Earth Defense Force: Insect Armageddon
Earth Defense Force 2017 had clumsy animation, bizarre physics, and chintzy-looking 2D power-ups…but it didn’t become a cult hit because of its technical execution. It became a cult hit because it provided absurd b-movie popcorn action that you could enjoy with your friends. Though Insect Armageddon faces a different set of shortcomings, it nails the important stuff.
The team at Vicious Cycle successfully taps into the core of the EDF experience without simply imitating its predecessor. Taking control of the three-man Lightning squad (your two teammates can either be co-op partners or bots), you kill an invading army of bugs, robots, and spaceships. The simple, point-and-shoot approach doesn’t leave much room for tactical depth, but it creates a consistently fun and frantic battlefield. Whether you’re using impractical weapons like the Air Tortoise or tearing things up in the (much improved) vehicles, the emphasis on trigger-happy chaos is a blast.
Adding variety to the experience are four classes with unique special abilities and access to different weapon categories. The basic gameplay remains the same, but each class has a slightly different angle, like the jet armor’s mobility and the tactical armor’s turrets. Gaining levels in each class opens up more powerful weapons, and adds a sense of progression and reward that was missing the last time around. Being able to advance alongside your buddies in three-player online co-op (two-player split screen locally) just adds to the fun, though I wish the six-player survival mode also contributed to advancing your classes.
Unfortunately, your ability to reach the highest levels and see the best gear is based solely on replaying old stages. Grinding through the same missions to eke out some extra XP is expected, and when you’re done, you’re supposed to crank the difficulty up a notch and do it all over again to reach higher levels. I can’t imagine why Insect Armageddon made improvements in other areas only to leave this repetitive structure intact, especially since there are only 15 missions comprised of a limited handful of objectives (expect to activate a lot of self-destruct devices on EDF landers). Other frustrations, like the lack of checkpoints and no experience gain unless you finish a level, mean that Lightning squad’s attempts to save Earth occasionally do more damage to your patience than the invading aliens.
Insect Armageddon lacks the clueless earnestness of the last entry and carries over some dated concepts, but it fully captures the same breed of unapologetic run-and-gun action. Ultimately, that’s what kept me playing EDF 2017 for dozens of hours, and that’s why I’ve got dozens more in front of me with Insect Armageddon.