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Developer: Vicious Cycle / Publisher: D3Publisher of America / ESRB: Teen (Animated Blood, Mild Language, Mild Suggestive Themes, Violence) / Played on: Xbox 360
Let me explain something to you. Not every game has to be a blockbuster, big-budget smash. Sometimes a game comes along that isn’t the best looking, the best sounding, or has the best story. Sometimes a game comes out that, on paper, isn’t going to be very good. Every now and again the world gets a game like this, a new Earth Defense Force title, and it throws all your concepts about what a good game should be out the window.
Alright, look, I’m not going to waste too much time here. We’re talking about a game where the narrative goes something like this: an army of giant alien robots and insects is invading Earth and it’s up to you, a faceless marine named Lighting Alpha, to put a stop to them and defend mankind (the title of this one communicates everything you need to know pretty well, don’t you think?). Insect Armageddon ain’t exactly Shakespeare, but then, it’s not trying to be. It’s trying to get you to shoot robots in the face with many guns that make big booms.
The audio in EDF is serviceable, but not amazing. Steve Blum does an adequate job with Lightning Alpha’s lines by doing what Steve Blum seems to be best at in 2011: voicing gritty characters in gruesome shooters. At any given moment, most of the music will be covered by the sound of 30-foot explosions, the tick-tick-ticking of insect legs, and the chilling, alien whine of robots the size of buildings and UFOs opening their blast doors.
I played through the end of the first chapter of the campaign, and I was starting to doubt Vicious Cycle’s handling of the franchise’s infamous goofiness, but then, during the daddy longlegs fight, the cheese factor ratcheted way the hell up, and all was right with the world. From the overly polite dropship pilot to the hilarious quips the AI EDF soldiers yell out over the comm at random moments during battle, I laughed out loud plenty of times during my playthrough.
With that out of the way, let’s talk what really matters: exterminating thousands of bugs and leveling city blocks. If you’ve never played an EDF game before (and god help you, you don’t know what you’re missing out on), here’s a quick primer: Insect Armageddon is an arcade-style third person shooter with fully destructible environments. You’ll be moving from area to area and wiping out everything that moves with weapons that range from simple assault rifles and rocket launchers to shotguns that have homing capabilities and missiles that split into more missiles before they explode. It’s mindless, it’s simple, and it’s strangely compelling. Somewhere between a spider the size of a bus throwing a car at you and robotic preying mantis leaping to the top of a skyscraper, you’ll realize how much goddamn fun EDF is (and how much of a goddamn entomophobe’s nightmare it is).
And it only gets crazier from there. Every few minutes the screen erupts in absolute, unmitigated chaos; all the lasers, missiles, insect guts, and robots add up to a gameplay experience that just can’t be replicated anywhere else.
Vicious Cycle’s first attempt at the franchise has yielded some great results. First up, there are four different armor classes for you to choose from, each of which comes with their own gameplay styles and weapon sets. The jet armor can fly (a nice nod to EDF 2 on the PS2), while the battle armor has an electrified riot shield and the tactical armor can deploy auto-turrets. Get a group of three friends together for online co-op and you’ll ratchet up the action and explosions by magnitudes.
The armor set varieties go a long way in making the game replayable, which is good because the campaign can be completed in a few short hours. EDF 2017 has 50-plus missions, a lot of which were rehashed to the point of boredom, but Insect Armageddon features a paltry 15. I would have liked to see a number somewhere between those two; as it is, Insect Armageddon is lacking the diversified environments of 2017, electing to have every mission take place in urban New Detroit.
Some of the other design choices help pad the game out, though. For one, there’s a character progression system for each armor class now. Instead of simply upgrading your health and weapon cache by picking up collectibles on the battlefield, you earn experience at the end of each level, which goes towards increasing your health and improving your armor abilities. Each armor set levels independently, so you’ll need to beat the game multiple times and on every difficulty (a move that raises the level cap) to unlock everything.
The other new addition is Survival mode, which is exactly what it sounds like: you and up to five friends holding out against infinite waves of alien bastards. It’s nothing revolutionary, but the mode should encourage you to take EDF off the shelf every couple months for an hour or two of fun.
There are some other small tweaks, too, like adding very rudimentary objectives in each mission, which is a nice change of pace to the formula (for example, you have to plant explosives on anthills to destroy them rather than shoot them to death). Vehicles also handle much better this time around, and while I lament the fact that the helicopter did not return (hey, we got a flying character I can’t complain too much), the turrets, mechs, and tanks really dish out the destruction, and they’re used well during key set piece moments.
I can’t stress this enough: EDF: Insect Armageddon is fucking fun, and that counts for a lot with me.
Let’s be honest here. EDF knows what it is and isn’t trying to be any more than that. It simply gives you a ridiculous sandbox full of ants and guns and lets you go at it. I wish the campaign was longer and the ending more satisfying. I wish there were more enemies (though the new ones are really disgusting). I wish there was more variation in the levels. But despite all that, I love EDF to death. It delivers a metric ton of stupid fun. Plus it retails for only 40 bucks. You have no excuse not to give it a test drive.