July 05, 2011
The Fourth of July is a holiday rich in tradition for Americans, with such staples as gathering with friends, shooting off fireworks, and drinking beer. Apparently, killing aliens may soon be associated with the holiday too. Will Smith saved the world from aliens in “Independence Day” at this time of year, and now developer Vicious Cycle looks to deepen our association between the holiday and alien blasting by releasing the newest Earth Defense Force game, the first developed by an American studio, at about the same time. In this sequel to Earth Defense Force 2017, the Ravager menace has invaded the city of New Detroit, and it’s time once again to gun down legions of giant ants, spiders, and robots.
From a gameplay perspective, Insect Armageddon shows substantial improvement over its predecessor. Vicious Cycle has revamped EDF’s core gameplay from the ground up to ensure it keeps the classic, frantic pacing, while stripping away technical hiccups and modifying gameplay to appeal to a broader audience. Minor tweaks like a cleaner HUD, and waypoints marked on the mini-map and compass, help make navigating around the city from objective to objective more natural than they were in 2017. Players can finally manually reload weapons whenever they want, and make use of an active reload system. It’s nice to not have to blow through the remnants of a clip to be reloaded and ready for the next encounter.
Insect Armageddon gives players four different classes of soldier to choose from, each with their own set of abilities. First off, there’s your basic Trooper, a no-frills class that most closely resembles EDF 2017‘s character. The other classes feel more unique, allowing players to zip around the map with a jetpack, drop mines and turrets to unleash chaos on the enemy, or walk around with the heavy weapons like a virtual tank on legs. As players progress through the game, they’ll earn experience to level up their class, unlocking stronger powers and better weapons. Each suit levels up individually, so multiple playthroughs will be necessary to max out everything. Weapons used to be gained exclusively though picking them up off of fallen enemies. Now, while some do still fall from elite and boss enemies, many others can be purchased using money earned by completing missions. Since many weapons are tied to a specific armour class, it can sometimes take a while to level up enough to use one of the weapons you’ve found, which is somewhat disappointing. In EDF 2017, the team AI did little more than scream and die, but that's no longer the case here. Your AI squad-mates are competent fighters, and will make every effort to come and revive a player who has been downed. While playing with humans is the better way to go, the AI is competent enough to keep the game enjoyable solo.
Vehicles, which were utterly useless in 2017, have finally found their place as a valuable part of the EDF’s arsenal. All vehicles now have sufficient armour that they can endure a bit of a pounding, unlike the vehicles in 2017, which would frequently be destroyed in seconds. The mech is a twelve foot-tall robotic death machine with a mini-gun and rockets. It controls just like the troopers, so there’s no learning curve when hopping in and going Starship Troopers on a swarm of ants. The tank is slightly harder to control, with the left stick dedicated to all movement while the right stick controls turret aiming, but it works well with a little practice. Sporting a turret on each side that your buddies can hop into, the tank can become a rolling fortress of death in the right hands. Along with exciting turret sequences, particularly when facing swarms of Ravager Gunships, the vehicles provide a nice change of pace, and they’re worth hopping into.
The campaign for Insect Armageddon spans 15 missions, running approximately five to seven hours on normal difficulty. While 15 is a far cry from the over 50 missions seen in EDF 2017, these missions run longer, so the length of content isn’t all that different. What is significant here, however, is the relative monotony of environments players will blast through. Whereas EDF 2017 had players blasting through Japanese cities, underground tunnels, beaches, and mountainous regions, Insect Armageddon takes place exclusively in the mundane environments of New Detroit. What “story” there is here isn’t worth the time to explain, beyond saying it ends in the most abrupt and unsatisfying way possible. On the upside, completing the campaign unlocks a “remix” mode, where enemy encounters from the campaign have been changed, which adds another layer of challenge and replayability.
If gunning down millions of ants, spiders, and robots in the campaign isn’t enough for you, Insect Armageddon introduces Survival Mode, the game’s own Horde variant. Up to six players can face off against the Ravager menace on six different maps, each with a different layout and item that can help the players out. For example, one map includes stationary turrets, while another offers players a tank. Each player has a limited number of times they can be revived, with some additional health and lives given periodically after completing enough waves. There’s no denying that building up a team of players and slaying the alien horde can be a blast, but several design decisions dampen the mode’s fun and ultimately shorten its longevity. In Survival Mode, players can only play as the Trooper class, using a selection of only two weapons per weapon type (shotguns, rockets, etc). For a game that advertises 300 different weapons and four classes, such a severe restriction is mind-boggling. It’s not pleasant to know that all that work levelling up your favorite armour class and collecting all of those weapons is of no use here. Besides the lack of customisation variety here, the wave design itself grows stale before too long, because there simply isn’t enough variety in what types of enemies spawn. While there’s a mix of ants and spiders early on, later waves seem to rely solely on the appearance of more and more Hector robots to create a challenge. Because these robots take forever to kill with the basic weapons allowed in the mode, survival mode begins to feel more like a slog than a frantic challenge. I kept hoping that in the place of the robots I’d see the sort of massive swarms of insects that made EDF 2017 such a thrill ride, where players had to weave through a mob of the insects, firing away while trying to dodge incoming acid. Sadly, I did not get my wish. Survival Mode may be fun for a few hours, but this isn’t a game mode that will keep players coming back long-term.
