EDF: Insect Armageddon Preview and Interview
If any game suits PAX East’s offbeat, cult, hyperactive geek persona it is EDF, or Earth Defence Force: Insect Armageddon. The game’s predecessor, EDF 2017, has become famed for its frenetic and, often, brutally difficult gameplay, and the cheesy, over the top nonsense surrounding the thin story and simple action. After seeing a Western console release in 2007, EDF 2017 swiftly became an underground classic despite the fact that it was an odd title – slightly naff and cheesy, with basic graphics, simplistic ‘shmup’ gameplay, and cringe-worthy voiceovers. However, it was also all of those things which propelled the game into players’ hearts (to the bemusement of others) and helped it win a large following.
The game also earned massive respect thanks to its insane difficulty levels and gut-wrenchingly harsh achievements. As such, maxing it is seen as almost a badge of honour among its fans and it has firmly cemented its cult status. A sequel, however, seemed highly unlikely. It was just too dodgy, too niche, not a mainstream seller, which is why, when one was actually announced, jaws hit floors.
Vicious Cycle have taken up the developing mantle from original devs, Sandlot, and have aimed to improve upon the series and give the fans what they want. As soon as we knew that it would be hitting the shiny show floors of the BCEC for PAX East 2011, we knew that we had to see it, and we weren’t disappointed.
Just getting hands on time with the game was tough, every booth was crowded and the sound of gunfire and decimated insects filled the air – just as you’d expect. Luckily we had Brian Etheridge, Senior Producer for D3Publisher of America to guide us through a level and answer some of our questions, and we got a good look at the game in action, as well as scratching the surface of some of the depth that Vicious Cycle have attempted to inject into it.
At its core, EDF is unchanged. It is still a third person action shoot ‘em up, with you playing as one of an elite force of Earth’s finest, battling against hordes of enemies in an insect invasion. Sound screwed up? Yes, but that is just part of the charm, trust us. The first thing that we noticed was the beefed up graphics. Gone are the more basic palettes and textures of its predecessor and in come some more realistic, detailed environments and characters. Bugs look far more real – and thus, more disturbing – and the shading and textures are much improved over 2017’s seemingly cruder visuals. Explosions (of which there are many) are colourful and over the top, and buildings appear to be just as destructible, although we spent some time before our official demo, struggling with the inverted axis controls (we’ll be heading straight to the options next time) so we didn’t get to fully attempt to lay waste to the landscape before our chat.
The scenery and general graphics aren’t the only things to have received an overhaul either because our powersuited, tooled up dood was a far cry from his counterparts in EDF 2017. This was the Battle Armour – one of four different armour classes that Vicious Cycle have introduced and who is basically the ‘tank’. This guy is the one you’ll need if you like to get up close and personal with your insect foes, since he can use explosive weapons without that health-shredding backlash that many a hastily shot rocket caused in the previous game. He also comes equipped with a kick-arse energy shield which can absorb damage and send out an insect zapping blast to give him some breathing room in gang-bang bug situations.
Other classes include the Jet Armour which we also saw demoed. This was an advanced class, equipped with a jet pack and the ability to manoeuvre swiftly out of tight spots and even soar to the top of buildings in order to snipe from afar. Before everyone goes rushing for this armour, we’ll give you a warning. Using your flying ability too much drains your energy and if you don’t watch out, you’ll be left spluttering helpless in the dust while an ant chews your face off.
The other two classes to make up the four are the Trooper Armour: the basic class, who brings a bit of everything to the table, with greater access to the game’s vast array of weaponry, and the Tactical Armour: we predict this one will become a firm favourite, solely because of his ability to use turrets. Yep, the turrets are back; the devs recognised how popular they were, so they introduced an entire class based around their usage. In addition to turrets, these guys can also lay mines, and have increased radar capabilities… which suggests to us that some ‘turtling’ may be in order to clear some of the later levels. Just like old times.
We learned that the developers wanted to deepen the gameplay by adding a greater tactical element, and what better way to do that than to have different classes, each with their own weapon sets and skills/weaknesses which can be upgraded by earning experience. This forces players working in co-op to really think about their approach to levels and larger enemies, using the strengths of the various armour classes to their best advantage, rather than just grabbing whatever weapon they fancy and rushing in like Millwall fans at a West Ham match.
As for the co-op, one of the things that stuck out painfully in EDF 2017 was the lack on online multiplayer. It was twisting blade in the gut for those isolated from anyone who would play it with them. Multiplayer gaming was reduced to local split-screen play, which made co-op progression difficult at best, impossible at worst – and due to the sheer scale of difficulty on the highest difficulty, a co-op partner was a near essential. The developers have listened once more and have ridden to the rescue with a variety of co-op options with which to soothe us. Three player online co-op is included, along with the traditional local split screen should you wish to go old school. Not only that, but a new six player survival mode has been introduced, wherein you and a posse of mates can take on increasing waves of insect insurgents (something tells us that some nasty achievements will likely lurk in these particular waters).
