Game: Earth Defense Force: Insect Armaggedon
Developer: Vicious Cycle Software
Publisher: Bandai Namco
Available on: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PC (Reviewed on PlayStation 3)
Sandlot’s last two instalments in the Earth Defense Force canon, known in their native Japan as the Chikyuu Boueigun series, were two of the very best budget titles available for the PlayStation 2 and Xbox 360 respectively. Simplistic (hell, the series began as part of the Simple 2000 Series in their homeland) but damn fine third person action shooting, packed with hordes of giant insects, robots, lizards, commandable vehicles and destroyable scenery, you play an EDF game with a huge smile on your face, and can rest assured you wont have to endure punishing reels of cutscenes or worry about a fancy plot.
This is strictly B-movie stuff, and in fact half the time you expect Mothra or Godzilla to turn up, or the theme from the War Of The Worlds to kick in. Your reviewer is still inclined to buss out some Earth Defense Force 2017 from time to time, such is its winsome pick up and play appeal, which is why I was pretty stoked to find out that a sequel was due, and that means more scuttling, acid spitting insects to shoot with wild abandon.
Insect Armageddon shifts the action, and the game developer, from Sandlot and the Land Of The Rising Sun to devco Vicious Cycle from the god-damn good ol’ U S of A. There was always a worry that such a change would affect the beautiful simplicity of the series, trying to Westernize it, as it were, and these software dudes have a far from exemplary games rapsheet, including Dora The Explorer and some dodgy film tie-ins. But even a cursory look at the boxart (a tacky diorama of insectoid destruction) and five minutes spent with the game itself is enough to put your fears to bed. This is an EDF game, make no mistake about that.
STORY: You don’t play an EDF game for a story. But if you really feel the need for emotional investment in the on-screen carnage, I can tell thee that the story involves defending the fictional Stateside city of New Detroit against an invasion of giant insects. You play a soldier known as ‘Lightning Alpha’, and over the course of three chapters split into a series of missions, navigate around the city, helping to rescue and evacuate your buddies from a series of increasingly more bonkers giant minibeasts and laser spewing robots. It is worth noting that the half destroyed wasteland of New Detroit looks much like half destroyed wasteland Old Detroit does in real life, and that folks, is about it.
GRAPHICS: This is not a mega budget graphical tour-de-force, so don’t come into this budget pricepoint affair expecting Unreal Mega Engine bells-and-whistles that bring you giant insects so incredible you can touch them. But hey, it looks much better than the previous games in the series! There is certainly a lot more detail in the backgrounds, and there are still some mightily impressive giant enemies to contend with.
The physics of it all – the way nasties career around the screen when you have destroyed them, the creepy way the ants swarm over the sides of buildings, or the satisfying manner in which the giant mecha collapse under your gunfire – is as excellent as ever. The buildings and scenery still collapse like a deck of cards, and there is a ramped up amount of goo and insect secretions on display. There are some points where the framerate gets a bit strained, but you will be far too busy blasting away to care.
SOUND: One of the best bits from previous EDF games is the cheesy way the troops shout out to each other on the battlefield, offering such gems as a chant of “E-D-F! E-D-F!” or even “Whooooo!”. I am pleased to announce that Insect Armageddon retains the dumbass whooping of its predecessors, and adds into the mix a posho EDF lady who gives you orders, and an idiotic intelligence guy who made me laugh heartily on a number of occasions with his inane observations about your foes.
The music is standard mildly exciting action b-movie fare, and is as such instantly forgettable. But the biggest problem I had with the sonics of this EDF is the wet-end, weak-ass sound effects. Ripping through rampaging arthropods with acid for blood should sound utterly awesome, yet the gun sounds are disappointingly rubbish. I have heard kids playing over the park making more satisfying gun noises. In the context of this wicked action I should be able to generate neighbour complaints with the clout of the explosions and whatnot. A real shame.
GAMEPLAY: The idea of EDF is to progress through the levels, destroy all and sundry, and get to the end. You can play alone, with the staggeringly good computer-controlled teammates by your side, or with real friends either on or offline co-op.
New to this installment is the introduction of waypoints and a bit more in the way of mission structure. You may be instructed to plant explosives in a specific area, set up or gun turrets, or meet up with someone at a pre-determined point. There are vehicles you can hop into along the way, such as mech suits, tanks, and even bigger tanks. The levels are much longer than in the previous games, yet mercifully still include just as much carnage.
There are four different types of armour selectable from the outset: Trooper, Jet, Tactical and Battle. Trooper is your reliable all-rounder, and also the one which allows you access to the largest variety of weaponry. Jet offers the weakest armor abilities out of the lot, but allows you to fly up into the sky in a bloody jet-pack. Tactical allows you to deploy game-changing equipment like gun turrets and explosive mines. Last but not least is the Battle armor, which turns you into a slow moving yet insanely powerful death-dealing baddass. If I were a gambling man, my money would be on most players sticking with the Trooper armor.
In EDF 2017, enemies dropped weapon upgrades on the battlefield, and that sometimes happens here too. But the majority of your weapons here are obtained with a points-based unlock system that allows you to purchase different weapons for each armor class. It is always great fun testing out the weapons in EDF, and as is par for the course you get to carry two at once and can spend ages settling on your preferred combination. Personally I like to get amongst it tooled up with a reasonably powerful long distance machine gun and homing missiles, because that is how I roll.
Insect Armageddon plays is a game that is very easy to pick up and glaringly obvious what you need to do. Criticism would come in the fact that there are no mid-level checkpoints, so each of the rather lengthy missions is one long grind to the end, and if you die you are chucked back to the start to have another go. How you deal with such an old-school premise depends on just how much you like killing ants.
LONGEVITY: For a budget title there are a hefty 15 missions on offer here, and it will take quite some time to work your way through the whole lot. There are some excellent co-operative options that will extend your bug-exterminating exploits, indeed it is possible to play split screen two player, and with two other mates online in a three-way smörgåsbord of insectoid thrills. There is also a Survival mode which allows up to six (six!) players to compete to see who can last the longest against wave after increasingly more hostile wave of baddies.
These online additions (which EDF 2017 was screaming out for) are an excellent inclusion. I mentioned before how I still return to EDF 2017 every now and then, and in all honesty Insect Armageddon is much the same, it is the perfect game to dip in and out of every so often and as such has the potential to be an old favourite for many moons to come.
VERDICT: If you like disengaging your brain and just shooting the crap out of everything, you may have just found the perfect way to blow the best part of thirty quid. The transition from Sandlot to the actually quite aptly named Vicious Cycle has done nothing to lessen the deliciously fun alien-invasion gameplay that we have come to love. It has improved graphics, 300 different guns, and some fun armor options to mess about with. There are improved co-op and online options and larger, more focused missions. If the sound effects could have been given a bit more oomph, then we might be discussing the perfect EDF game. As it stands, this is one we will continue to swarm over like ants on sugar for some time to come. EDF baby! E-D-F!!!!!!!!