Reviewed: July 10, 2011
Released: July 5, 2011
Is it possible to make a AAA game based on a B-movie concept? If that game is Earth Defense Force then the answer is a resounding YES! Itís been four years since we got to save the planet from giant alien insects and robots bent on world domination, or at least our destruction. While the first game offered ďballs to the wallĒ action, the follow-up, Earth Defense Force: Insect Armageddon not only continues that tradition, but manages to mix it up with a few strategic elements that will keep you coming back again and again.|
Conceptually, the two games are nearly identical. You run around in third-person as a member of the EDF shooting giant ants, spiders, ticks, wasps, and the occasional giant robots that come in two flavors; Hector and Daddy Long Legs. Throw in a few battle carriers that launch wave after wave of space-fighters until destroyed and you have all the makings of an addictive and highly entertaining shooter loaded with B-movie camp. The only thing missing are three silhouettes down in the corner yelling at the screen.
Insect Armageddon takes the EDF premise to a new level by featuring several classes of soldiers as well as an upgradable arsenal and a slick XP system that allows you to level-up whichever class you are playing. What this means is that if you want to excel with any one class youíll need to pick one and stick with it for the duration. Choosing between Tactical, Trooper, Assault, and Jet all have their pros and cons. If you like to play fast and occasional boost onto rooftops then the Jet trooper is for you. If youíd rather plow your way through piles of insect carcasses then stick with the slower and more heavily armored Assault soldier. Personally, I found the Tactical trooper to be the most balanced of all the classes.
What your class might lack in skills you can probably make up for with weapon selection. You start with a minimal arsenal, but as you defeat bosses within the game you can collect special crates that contain new weapons. Prior to each mission you have the chance to re-spec your trooper with up to two weapons and any unlockable upgrades, or even changes classes if the one you have isnít working out for you. Some missions even offer the chance to drive and fight from a tank or a Mech-style suit of mobile armor.
There are 15 missions in Insect Armageddon that donít vary that much in design. You are usually looking for a downed aircraft. Once you find it you activate a transponder and then the self-destruct, which of course attracts all sorts of bugs. The game never lets up actually. From the moment the level starts you are swarmed with rampaging ants, spiders, and worse. These pulsating sack creatures wander around launching waves of ticks that will attach to your back until you get them off or they suck enough blood they explode, doing lots of damage. When you aren't looking for downed aircraft you are usually rescuing people or taking back key occupied territory.
So while youíre shooting ants in the streets and spiders off the sides of buildings youíll also have to deal with flying creatures and alien space ships. This is where having some sort of lock-on missile comes in handy, since trying to track these fast-moving targets with a machine gun is a bit tricky. In later levels the game becomes a fine balancing act of clearing away land targets then switching to your alternate weapons for aerial ones. One nice feature specific to the Tactical trooper is that he can setup automated turrets to help thin the herd.
The game is loaded with bosses ranging from robotic Hectors, to a giant Daddy Long Leg, a Praying Mantis, and the occasional fleet carrier. Theyíll trickle in one at a time at first then they start showing up in pairs and in mixed-boss assaults until you have every boss in the game all coming at you at once. Since most of these bosses have very limited targeting areas, it can be quite challenging to clear the final chapters of the game. You really have to prioritize your targets.
You do have some help in the form of two AI troopers who work pretty much on their own, mostly as a distraction. They may go down in battle forcing you to run over and hold down a healing button to bring them back, but they are always quick to return the favor should you go down. Just make sure all three of you aren't incapacitated at the same time or youíll be restarting the mission from the beginning. Arguably, itís pretty hard to die. There are numerous health boosters scattered about the levels and dead enemies frequently spawn new drops. You can heal up full, then fill up the bar a second time as armor.
Despite the functional AI, the real fun is when you team up with friends, either in local split-screen co-op or over Xbox Live with support for six players. You can take two other friends into the three-player co-op campaign or take a team of six into the new Survival mode. Itís all just mindless fun with no real tactics involved. This is as close to old-school coin-op shooters as there ever was.
Insect Armageddon looks good for what it is. The city is huge but the textures are incredibly simple and the architecture repeats, as do car models and other specifics. There arenít any civilians to worry about other than the occasional scripted wave of screaming citizens. The entire city is destructible. Just launch a few rockets at a spider on a skyscraper and watch the whole building sink into a cloud of dust and rubble. Hide under a bridge from a battle cruise and watch his lasers slice that sucker up like a banana. By keeping the details simple the game manages to maintain a playable framerate even when hundreds of creatures are on the screen. The only time things got bad were when I found myself in the middle of exploding ooze, guts, and goo, but even then it was almost like a bullet-time moment where I just got to appreciate the carnage a bit longer.
The sound and music are flawless in their B-movie campiness. The soundtrack is something from an overly serious SyFy feature film, mocking the intensity of ID4 or any other alien invader movie, while the sound effects can be downright chilling at times. Each creature has a signature sound and when they stack those sounds 20-30 ants deep then pipe them through all five Dolby Digital channels it can really put you on edge. Thankfully, the script is hilariously bad and intentionally humorous. One level had me climbing onboard a military transport where I got to listen to our pilot go into one of those monologues you typically hear on a commercial airline. I was laughing so hard I almost forgot to clear my LZ of bugs, but I did return my seat and tray table to their upright and secure location.
Insect Armageddon is selling for only $40, which makes it a great bargain considering youíre going to play this game over and over again. With each 15-mission pass taking around 5-7 hours, then replaying as each of the other classes (if you so desire) plus all of the insane multiplayer, both local and online, this is the new party game shooter of the summer. I havenít had this much fun killing ants since I was eight years old and had just gotten my first magnifying glass.
If you love those old 50ís and 60ís movies with aliens or giant insects then Earth Defense Force: Alien Armageddon has an endless supply of both, mixed with exciting gameplay, and even a bit of thoughtful strategy when it comes to choosing your class, customizing their weapons, and prioritizing your targets. Play it alone or play it with friendsÖjust make sure you play it.