Attempt to Recreate a Cult Classic Results in a Lot of Bugs
I had high hopes for Earth Defense Force Insect Armageddon and am sad to say it has disappointed me in every possible way. Developed by Vicious Cycle Software, the team behind the Matt Hazzard games, Insect Armageddon brings with it a new engine, a new story, and a whole new slew of problems. While I applaud their attempts to copy what made EDF 2017 so special, it feels like they tried to hard at making a cult game that they missed the mark entirely and wound up with just a bad game.
Insect Armageddon was touted as a bigger and better sequel to EDF 2017 and unfortunately it is neither of these things. Sure it looks like EDF 2017, and at times it even feels slightly like EDF 2017, however nowhere in the 10 to 15 hours you’ll be playing this game will you ever confuse it for the cult masterpiece that is EDF 2017.
A Tale of Bugs and Boring
Starting off with one of the newest additions to the game is the coherent story that you can follow throughout the game. Sure EDF 2017 had a story, however, it was completely bare bones, aliens showed up and you followed Storm 01 and his team as they blundered through giant ant battlefield after the next. Insect Armageddon tries to shake this up by having each mission lead into the next one with a coherent narrative. The ravagers have returned to wreak havoc on our world and it’s up to Lightning and his squad to stop them. Along the way you’ll battle giant ants/spiders/robots etc as you try to locate a device known as The Cube. The problem with this is that the story doesn’t really amount to anything. The game is broken up into 3 chapters of 5 missions each, and for the first 2 chapters you essentially do the same thing over and over again. HQ tells you there is a downed dropship in the area, you go to it, find it destroyed or missing, they inform you what they are looking for isn’t there and you move on to the next one. Eventually you find the cube and then there is a giant boss fight and the game is over. If this is the best they could come up with I’ll take the random no story of 2017 any day.
If you’re keeping score here you’ve probably already noted from that last paragraph that I said there were only 15 missions in the game. That is true, each mission is approximately 20 to 30 minutes long, which is significantly longer than any mission in EDF 2017, however there is absolutely no variety whatsoever to the 15 missions made available here. In Insect Armageddon you are fighting in New Detroit and you never leave that location. The chapters take place in a downtown urban environment and a residential environment but that is it, you are always in the city. This is in stark contrast to 2017 which had you go into underground tunnels, out into open fields, or fighting on the beach. Also the graphics engine of IA seems underpowered compared to 2017. The designers have said this is necessary so their engine can handle the amount of bugs on the screen, but this doesn’t make any sense. The whole point of EDF 2017 was the MASSIVE scale of battles you would have and that engine handled it admirably, why did Vicious Cycle throw the baby out with the bath water just so they could use their own engine for the game? Here the textures look very poor, the world seems bland, and the environments are completely boring. Compared to a budget title from 2007, you should never be coming out as the worse looking entry, but Insect Armageddon finds yet another way to underwhelm.
Quit Bugging Me!
Enemy variety is another problem in Insect Armageddon. The bulk of the enemies you’ll be fighting are the ants and spiders. Later on you’ll start fighting robotic versions of these enemies however they don’t gain any new attacks, aren’t any harder to kill, and don’t change any of their tactics so they might as well be the same enemies. The new enemies are giant ticks which spawn smaller ticks that latch onto you and explode, giant wasps (and of course metal wasps), and giant robotic mantises. The mantis is the coolest of the new enemies, they have interesting attacks and are interesting to look at, however as they are larger they are treated as sub boss enemy types and you don’t fight them nearly as much as you should. Unlike EDF 2017 where there would be entire levels of you fighting one type of brand new enemy, Insect Armageddon has nothing like this to showcase it’s new enemies. The Hector robots make a return, however their use in this game is rather annoying. The normal Hectors you fight are MUCH smaller than the ones from 2017 and they have a giant glowing spot on their chest that you must shoot to destroy them, unlike the originals which you could just shoot anywhere causing them to do their “Hector Dance”. There is a giant version of the Hector but it is used primarily as a boss so you will only fight it a few times, but it has the same giant red spot on its chest you must hit to kill it. Overall enemy variety is similar to 2017, and the new enemies aren’t very interesting. The ones that are interesting are used in a very limited way and it really brings the game down for it. Seeing the same enemies over and over again makes the 15 missions presented feel like a slog. Unlike 2017 where it broke up it’s giant ant battle missions by having you fight the one giant lizard boss, Insect Armageddon does nothing to break up the monotony of it’s level design.
