Earth Defense Force: Insect Armageddon: Review

EDF IA cover - small

After so much waiting Earth Defense Force: Insect Armageddon is finally upon us (or will be very soon for those unfortunate enough to live in Europe). Here at Arcadian Rhythms we’ve had a whole week of building up your anticipation… so it’s a shame that the game sucks.

Just kidding.

Mostly.

I felt an odd sensation when I played Insect Armageddon for the first time. If I were to tell you that, in the latest iteration of a series, the developers had improved the textures, stabilised the frame rate, diversified the gameplay and made the AI good, you would assume I was listing positives, right?

Insect Armageddon ticks the right boxes in terms of giant bug killing. The number of enemies on-screen never reaches the overwhelming heights of EDF: 2017, but at the same time it never plumbs the depths of the single digit frame rate. Similarly there are less levels than in 2017 and they are more linear, but to offset this the levels are all longer and mostly more focused.

The levelling system is less arbitrary, and there are now four playable classes to choose from – standard trooper, jet pack dude, Heavy Battle armour guy and tactical turret placer – that exhibit constant improvement as you progress through the campaign, with level caps that are in place for each difficulty to stop you grinding and maxing out your stats on the easier difficulties. The classes have distinct personalities but in some ways it feels more convoluted than it needs to be. Why not have one class that can do all of these things depending on what approach you decide to take?

The textures on each of the models have been vastly improved, although this means that Vicious Cycle Software have sacrificed the simple and bright colour palette of EDF’s past  in favour of grim space marine hues.

EDF IA - big feet

That’s a lot of grey. A lot of huge, evil, destructive grey.

Herein lies my problem. The work Vicious have done with Insect Armageddon is admirable, more than competent. However the sense of wide-eyed glee that made 2017 such a joy is muted. This is in part because Insect Armageddon is a better, less crazily-made game. This feels oxymoronic and honestly I am still having problems with it all.

Another good example of this contradictory nature is the voice acting. In 2017 the throwaway lines of the AI soldiers that surrounded you were ridiculous but delivered with the kind of earnestness that made them all the funnier. In Insect Armageddon all of the actors are in on the joke, and while there are moments of hilarity (the voice of the pilot for the dropship is particularly good) it just doesn’t feel right.

All of this said I am being too negative: even though I’ve just devoted 400 words to back-handed compliments and moaning about the minutiae, I’ve still enjoyed pretty much every moment of my time with Insect Armageddon.

Rolling into a construction site whilst riding a heavily-armoured tank (driven with controls that actually make sense) and blowing up huge ants is still deeply gratifying. Sure, the ants don’t go hurtling into the stratosphere but the game is still FUN.

EDF IA - tank

Caption for the hard of hearing: “BOOM!”

It’s even better in 3-player Co-Op (a special aside should be made for the solid netcode that coped with the often hectic gameplay). In single player the AI is surprisingly good but there are often moments where there is no substitute for thinking, feeling flesh-and-blood.  When replaced by another couple of humans the strategies employed genuinely change the experience. In particular the freedom to specialise to each player’s strength – for example, having one player go for crowd control, another playing the sniper and the third filling in the gaps – works really well and the constant banter from a tightly-focused team is going to be what gives playthroughs on harder levels proper legs.

Splitscreen local play is also back and a joy, conjuring up the best memories of 2017. Drunken game parties with buildings crumpling under rocket blasts and constant, playful bickering ensuing as one of you stumbles into the path of a giant Hector is never going to get old.

EDF IA - bugs

Nor does being attacked by spiders, drop ships and ants at the same time while backtracking frantically.

The addition of a 6-player survival mode is a great idea as it adds some brutally tough challenges more in line with 2017‘s preposterously tough later levels. The remix version of the campaign is also a welcome addition; it gives you the impression that despite some of the more workmanlike approaches to some features (the active reload feature is pointless) there is still a genuine affection for the game’s lineage exhibited by the development team. They care and as a result so should you.

Insect Armageddon is a good game that falls prey to the same issues as a fellow recent release, Red Faction: Armageddon (two Armageddons in less than a month? – Ed), in that it lives in the shadow of its predecessor. For newcomers this should make no difference and they should use Insect Armageddon as the springboard into the series that it is; it’s more accessible and safer. For series stalwarts there will be a certain amount of inevitable bellyaching (I believe 2017 received similar criticisms) but the game still offers a lot of fun.

