In certain corners of the Internet, you’ll find a group of gamers who are very enthusiastic about Earth Defense Force 2017, a budget third-person shooter released in the early days of the Xbox 360. The game featured poor graphics and some absolutely baffling gameplay choices, including several mazelike underground levels and terrible vehicle control. But it has also developed a cult following due to its insane enemy count and the awesomely arcadey “kill ’em all” vibe that runs through the action. Four years later, D3 Publisher has finally seen fit to release a sequel, Earth Defense Force: Insect Armageddon. Can they catch lightning in a bottle twice? Well, they did name the main character Lightning Alpha…
Platform: PS3, Xbox 360 (Version Played)
Publisher: D3 Publisher
Developer: Vicious Cycle
Genre: Starship Troopers The Game
Release Date: July 5, 2011
ESRB Rating: Teen
It might not be totally accurate to describe Insect Armageddon as a sequel to 2017. Even with a developer switch (Sandlot did 2017 while Vicious Cycle did Insect Armageddon), the two games feel very similar. Each part of Insect Armageddon is basically a much more polished version of something we saw in 2017. A small squad of soldiers called the Earth Defense Force is still humanity’s last hope against an alien invasion force known as Ravagers. The Ravagers’ ranks are still made up of ants, spiders, mecha and gunships. A variety of vehicles litter the levels to help take down the bugger menace. And buildings still collapse with ease after they’re punched with a few rockets (there’s nothing better than making a shortcut out of a patch of land that was a skyscraper ten seconds earlier).
But as I said, everything in Insect Armageddon has been polished to make it a more accessible game. Your squadmates are no longer disposable cannon fodder, but named characters with their own health bars. In fact, a new medic system gives players the ability to revive fallen comrades (and be revived if they themselves die). This has the double-pronged effect of making the game a lot easier than its predecessor, but also a lot more interesting. The Ravagers are made up of the same enemy types, but they no longer look like they were pulled out of an N64 game circa 2000. The creature design in Insect Armageddon is actually pretty impressive, and while it won’t be considered a graphical powerhouse, it at least looks like it was made in this century.
For all their similarities, Insect Armageddon boasts several new tricks and it does them all well. Players are now able to choose from four armor classes, each with their own pros and cons. The Tropper armor is similar to the player character from 2017 in that players will be able to wield any weapon, but only have minimal armor protection. Tactical armor adds a little more padding from enemy attacks and the ability to deploy turrets at the cost of reduced speed. Battle armor is the slowest, but when you’re a tank with legs that’s not really a problem. Finally, the Jet armor is pretty much useless. The jetpack only carries enough fuel for a few seconds of flight, and the weapons that Lightning Alpha is allowed to use while in Jet mode are relatively weak.
If you’ve played 2017, jumping into battle in Insect Armageddon feels much the same. There are bugs and there is the EDF. Shoot all the bugs and don’t die. That’s it. And in that way, Insect Armageddon is a great game. The action is intense and the battles are tough without making players feel overwhelmed, and the slight reprieve just before a giant boss bug rumbles into view is fantastic. Then there are the boss battles – some against giant bugs, others against towering mechas. It may not take place on Planet P, but the Earth Defense Force is the closest we’ll ever get to a Starship Troopers game. Do you wanna live forever? Well too bad, because humans get all squishy when a 20-ton mecha slams his fist into your face. But taking down that mechanized monster is super satisfying.
A load of fixes to many of 2017’s nagging problems round out Insect Armageddon’s better qualities. Players have been given an option to manually reload their weapon and the dodgy vehicle control has been refined into something that actually works. Undrivable vehicles like the helicopter and the hoverbike have been removed completely. Also on the chopping block was 2017’s ridiculous underground levels. An exercise in frustration, their exclusion from Insect Armageddon is a textbook example of addition by subtraction.
But the most surprising addition to Insect Armageddon may be that it has a real story now (and it’s a fairly well told fairly story, too!). Besides giving names to your squadmates, the player will regularly interact with three unseen characters: the Ops commander, the Intel chief and a pilot named Sully. The interplay between the three characters is great, and I love that Intel doesn’t ever have any actual useful information (for example, “Shoot it! A lot!” is considered advice for one boss encounter). Also, naming a laidback pilot (who doesn’t realize he has balls of steel) Sully is just genius.
There’s also an offline/online Survival mode as well, which distills the game down to its most basic bits: survive the alien invasion for as long as you can. It’s fun for short bursts of excitement (even if you’re playing alone), but the online matchmaking system is more or less broken. Timeout and connection errors abound, but once the game finds a match, online play works beautifully.
Even with all these fixes and additions, it’s easy to admit that Insect Armageddon just isn’t as stupidly charming as 2017 is. The terrible graphics and the idea of fighting a “war” between one human soldier and hundreds of giant bugs enhanced the game’s old school appeal. To steal a rather appropriate phrase, that feeling of being overwhelmed was a feature, not a bug.
That said, fans of Earth Defense Force 2017 will still find a lot to like in Earth Defense Force: Insect Armageddon. Shooting giant bugs is just as fun as ever and the improved vehicles and addition of multiple armor classes gives fans plenty of new stuff to try out. Mindless shooters (of the “kill everything that moves” variety) may not be as popular as they once were, but it’s hard to find one that does it better than Insect Armageddon.
Though some might say they’re more popular now than ever… ba dum tsh (I kid because I love, Halo/Call of Duty fans).
Review Disclosure: A retail copy of Earth Defense Force: Insect Armageddon was purchased by Warp Zoned for the purposes of this review.