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Earth Defense Force: Insect Armageddon

Score: 73%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: D3
Developer: Vicious Cycle
Media: DVD/1
Players: 1 - 2; 2 - 6 (Online)
Genre: Shooter/ Action

Graphics & Sound:

Earth Defense Force: Insect Armageddon finds itself in an odd position from other games. Usually, the hope is for a sequel to improve on the first game's flaws. In the case of Earth Defense Force 2017, however, the flaws are what helped elevate the game from discount bin fodder to a full-fledged cult hit. The goal, then, is to capture EDF 2017's tacky, B-Movie fun, but still make the necessary improvements.

Both the visuals and audio have received a major upgrade. Though Insect Armageddon doesn't stand up next to the 360's heavier visual hitters, I really dig the game's style. Imagine every old sci-fi "Giant Whatever" invasion movie, and you'll find some reflection of it here. You've got giant ants and wasps, as well as spaceships and even a few War of the Worlds-style walkers.

Environments are flat, but you can reduce everything you see into piles of twisted, charred rubble. Yeah, your goal is to protect the Earth, but given the opportunity and hardware, I think most people would take a potshot or two at a building or car. Besides, its not like you can't blame it on the swarm of giant ants overrunning the city.

I was really surprised by the voicework. Compared to other games, it is bad, but there's Insect Armageddon's unique predicament rearing its head. Keeping with the original's charm, you sort of want the overly obnoxious cheers of "EDF! EDF!" in the background. What the audio has in charm, it lacks in power. Voices are great, but guns and explosions sound weak.


Gameplay:

To its credit, Earth Defense Force: Insect Armageddon is a better game than EDF 2017. Rather than dropping you into a massive playground loaded with guns, UFOs and giant bugs, Insect Armageddon instead tries to install a more game-like structure. I like the idea, especially the added mission structure, though many of the inclusions end up considerably limiting the game's scope.

You are given the choice of four distinct soldier types, each with their own laundry list of pros and cons. Joining the base-line EDF Trooper from the first game is a Heavy Soldier, a Tactician who can deploy turrets and a jet pack-equipped Scout unit. Each brings something different to battles, which is much needed considering the tedium found in levels. Shooting giant bugs is fun, but after a few levels, it gets tiring and becomes a bit of a grind.

Part of the grind-y feel can be attributed to the four troop types. It is nice to have options, but it soon becomes apparent that some missions are meant for a specific troop type. The standard EDF Trooper is great early on, but towards the middle of the game, he can't hang as well as the heavy armored trooper. You can try to stick with one choice, but it will eventually lead to frustration. Instead, you're forced to replay missions for to level each soldier type. Some fans will enjoy the replay value, but I had a really hard time getting into the game.

Although Insect Armageddon delivers on the swarms of big monster bugs premise, everything feels more confined. You're trapped in smaller areas, and even though you can level whole city blocks, it only goes so far. Missions sound different, but they rarely move beyond, "Kill a Bunch of Bugs Until Something Happens."

Insect Armageddon adds co-op, which is fun, but would be more interesting if the gameplay were more compelling. Still, with the right crowd, fans will have fun.


Difficulty:

For the most part, Earth Defense Force: Insect Armageddon seems well-balanced. I can't remember struggling through any particular mission, and if I did, it was usually a matter of swapping my class or choosing a different set of weapons. Outside that, you're really just running around and shooting stuff, though there is a light layer of strategy at play. Ticks are fast and will jump on your back, immediately exploding and causing lots of damage. You'll also have to identify bug holes and quickly close them if you want to reduce the area's bug population. This is harder than it sounds since you first need to clear out the area around the hole, then hope it stays clear for the few seconds it takes to arm the bomb.

"Boss" enemies have easily distinguishable areas you need to target, though actually getting to them can be hard. For instance, you can only shoot down cruisers when they're deploying fighters, so you'll need to coax the ship into launching more while also making sure one of the new fighters (or a ground unit) doesn't get the jump on you.

You're never alone on the battlefield. You are joined by a squad, which you can stock with real players or with A.I.-controlled bots. Teammates can revive each other, which helps in later missions. Still, if everyone goes down, you're forced to the beginning of the mission and forfeit any experience earned to that point. Considering how much of an emphasis is placed on amassing experience points, it's not much fun to lose it all.


Game Mechanics:

Controls are another welcome improvement. EDF 2017 offered a big city to explore with lots to shoot, but actually doing anything was awkward. The setup is more "standard," though a few of the button placements felt odd. I especially didn't like the reload button. Other games place it on the face buttons, though for some reason I couldn't get into the swing of things. Adding a Gears of War-style Active Reload doesn't help matters either. Even when I hit the reload button, I never felt like I was hitting it at the right time, plaguing me to having to run from enemies rather than shooting them.

Weapons are an oddity. If anything stayed the same between games, I figured it would be weapons. You're facing hordes of giant insects, so you would expect the guns to match. Though there are some heavy hitters, guns seem to lack punch. Some aren't as powerful as you'd expect, while others could use a little more ammo. Your weapon select is also limited by troop type. Everyone gets a few cool toys, but considering you're also limited by weapon tiers (which you need to unlock), the entire system feels too constrained. For me, this goes against what made EDF 2017 fun in the first place.

I place Earth Defense Force: Insect Armageddon in the same category as Dynasty Warriors. When it comes to fun, entertaining gameplay, it falls short of the mark. But, if you're looking for the fun that comes with picking up a missile launcher and shooting giant bugs, it delivers. The experience isn't quite the same as EDF 2017, but there's definitely something here.

If you liked the original, you'll likely enjoy Insect Armageddon, especially for $40. If not, a purchase depends on your love of mindless fun and willingness to overlook the game's flaws.


-Starscream, GameVortex Communications
AKA Ricky Tucker

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