Though Vicious Cycle should be commended for the refining touches they’ve brought to EDF’s core gameplay, much of the charm that made EDF 2017 such a cult hit has been lost in translation. EDF lived on that “so-bad-it’s-good” feeling, as a cheesy parody of old-school sci-fi movies. Humour - or rather the attempts at it - in Insect Armageddon fall flat and end up grating instead of generating laughs. Most of this can be pegged on the writing, as in most instances it almost feels like the writers thought to themselves, “we have to have a funny line here,” and tried to cram something in, and it comes off wrong. Your squad mates don’t have much to say, and their lines likewise can’t match the charm of 2017. The other killer here is the voice acting, which falls flat. How your Ops controller can sound both bored and robotic at the same time I’ll never understand. The Intel officer sounds like a bad Chris Parnell imitation, with all of the funny wrung out. None of this is a bad as the biggest misuse of vocal talent, which is to have Steve Blum, known as the voice of Grayson Hunt in Bulletstorm or Spike Spiegel in Cowboy Bebop, deliver lines that amount to nothing more than acknowledging commands. Seriously, were’s the personality? Despite the improvements in gameplay, Insect Armageddon’s colourless delivery makes it feel like a bland version of its predecessor.
Graphically, Insect Armageddon looks much slicker than EDF 2017, with a lot of effort spent on creating pretty character models, enemies, and explosions. It’s unfortunate that the same level of detail was not given to the environments of New Detroit, as the city comes off looking like a bland, generic city with little to make it memorable. Some errors remain, like Hector robots walking through buildings that are still standing, but it’s nice to know that the game won’t grind to a virtual halt when the action gets intense. If you can stomach the awful voice acting, the rest of Insect Armageddon’s audio is pretty good, from the grand theme at the start to the sounds of the guns and the little popping noise insects make when you kill them. It’s hard to see how all of that can seem so right when the voice acting is so far off the mark.
Earth Defense Force: Insect Armageddon is a game all about blasting away hordes of insects and robots, and its achievement list reflects that, as the vast majority of its achievements have to do with racking up kills against a particular enemy type or by using a specific vehicle. The humour missing in the game’s dialogue is at least present in the achievement list, with plenty of creativity going into the achievement names, and the text you’ll see after unlocking them. Most games have dry information stating what you did after unlocking the achievement, which may not even be different that the text you see before unlocking it. Insect Armageddon has a distinct “before” and “after” with its achievements, which is refreshing to see. It’s also great that player stats and achievement progress can be viewed in the front menus.
For $40, EDF: Insect Armageddon is a solid dose of arcade-style shooting fun. While it’s fun to play solo, the it’s an absolute blast when played with friends. New classes and enemies keep the action fresh, while the four different classes offer up some variety in how to gun down those alien hordes. This July, feel free to be a good American (or act like one) and gun down hordes of alien invaders. Sadly, the game’s basic fun is undermined by a lack of variety in the campaign’s environments, and some design decisions that severely undermine the shelf life of Survival Mode. Enjoy the game with some buddies, but be prepared for bland presentation on the solid gameplay. Hopefully Vicious Cycle can take the solid gameplay foundation they've built here and revamp its delivery for any future iterations of the series.
Insect Armageddon has some great music and sound effects, but suffers from some seriously grating voice acting.
The game's no Crysis 2, but character models and enemies look much sharper than in EDF 2017. The effort spent on improving these models wasn't invested on the city of New Detroit itself, which looks pretty generic.
Insect Armageddon is very easy to pick up and play, with solid shooting controls and a crisp and friendly HUD. Slaughtering alien bugs and robots is a simple and fun as it's ever been.
Where has the humor and charm gone? Insect Armageddon feels like a bland version of EDF 2017, and would have benefitted from more variety in the game's environments. Why options for Survival Mode are so severely limited remains a mystery, as does the campaign's abrupt and unsatisfyng conclusion.
The EDF franchise is all about killing horde of aliens, and this achievement list reflects that. It's quite satisfying to pop points for gunning down a bajillion enemies, and the humour that fails in the rest of the game actually comes through in the achievement names and descriptions. Bonus points for making it easy to see stats and achievement progress.
Earth Defense Force: Insect Armageddon is simultaneously better and worse than its predecessor. While the core shooting gameplay against hordes of bugs and robots has never been better, Insect Armageddon lacks the humour and charm that made the original such a cult hit in the first place.