Played on Windows and Xbox 360
Also available on PlayStation 3
In 2009 I picked up a game called Earth Defense Force 2017, it was one of the biggest surprises for me on the Xbox 360. The game perfectly recreated a B-movie style and atmosphere that I enjoyed. So when a sequel, Earth Defense Force Insect Armageddon (EDF: IA), came out I was interested and when I found out it was available for PC I was even more interested.
So as I said Earth Defense Force 2017 became one of my favorite games quickly. It wasn’t just a bug shooting game, it had all the makings of a terrific experience. The dialog was very cheesy, the enemies were numerous and easy to kill, there was a ton of missions and the game had a fantastic pickup and play experience.
Though Earth Defense Force: Insect Armageddon was made by Vicious Cycle Software, where the other games in the series were made by Sandlot might seem like an issue, I still had a lot of hope. A new or different studio can bring a whole new experience to a game, sometimes they can be one of the best in the series
So like I said, I was interested in Earth Defense Force: Insect Armageddon to begin with. I wanted to return to that B-movie style and budget style game. Honestly, if it was just Earth Defense Force 2017 I’d be more than happy and be singing its praises. Of course by saying that, I think it’s clear that it’s not. So let’s dig into what happened here.
So, the first thing anyone who plays this will notice is the graphics. The graphics in EDF: IA are not horrible, but they’re quite dated. Admittedly at the time, they were weak at the time the game was launched but that was on the Xbox 360 consoles. So they’re really showing their age here.
But this isn’t supposed to be a graphical masterpiece, the idea of these games is you are fighting waves of bugs, and there’s a trade-off. If you want to play Dynasty Warriors or large war simulations you have to make a trade-off. EDF: IA takes a decent hit on the graphics to throw more enemies at you. Instead of amazing photorealistic monsters, you get waves of huge enemies attacking and crawling all over your position. You can easily see hundreds of enemies in this game and when you see that, it looks good. Good, not great, but at the same time, I like the trade-off here.
You get a decent number of enemies attacking at the same time.
As you play the game and make peace with the graphics, they will start to look better. The more robotic enemies (especially the big robots called Hectors) look pretty good and the flying ships look acceptable. There’s nothing here that’s going to win an award for a look, but you also get a sky filled with enemies and that’s what makes the game feel like an epic battle to fight off an invading force, and in that way the graphics work well for the type of game they are going for.
In my opinion, the perfect EDF game would be a b movie. Yeah, you know the old Godzilla looks awful, but the acting is what sells it, and it’s all cheesy but it’s the fun of the experience of watching people running away from what looks like a puppet. That’s what EDF 2017 gave us. However, it’s not what EDF: IA delivers.
EDF: IA tries to take itself far too serious and give us a story with strong narrative, and it attempts to do that over fifteen missions. That’s not a lot of time to really develop a story, yet there are at least two or three missions with almost no development of the plot, and one mission near the end that tells the player to just “Go look in another place” right before the big climax? It’s not that the game doesn’t have the time to develop the narrative, it’s that it never uses the time it has. There are at least 30 minutes of this game where I was just running between waypoint when some narrative elements could be playing to discuss what’s going on.
The thing is in the game you’re killing a million insects as they keep coming at you. EDF 2017 dealt with this by shouting stupid slogans and cheers as they were slaughtering enemies and fighting waves of enemies. In this game, your squadmates are mostly silent. Well, they’ll say something but it’s almost like they’re on a timer. There was a point where I was moving between two locations out of battle and one of my teammates shouted, “They’re coming! They’re coming!” … only thing is no one was coming. I still had to move a few city blocks before I got to the next location. Another time one of my squadmates shouted, “We gotta close that hole.” In that battle, there were no holes, so it gave me the wrong instruction. Most of the missions put the narrative in a box, and just tries to recreate what made EDF 2017 work, and seems to forget that the entire package is what worked with the previous game.
In addition, the sound mix is strange, the shooting and music seem to be too loud, so I had to turn those down. But there are no subtitles at all for this game so I had to just try to pay attention, unfortunately, that made me hear the game’s story.
The problem is the game just keeps trying to take itself seriously but doesn’t do anything with that. There’s a female commander who tells you what to do, and most of the time it’s one way. She tells you to go to a location and you go there, she tells you to wait a minute, and you fight off enemies as you wait for more information. None of her dialogue really works, it’s just boring military jargon. “We’re Oscar Mike”, or “Bravo Zulu” which I just looked up and means well done. Only thing is “Bravo Zulu” is the call for the Navy according to the internet, where you appear to be part of the infantry. That’s a pedantic point, but it just shows that the game seems to make missteps on every level.