The biggest addition to Insect Armageddon is the four new suits you can wear, essentially giving you 4 different classes you can play the game as. There is the generic trooper class which was your standard EDF infantry unit from the first game, a trooper class which has access to turrets, a jet class which can fly and move speedily around the battlefield but is weak to damage, and a battle class which is slower but can take massive amounts of damage. Each class has it’s own unique set of guns and weapons, for example the Jet class will get access to sniper rifles whereas the battle class will be able to carry large calibre machine guns which other classes don’t have access to. This is the one addition that it seems Insect Armageddon got right, the classes themselves all feel unique and different enough from each other that it is worthwhile to vary your classes when playing with others and each class has enough abilities and weapons to make you really think hard about which one you want to take into battle for each situation. I stuck with the trooper class as I felt access to the turrets suited my play style better, however that class certainly isn’t better or worse than any other. The main drawback from the classes is that you have to level them up individually, so once you pick a class it’s in your best interest to stick with it throughout the whole game, otherwise you’ll be limiting yourself to lower level weapons on the later stages. This was done to extend the life of the game obviously, though with such boring missions and abilities it really hampers the progression system.
This brings up another way in which EDF Insect Armageddon is inferior to 2017. While yes you had to grind for weapons in EDF 2017, at least you could use the weapon immediately upon receiving it, here you’ll run into situations where you’ll get a new weapon but won’t be appropriately leveled to use it until you finish 3 or 4 more missions making the progress seem slow and pointless. Your first playthrough of the game you will find yourself stuck around level 2 and 3 weapons and won’t get access to the higher tier weaponry until you move up to a higher difficulty level for more experience or replay the game again, however as you’ve already finished the game you may not want to play it over again with the same class that you just finished it with and as the suits level independently you’ll be back to square one, just on a new suit.
The gameplay of Insect Armageddon can be summed up in one word: Servicable. The 3rd person running and gunning all works well and there weren’t many issues with getting stuck in world geometry or anything like that. However, the guns lack any sort of punch to them, most of the time you’ll only be able to tell you hit your target by seeing a small blood splatter come off of it, as the actual enemy doesn’t really react in any real way, unlike 2017 where enemies would go flying into the stratosphere as they were shot or start dancing in place as they took machine gun fire. The biggest improvement is with the vehicles, which were completely unusable in 2017. Here the mechs and tanks all move as you would expect, you don’t have to use the left and right bumpers to rotate your vehicle, and they feel sufficiently strong that it is a tactical advantage to use them. Though I did run into an issue where my AI partners jumped into a tanks gunner turrets and it just sat there while the ants destroyed it so I couldn’t use the tank after my mech was destroyed, but other than that the vehicles are certainly worth your time.
Armageddon Outta here…
So what do you get for slogging through all of these missions, mindlessly shooting at anything that moves? Well… nothing that great unfortunately. Insect Armageddon uses an old video game throwback of giving you different endings based on the difficulty you complete the game on. However, even in this the game fails at executing it in any competent manner. Rather than have 3 different endings for the difficulties there is one single ending that stops at varying points based on the difficulty level, so on easy you only see the first third of the full ending, normal you see 2/3rds and on hard you see the whole thing. The problem here is the ending is so laughably bad you are probably better off just seeing the easy ending and leaving it at that. Sure the full ending gives you the entire story of what happens to Lightning and his crew, but at least the easy ending version doesn’t end with a tired joke ripped off from Airplane!
In addition to the lackluster campaign mode there are a few more extras you can play around with. Of course there is co-op throughout the entire campaign, this time we get online co-op, the only thing that 2017 was woefully missing, so you can play with a friend as you battle the hordes of the Insect Armageddon. In addition to this is a survival mode, your standard horde type mode, where you and your friends can fend of wave after wave of increasingly stronger bug attacks. This mode makes sense for the game, and as it isn’t bogged down by the boring story and weak mission structure of the campaign, is probably where long time players of the game will get the most value for their money. To cater to the fans who enjoyed 2017 for it’s punishing difficulty you can play a remix mode of the campaign mode which replaces enemy locations and types through the campaign. Additionally once the campaign is completed you can choose to replay it in solo mode, where you have no AI partners to help you out and must face the hordes entirely alone. This makes the game much more like 2017 as if you die in solo mode it is mission over, whereas in the original mode if you die your AI partners can (and will) resurrect you.
Lost in Translation
As I said already, I was extremely excited for Insect Armageddon. I was a huge fan of EDF 2017 and was ready for another entry along the same lines as that. However what I got was an attempt to live up to the cult greatness that 2017 had achieved, but IA falls completely flat. With boring and bland level and mission designs, weak weaponry with a progression system that holds you back every step of the way, I never once had the same kind of visceral fun I did with 2017. Sure, IA tries hard enough, it has the giant bugs, the destructible environments, even the one liners coming from your squadmates. However with it’s new emphasis on a boring plot, weak new enemies, and nothing new in terms of gameplay over the original it is hard to recommend this one. The online co-op is the only noteworthy addition with this entry, if you want to play this game with friends then you have no choice but to go with Insect Armageddon, but if you simply want a game where you shoot giant bugs and blow up buildings with a goofy plot and a laughably bad script, there isn’t a single thing in Insect Armageddon that would make me recommend it over EDF 2017.