Unless you are the type of the person who doesn’t like fun – if you are one of those people you can fuck off – this is a game completely deserving of your time, especially if you can convince two friends to join you in destroying New Detroit in the name of liberating Earth.

[Speaking of two others, fellow contributors Guillaume and Kevin were kind enough to add a few words below…]

Guillaume

I can’t believe we’re here. The moment where I can at last be this guy:

EDF IA - battle armour

Has all the dakkadakka you need.

For the first time in almost a decade I’ve experienced an uncontrollably rising level of anticipation for a forthcoming title. Earth Defense Force: Insect Armageddon is that title. At first it was relatively easy to keep my cool alongside the hesitant eagerness of the few people I know who have played what came before EDF:IA. But the longer I waited the more bits and pieces of footage I’d see, and the less able I’d be to conceive it as even slightly deceiving.

I’m not burdened with the knowledge of whatever greatness the series has already offered, as I’ve never played more than a couple of missions from the previous EDF and don’t remember anything… well, except for Giant Cyber-Godzillas. Those were quite a sight.

I know what you think: this sounds like every Average Joe’s story of experiencing excessive hype. But this story doesn’t end with “…and this turned out to be a thoroughly disappointing piece of filth.”

It turns out I wasn’t even close to how hyped I should have been for what I ended up getting. And for 39.99$? I almost feel bad having paid so little.

EDF IA - spiders

“Oh Shiiiiit!”

There were moments where noticing the smallest of features – such as how every one of the Battle Armor’s machine-guns has a sound matching the deadliness of its bullet based on the rate of fire of said guns – were simply GREAT because, prior to noticing said feature, I’d say ”You know, it would be cool if -” and a few seconds later I’d realize that the developers had beaten me to it. Yes, the shots of the Battle Armor’s guns sound more badass, heavy and low-pitched when they do more damage and are shot at a lower firing rate (even if, in the end, I adopted the ”7.50 rate” of fire over the ”2.something” option).

Speaking of the Battle Armor (for those who haven’t realized yet, it’s this guy) it has some of the least friendly-fire friendly (pun intended) weaponry. I discovered this the fun way – really I mean the hard way: HARD AND ACCIDENTAL – while playing with AJ. I thought “this might be a bad idea, but I’ll have a full weapon loadout including nothing but grenades and rockets! :D” It did end up being, as I suspected, not that great an idea. But it was fun to try and see how we’d fare with such explosive, trigger-happy, Potter-esque tactics. We all made it in more or less one piece in the end!

That’s EDF for ya.

EDF IA - hello ant

I feel like I’m forgetting something.

Oh yeah, the game isn’t all about that one Battle Armor dude destroying Detroit and ants and aliens; there’s a lot more to it. All of it being great! I assure you I found everything else the game has to offer awesome too; I’m just really really REALLY enjoying the Battle Armor and weapons at the moment. I’m also starting to get a hang of the jetpack dude’s double-edged energy consumption, actual tank driving 101, turret deployment, AA gun usage, ”pre-preemptive evasive manoeuvring” in a Mech, Gatling (Gears) Turret overheating rate, homing shotguns and HARD difficulty. I’ve not even started to wonder what the higher difficulty must be like, or what that Campaign Remix mode is all about, or what are and how to use roughly 60% of the weapon TYPES (including some sub-types).

I’ll cut this short now. I gotta go play; gotta get my Battle Rank 6 gear faster.

EDF? More like OMG.

I expected a third-person shooter with a moderate level of difficulty and instead got served a hot cup of overwhelming insect-looking aliens swarming me from every direction. Faced with gameplay and graphical styles that remind me of my time playing Alien Front Online and Spawn for the Dreamcast, I gripped my controller and prepared for enjoyment. Unfortunately for me I am no longer thirteen years old, and have found that at the ripe age of twenty-three I still panic easily (I’ll blame years of energy drinks and caffeine abuse).

The first two missions were easy and enjoyable, but by the third mission the panic level had shot up with the enemies ramping up from simple ants to flying drone ships and jumping spiders. With my screen turning into a cluttered mess of alien insects and crumbling buildings I found myself freaking out, sitting there saying to myself “oh my god… oh my god… oh my god… aaand I’m dead.”

Dramatisation of Kevin’s experience, featuring genuine mech spiders.

In my honest opinion EDF comes across as an above-average game but nothing of triple-A standard, although it resonates with a definite arcade-ish quality that I can see a large community enjoying. Even if I was too strung out to appreciate it I’d still recommend the game to anyone looking for a good arcade shooter experience.