The thing is that none of this is interesting in a humorous way, or in storytelling. It’s just stuff being said to drive the game on, and not well at that. The player is fighting INSECTS, I mean there are giant ants, spiders, wasps, hornets, giant mecha, even bigger mecha, and the game does nothing interesting with that? It should be funny, it should be scary, it should be something. But instead, it’s trying to be a typical military shooter.
Then there’s the pilot. He’s the only other real character in the game outside of your two squadmates and the commander, and he just speaks in the most monotone, drab dialog. Do you remember when you got on a plane and the pilot starts to go through his spiel? “We’ll be cruising at 30,000 feet, we’ll be taxiing to another LZ, and there might be some turbulence.” There’s not a trace of emotion in the dialog. It’s so dry, but it’s not interesting, and it’s what he says during one mission as he picks you up. Wow, the writing isn’t that inspired, but the read that the pilot gives in almost every scene is also completely wrong. You need a sarcastic wit for something written that poorly in the middle of a battle.
There’s another piece to the story, but I’m going to save that for the end of the review. It sort of ties up the entire game.
First, though I feel like I have to talk about the gameplay and here’s the thing, the idea of the gameplay is pretty good, the shooting is solid, the levels actually have destructible buildings, and it’s fun to play a level.
The game starts with you choosing a class, and there are four classes. There’s a flying class called a Jet Armor, a heavy style Battle Armor, a Tactical Armor with deployers (such as turrets, and mines) and finally the Trooper armor who does nothing else other than shoots guns.
Each class has unique special abilities. Except the Trooper.
The good news here is that every class is different, so if you play a Trooper or a Tactical, you’ll have different weapons and different abilities. There’s a different movement speed as well, and each class feels unique.
In fact, that weapon list unlocks as you level up, every level up gets you about two weapons per type of weapon your character carries, that can be bought. In addition, you can also get drops from enemies, and equip those weapons for free. The weapon drops are random, and dupes are possible and it’s possible to get a weapon drop at a higher rank than your character is, but it’s a solid system.
Those ranks though are a problem with the game. You can get from rank 1 to rank 2 in a mission, and that’s good, you can also get 5 ranks on normal before you have to move up to hard, and then at rank 7, you have to move to inferno. However, a full playthrough of the game didn’t even give my 5 ranks. Leveling from 1 to 2 is very fast, perhaps too fast, but after that point leveling slows down a lot and becomes a slog. Hitting a new level feels great but you have to play at least 5 missions (or one-third of the game) to get to the next level. There’s grinding techniques, but I honestly think grinding is done too much in video games to pad lengths.
In addition, if you switch between classes, it’s going to take you longer because each rank is class specific. It’s how much did you use that class. You get more XP on hard difficulty, but you need those ranks to get more armor and better guns to survive at a higher difficulty.
EDF 2017 had the right idea, you can grind armor all day long, and it didn’t have ranks so you can just use any weapon you find. It was a good system and a lot of fun, but there were exploits such as struggling through a hard mission or an inferno mission and getting an overpowered gun. The other side of this though is, it’s a single player game. If that’s what players want to do, let them. You could use ranks for guns, but at least make it a fast progression. But by making the progression slow, making the armor tied to ranks instead of drops, and making the game monotonous, it ruins any potential fun for the player.
Worse you can enter a level with the wrong armament. I took a heavy class that was equipped with a flechette gun, and a slow but powerful rocket launch, which was an awesome weapon. I was ripping through the level until the level threw a flying carrier at me. The carrier flew really high, and I found out that my flechette weapon didn’t reach it, and my rockets (or missiles) were too slow to hit them. I didn’t have an option to change my equipment once the mission starts, so I had to try to shoot missiles in front of the ship, problem was that never worked, and ultimately I spent 30 minutes running around trying to hit the target, racking up some kills. Then I ultimately died because I just couldn’t score a hit, and I lost all that experience. I was in a no-win situation and it could have been solved by the game giving me a way to change a weapon or warn me what I would face. Instead, I played a very long level and ended up having to replay it.
That’s another change. 2017 had over 50 missions that ranged from 5-15 minutes, I think all missions in Insect Armageddon are at least 30 minutes. It’s a change, and I could appreciate it, but the 5-15 missions made grinding a little more tolerable and gave you a chance to replay your favorite scenes. With 30 minute levels, I really didn’t want to replay many levels because to experience those fun 5-minute scenes I’d have to sit through 25 minutes leading up to that.
