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Underwhelming.

When one buys an Earth Defense Force title, one isn't looking for detailed plots, or cutting edge graphics, or good voice acting. What sells Earth Defense Force is simply destroying bugs, lots of bugs, and anything else that happens to get in the path - buildings, cars, highways. If it can be shot at, it's fair game. It's for this reason that Earth Defense Force: 2017 was a sleeper hit despite the last gen graphics, cheesy dialog and wonky game mechanics. Thankfully, Earth Defense Force: Insect Armageddon, made by developer Vicious Cycle, delivers the same core gameplay of "destroy everything". Yet, despite this, the game is a disappointment on several levels.

In Earth Defense Force: 2017, the number of levels was massive, clocking in at 53, total. While many of them repeated the terrain and textures, EDF:2017 included a diverse landscape, including cityscape, rural and seaside locales, with each level more hectic than the last. EDF: Insect Armageddon, in contrast, only offers 15 levels across three chapters. Each level in EDF: Insect Armageddon is no longer or shorter than each of the levels in EDF:2017, meaning this game is substantially shorter than its predecessor. From start to finish, I had completed EDF: Insect Armageddon's main campaign in under 4 hours. Additionally, EDF: Insect Armageddon takes place in New Detroit and all three chapters are the same repeated cityscape. Chapter 1 is residential cityscape, chapter 2 is residential cityscape with some commercial buildings, and chapter 3 is a downtown cityscape. In all three chapters, nearly every texture is recycled and, in fact, the differences are so slight that I was unaware that I was in chapter 2 until nearly 4 missions in because the visuals hadn't changed, leading me to believe I was in another mission within chapter 1.

Once the main campaign is complete, EDF: Insect Armageddon unlocks a Campaign Remix mode, in addition to the already open Survival mode (which is, as its name suggests, surviving waves of bugs). However, Campaign Remix mode is just a beefed up version of Campaign Mode using the same 15 levels which, given their length and the blandness of the levels, becomes monotonous far faster than subsequent replays of EDF:2017 would.

To further enhance replay value, developer Vicious Cycle made some additions to the core game systems, the most noticeable being the new class system included in the game. Players can choose between one of four available classes: Assault, your typical foot soldier, Battle, a heavy gunner foot soldier, Tactical, a light foot soldier with support capabilities, and Jet, a flying soldier. As you progress, you earn XP to level up and open more tiers of weapons which can then be purchased from the shop based on class, up to the highest available tier, unlockable only in the hardest difficulty, tier 8.

 The class system sounds great on paper but, in reality, is extremely weak for two reasons. Firstly, the class divisions don't matter as much as the game leads you to believe. Going into my first playthrough of the game, I purposely chose the Tactical class so as to be a supporting role for my coop colleague who was playing a Battle class soldier. According to the game, this meant I would only be able to use SMGs (whereas other classes could get Assault Rifles in the same category), Shotguns and Grenade Launchers. This ends up not being the case. In fact, the only category of weapon I was unable to purchase or use were sniper rifles. By chapter 2, I had a homing missile launcher as my secondary weapon, by which point I no longer cared about even dropping my support turrets. On subsequent playthroughs as various classes, I discovered that, even though the game says we're limited to specific weapons, we eventually end up with weapons in almost every category regardless of class.

 Second, the weapons themselves aren't balanced around classes. Again, playing a Tactical class soldier, I was under the impression that I was going to have weaker weapons that were oriented towards close quarters combat with support from the turrets and mines. After all, SMGs, Shotguns and Grenade Launchers don't exactly have extremely long range like Assault Rifles and Missile Launchers. Yet, by tier 3 weapons, my little SMG was perfectly capable of taking down two port cruisers as if it were an Assault Rifle and a purchased tier 2 Grenade Launcher, with sticky grenade capabilities, was capable of taking out flying enemies as if it were a Missile Launcher. Indeed, I even had a Shotgun with a target lock capability.

 If weapons aren't balanced around classes and each class ends up getting access to nearly every category of weapon, including heavy weapons, what good are classes? They end up being little more than visual differences.

 Another change over EDF:2017 is in the way weapons are made available. In the previous title, weapons dropped from nearly any mob in the game but in EDF: Insect Armageddon, unlockable weapon crates only drop from elite mobs. This means you can have missions where you will only get one new weapon crate and some where you get 3-5, because it depends on how many elite mobs you have in that particular mission. Beyond these weapon drops, all other weapons must be purchased from the menu screen prior to starting a mission. Vicious Cycle states there are 300+ weapons available in the game, yet their own achievement/trophy counter betrays this very statement, as the Scavenger achievement/trophy keeps track of your unlocked weapons and states that there are only 107 available weapon drops. This would mean there would need to be 203, or more, other weapons available elsewhere in the game but there isn't. Across all tiers, each class only is able to purchase between 12 and 16 weapons from the shop. While I may be 30 years removed from elementary math, I can still tell that 107+(16x4) is not 300+. Perhaps Vicious Cycle is including the static turrets, mechs and tanks available in certain levels as "weapons"?

 Speaking of static turrets, mechs and tanks, yes, there are usable vehicles in EDF, finally! However, they're used infrequently, not terribly impressive and they're fairly weak compared to the weapons available to players. They can be destroyed fairly easily and cannot be repaired whatsoever. Additionally, the mechanics of the mechs and tanks leave a lot to be desired as they feel slow to respond and the weapons feel sluggish, generally.

 Graphically, and again I must emphasize that no one buys an EDF title for cutting edge graphics, EDF: Insect Armageddon is much nicer than EDF:2017. This is due, in large part, to Vicious Cycle's new engine used for this game. Unfortunately, however, it is apparent that the engine is not quite ready for prime time, especially in a game where everything is destructible while you're being swarmed with lots of on screen action. Graphics lag and frame rate drops abound and are astonishingly bad, which is quite dismaying considering this engine was supposed to address the issues of graphics lag and frame drops that were prevalent in EDF:2017. In the later missions in chapter 3, don't be surprised if the game slows to a complete crawl as the engine is unable to keep up with the rendering of the downtown skyline, the destruction of buildings, the particle effects of weapons and enemy ships, plus all of the enemies being rendered on screen at once. The game slows so much in areas like this that it sometimes becomes painful to play, as if you're trying to move and shoot while running in a lake of molasses.

 Overall, the game has its original redeeming quality of destroying everything and making everything explode, yet it's wholly unfulfilling compared to EDF:2017. The fun factor wore off for me, already, half way in the second playthrough due to the blandness of the same three cityscapes, although graphically richer, becoming rapidly boring even with 2 or 3 friends playing online coop. The "new" elements designed to enhance replay value are poorly implemented, at best, or utterly inconsequential, at worst. Survival mode offers a brief respite from the campaign but is nothing to write home about if you've played Horde mode in Gears of War, Firefight mode in Halo 3: ODST/Halo Reach, or even Underdome in Borderlands because EDF: Insect Armageddon's offering significantly pales in comparison.

$39.99 feels a bit steep for the level of content delivered in Earth Defense Force: Insect Armageddon, especially when compared to a recent Xbox Live Arcade release, Trenched, by developer Double Fine, which offers nearly the same experience - 15 levels in 3 unique areas, cheesy one liners, a well developed class system, online coop, gratuitous explosions and destruction - for less than half the cost of EDF: Insect Armageddon.

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