event.
At the end of the day, as mentioned, players will be in two camps when it comes to Earth Defense Force: Insect Armageddon:
In general, most players should probably avoid Earth Defense Force: Insect Armageddon. $40 will net purchasers three campaigns – consisting of five missions each. Each mission lasts around 20 to 30 minutes and, even though they all take place in different sections of the fictional “New Detroit,” they are all completely indistinguishable from one another. Streets and suburbs, overpasses and skyscrapers, intersections and parks, aqueducts and landfills. There is no variation. Not in the environments, not in the objectives, not in the gameplay or anything else. Every mission, with the exception of the last three or so, are almost identical in every way. It’s as though Vicious Cycle made a vertical slice of a bigger game, and then just stopped coding.
However, this is an all-out action game, made for all-out action game aficionados. It is a pure, unadulterated celebration of both 80’s action movie nonsense and Japanese B-movie cheese, combined in a coalescence of awesome minute to minute gameplay. It renounces all but the simplest plot contrivances – there is no tortured protagonist or jilted lover side-story here. Nor is there a convoluted origin-story about the aggressor’s true intentions, or if they have intentions at all (other than to kill all humans, of course). EDF: IA does one thing and one thing only – it lets you slaughter giant bugs by the thousands in a really fun way. The fact that it succeeds so completely in this one aspect is its saving grace, because this is simply a game to buy and play and enjoy, despite its terribly bland story and its mediocre visuals. This is a giant bug-killing game, in which you kill giant bugs. If you don’t want to kill giant bugs, don’t buy this game. If you do, buy it.
Earth Defense Force: Insect Armageddon is out now for Xbox 360 and PS3.