Earth Defense Force: Insect Armageddon – Review
My mother’s side of the family is Ukrainian and, many years ago, back in the motherland, our family was cursed. The details are sketchy. Knowing us, we probably ran over a gypsy with a horse or some such, but whatever happened, our bloodline was doomed to suffer continual torment and disappointment at the hands of inept motherfuckers. At least, that it is the only fucking reasonable explanation for my three most-wanted game sequels all being hopelessly futile over the last couple of years. Crackdown 2 copied the original as best it could before ruining it with the worst mission structure you’ve ever seen, Dead Rising 2 dumbed down the original game to appease the whining fucking maggots who wouldn’t know genius if it rose from the game and ate their fucking spleens and Child of Eden (Rez 2 in all but name) took the best game on the Dreamcast and corrupted it with Kinect play, shitty level design and some sort of X-Factor meets J-Pop teenage singing wannabe fucktoaster mugging it up to the camera every chance she got.
Well they say bad things happen in threes and that’s three shitty sequels right there, and you know what, I’d let Dead Rising, Crackdown and even the mighty Rez go that way as long as the gods of the multiverse did the right thing and gave Earth Defense Force 2017 the sequel that it deserves. So when D3 Publishing announced a proper, bonafide sequel to everyone’s favourite Starship Troopers-em-up, I was ready to spurt webbing all over my chops. Then we had the excellent PAX East interview on Gaming Lives that had the game’s producer proudly proclaiming that this game would stay true to the sequel, but would add all manner of new features. It was looking good and a few niggling release schedule delays later, the game landed in my mitts. However, I was so badly wanting this game that for a whole day I couldn’t play it. I had to prepare myself mentally for what would either be the greatest game on the 360 or the biggest disappointment since the time I read that Mick Hucknall had died but it turned out to be a fucking hoax.
The reason I, and all other right-minded gamers, hold Earth Defense Force 2017 in such high regard is that, more than any other game, it just didn’t give a fuck. Over fifty levels of giant insect mayhem set in fully destructible environments. At times there was so much going on, it was like kicking your 360 in the nuts and, sure, the game lacked a little polish but it was a certified sweet, sweet lemon. Part budget game, part B-movie extravaganza. EDF2017 was so arcadey, you’d find yourself shoving ten pence pieces into your memory card slots and it was continually trying to outdo itself with bigger, more fearsome enemies being introduced regularly and with larger swarms of the regular beasties thrown in, just to keep you on your toes.
Earth Defense Force: Insect Armageddon clearly aims to stay true to the original concept and can be considered more of a remake than a sequel (in a kind of Evil Dead 2 sort of way where you’re never quite sure). The premise is exactly the same as before with the Ravagers invading once again with giant insects and robotic hardware, although this time the action has moved from Japan to the grimier neighbourhoods of New Detroit. Right from the start, it’s clear that Vicious Cycle aren’t looking to take too many risks. Still, as they say ‘if it ain’t broken….’
There are some changes to the original formula. You now get to pick from one of four classes of EDF soldier. The ‘Trooper’ class has access to all the weapons, the ‘Battle’ class is heavily armoured and has a nifty shockwave special attack, the ‘Tactical’ armour allows for turret usage and then there’s the highly-mobile-but-fucking-useless-in-a-scrap ‘Jet’ class who is able to fly, but is limited in every other aspect. Jet class aside, each class feels like a part of the original EDF2017 trooper, meaning they are a collection of compromises.
Another change is to the weapons. The weapon drops are far rarer than in the first game and you are also able to purchase weapons. The system isn’t quite as clear as it used to be and it’s a little harder to compare and contrast the guns in the game, but once you get used to it, there are a few improvements such as the lock-on ability of the rocket launchers. Certain classes cannot use particular types of weapon though, so you’ll need to pick your class wisely.
Most excitingly, Insect Armageddon introduces online co-op play, allowing you and two other EDF-ers to combine forces against the extra-terrestrial hordes and, while this works well (although actually getting into a game can be a nightmare), the game clearly has to make some concessions to keep things playable. As such, there are fewer enemies on-screen at any time and they are smaller than before. Also the ‘twitch and you’ll destroy something’ environment of the first game has been toughened up and, in some cases, blocked off, meaning things are a fair bit less hectic than in the original. This does help things to run silky smooth for the most part, but after the first (overly long) level, you’ll be hoping things ramp up pretty quickly.
Unfortunately, each level in Insect Armageddon is a near-identical facsimile of the one preceding it. Instead of mixing it up with underground nests, beach levels and countryside battles, Insect Armageddon’s compliment of levels are all set in downtown New Detroit. All of them. And once you’ve had the slow release of enemy archetypes, each level is the exact same mix of ants, spiders, robots and gunships as well as the two new enemy types: wasps (annoying bastard wasps!) and tick carriers (fat ‘brain bugs’ that spit little explosive ticks at you). A couple of uninspiring boss battles aside, every moment of every level feels exactly the same. After three five-stage chapters of that bullshit you’ll be expecting the game to hit its stride (after all, the original EDF2017 had over fifty stages with all sorts of incredible boss characters in them), but the game abruptly ends before it ever really gets going. Yep, after the marathon exploits of the original, you’ll be seeing what passes as an ending in Vicious Cycle’s world within four hours of play. They don’t even give you a final boss battle, having admitted that a fight against the final mothership would have been ‘cool’.
The level of disappointment this brings is beyond anything I’ve experienced in a game. It makes Insect Armageddon feel like a demo and an insult. Leaving a game this unfinished is simply inexcusable in this day and age. Achievement hunters get an extra slap in the face as the game’s achievements require over 150 hours of play. Not really acceptable when the main campaign is so short. In an effort to add a little ‘something’, the now-mandatory Horde Mode variant is included. This sees you fending off multiple waves of enemies with five(!) other players. However the repetitive gameplay and lengthy, unexciting levels make this mode surprisingly unexciting.Pros
- It's cheap
- Three player co-op works well when you can get a game
- Improved vehicles, mechs and turrets
- Decent graphics
- Smaller enemies in reduced numbers compared to the original
- Confusing weapons handling
- Incredibly dull Survival Mode
- The four classes on offer barely add up to the badassness of the original EDF guy
- Just fifteen near-identical levels with repetitive objectives
- No final showdown or proper ending
- Less environmental damage
- Ridiculously grindy achievements
With all these problems, Insect Armageddon is clearly an inferior game to the original but it's not all bad. Graphically everything is nicely detailed and the dialogue is still as irreverent as ever. The dreary campaign mode is improved by playing it on the harder difficulties with two human companions (although to be fair, what game isn't improved by adding co-op?) and the vehicles - which were less than useless in the original game - are now far more useful (there's no helicopter though... boo!). Overall, however, it's not enough to save the game. The potential is there, with the game engine doing an okay job of replicating the action of the first title, but the lack of content on offer is absolutely staggering. With plenty of DLC, this game could arguably be improved, but as I look ahead to over a hundred more hours of mindlessly blasting intergalactic bastards, I can't help wondering what went wrong.
And then I remember. They entrusted the wonderful Earth Defense Force series to the fuckwits who made Eat Lead: The Return of Matt Hazard.
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