If you’re thinking that you’ll have to duke it out with your partners for the Tactical or Jet armour, then forget it. There isn’t any restriction on how many of each class can be in a party, so if you all want a jet pack, then you shall go to the ball; similarly if everyone involved wants to turtle with some serious turret action, then you can have a whole party of Tactical guys and gals if you wish. However, that said, balance would appear to be the key to success, with Vicious Cycle making it clear that they have engineered the game to require a greater level of tactical thinking than its predecessor. Taking inspiration from Left 4 Dead, certain special enemies will require different tactics and co-operative play to take down, and a good rounded out party would appear to be the best hope for both a stand up fight and a bug hunt.
If you don’t have any friends, or you are lunatic enough to fancy tackling the campaigns yourself, then fear not because your AI companions are here. Wait, come back. Okay, they were little more than bug fodder in the previous game, but we’re hoping that they will be improved in Insect Armageddon. We admit we didn’t see this in action, since Brian was too damn good to need them, but what we do know is that they will still provide some of the biggest helpings of the game’s inevitable cheese in the form of their ridiculous voiceovers. And the cheese is half the charm which is why Vicious Cycle have strived to retain it while improving the game and introducing the features that fans have long clamoured for. As much as you’ve cringed to hear it, you know you’ve chanted EDF in the shower before work. We know.
Yes, we will likely spend most of the time scraping up the AI remains and sending them home in a jiffy bag, but that’s just part of another glorious day in the core. Wait… you can revive them? Yes, given the fact that the levels are now going to be slightly longer, revivals have been introduced, presumably to stop controllers meeting TV screens the world over. In all seriousness, it is a very welcome feature, as in co-op, frequently, one player would get acid-bathed to death just before the end of a particularly brutal level and their co-op partner would be left surrounded by bugs and about to meet an even swifter demise. So, assuming that you can reach your team, be they human or AI, without being lasered, webbed, or eaten, you can bring them back – should you want to… we haven’t heard the AI lines yet, so you may prefer them dead.
On the subject of beasties, VC have some nasty delights in store. While the old favourites of ants, wolf spiders, and Hectors are back, they’ve brought their big brothers with them and they look fucking tough. From our demo alone, we witnessed a huge Hector laying waste to a city, a giant biomechanical Praying Mantis, a huge mama spider whose inflated abdomen spewed dozens of equally unpleasant babies, and some evil looking giant wasps. Add to this a new bug-dropping Walker in the shape of a huge Daddy Long Legs, and the return of UFO carriers and gunships, not to mention a new class of smaller, speedier Hectors to compliment their bigger brothers, and we’re in for a world of hurt. Suddenly that tough new armour seems woefully inadequate and we’re starting to think that we’d rather settle for a ticket off the planet. Did we mention that the bugs now come with tougher biomechanical versions? Don’t cry.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, Brian from D3 took great delight in reassuring us that the agonising difficulty for which the previous game became synonymous, will be seeing a return. If some fans were chewing their nails and fretting that the revivals, online co-op, and armour classes may have made life too easy, they need not worry. Inferno difficulty will be returning, promising insane action, but not only that, anyone looking to escape into three player co-op to ease the pain will be in for a rude awakening: we’re told that the game will recognise how many human players are stepping up to the plate and will ramp up the enemy health to make things harder.
One can’t raise the subject of difficulty in EDF without mentioning achievements. The previous game had only six, but it rode you hard for them – this time out, there are fifty. While some are likely fairly easy, others will take some serious grinding to pull down – sorry folks. One particularly nasty one will involve fully upgrading every armour class which means repeated playthroughs and a lot of dedication, but at least it will increase re-playability… or, at the very least, blood pressure.
The overall feeling that we were left with was a good one. Vicious Cycle have clearly listened to the fans of the previous game and taken many steps to rectify problems such as vehicle handling and weapon reload times, while maintaining the essence of what people loved about EDF 2017. The concept is the same and the gameplay is deeper, with the addition of a more tactical element, but is essentially unchanged. The graphics have been given a very welcome overhaul and imbue the game with a more realistic feel, offering a level of detail and colour that seem miles away from its predecessor. While the weapon reload system has been tweaked, and revivals introduced, the difficulty is unchanged and appears to remain as brutal as ever. Vehicles have also seen a very welcome overhaul, more achievements have been added, deeper gameplay made standard, and online co-op introduced. Someone has clearly listened, someone with enough passion to wish to improve on the old without destroying its spirit. Underneath the new graphics, tweaks, additions, and general improvements, this is still EDF: cheesier than a William Shatner/Hasslehoff sandwich, with a difficulty level that would make Mariusz Pudzianowski weep. The ultimate test though will be on July 5th, when the bug hunt is back on and fans get to find out once and for all whether it has been worth the wait.
As well as getting a serious ass kicking by the insect hordes, we had some time to chat with Brian Etheridge, Senior Producer from D3Publisher about Earth Defense Force: Insect Armageddon and below that video you’ll also find a 15 minute EDF gameplay walkthrough with Brian.
Ants, spiders, ants, praying mantis, daddy long legs, ants and more ants… EDF: Insect Armageddon is, thankfully, as insane as 2017!
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