But one change does please me. The game has two squad mates. They actually are rather smart. They seem to be able to play the game at an adequate level and get quite a few kills themselves. In addition, they can resurrect you as many times as you go down, and likewise, you can resurrect them, as well. The game only ends when all three of you are down and they quickly help you back up.
That’s one good thing but now I have to talk about the end of the game. I don’t like to give spoilers, but Insect Armageddon has an ending that puts the entire game into a new light.
I mentioned there were fifteen missions, on the fourteenth you fight a “Queen Ant”, a super ant if you will. She’s huge and if she was the final boss, it’d be a little weak but I’d give this game two stars and move on as I just didn’t like it.
Then the fifteenth level starts, and it starts great, you see a massive mothership, creating a new final boss. You have to run away from it and fly away. Now, this is a great story moment and I have to admit I’d be really interested. If I didn’t realize there were 15 missions. This mission is actually quite hard, and you need solid equipment for it. You actually fight the hardest boss in the game, which is the Giant Hectors, not once but twice back to back.
“Man the only thing I don’t want to do in this game is fight that.”
Then if you survive you get on a helicopter/plane and the monotone guy starts talking to you, telling you to get on the guns and he’ll fly you out of there. There are really not enemies to shoot at and the pilot recites the most banal dialogue. The giant ship charges up a laser and fires, and the game ends. I couldn’t believe that was it. Did they kill off my team? What a downer ending.
Well, the obvious answer is that’s not everything. I searched on the internet and of course, there are multiple endings. On Hard, you get more, and on Inferno, you get the whole scene. The pilot doesn’t emote anymore, but you end up “getting away” and how? There’s not a reason, you just survived. The mic going dead isn’t explained. Then your pilot hits on the commander and asks her out on a date, and it’s cringe-worthy. And, again, the game ends.
Now, the pilot is infuriating because the “let’s go on a date” comes out of nowhere, but there’s a GIANT SPACESHIP in front of you? And you ask a woman you’ve never met and only heard her voice out on a date? It’s like during a major tragedy you find an attractive man or woman and say “Hey this is bad, you want to go back to my place and Netflix and chill?” He does all of this, flying from a massive spaceship that can destroy the earth, talking about dating a woman, and so on without showing a single emotion.
But worst than that, the game ends. You just introduced a bigger bad enemy and you just call it a day? If the game ended with the Queen Ant or the escape after the Queen Ant, it’d be an acceptable ending for a weak game. But then you introduce something that your fans want to fight and it ends.
So I’m going to hammer the game for this, and someone might think this is unfair. Maybe people think it is supposed to be a cliffhanger, but it feels unfinished. The game doesn’t tell a full story, it doesn’t deliver on a full experience. Instead, I have a different theory, this game wasn’t finished.
I have no proof of this, but it starts to fit. The dialogue system might not have been finished, the pilot’s voice that I hated could be a placeholder, the ending is clearly not complete and thrown together, the true final boss appears and then ends, even the Queen Ant feels like it doesn’t do much in it’s “boss fight”. I also think the leveling wasn’t balanced at all nor was the experience.
How could I say all this? Well, the thing is we already have a game that does everything I’ve wanted this game to do. Each point I’ve dinged this game on was in a different game, EDF 2017. More monsters, more levels, shorter missions, less grinding (or at least not as annoying) better missions, better story, better dialogue, more cheesiness, better moments.
That giant spaceship is in 2017, it looks different but it’s taken down, and a major part of the story. So this was already done better in a different game, and it’s a fact I really have a problem with.
It doesn’t escape me that Sandlot made the previous game, and this was a whole new company for the series who made this game with their own engine. Perhaps it was a test or a need for a fast follow up, which would have caused the game to be unfinished. But I also notice the series returned to Sandlot. It’s hard not to look at that as a potential answer for some of the questions I have for the game.
But, when your previous game was that much better than your current game, that’s a pretty bad sign. I don’t hate this series, I actually love 2017, but there’s one more damning point to this. In February 2012 I played Earth Defense Force: Insect Armageddon for the Xbox 360. I played this entire game, and the only part of it that made me think I’ve played a game similar to this was the class selection. Did I play an entire game without remembering it? The entire rest of the game was “fresh to me”. That’s how much of a lasting experience this game had imprinted on me.
I still want to play EDF 4.1 to see how it stacks up but for EDF: Insect Armageddon, for all the reasons I’ve given and more, I’m forced to give Insect Armageddon a
Final Thoughts: A rather awful entry that was a huge step back from the previous game in the series. The entire game is underwhelming and then it ends on one of the worst endings I’ve seen.
Stats: 11.2 hours played, 22/50 achievements earned.