Also available on: PlayStation 3
Developer: Vicious Cycle Software
Publisher: D3 Publisher / Namco Bandai
Earth Defence Force 2017 and PS2 predecessor Global Defence Force were the video game equivalents of a good B-movie. Low budget and unapologetically shallow, they managed to carve out a cult following, despite being technically inferior to many of their rivals. Featuring hordes of big bugs, giant monsters and gargantuan robots, the games are a far cry from many of the ultra-realistic video games available today, sharing more in common with old-school arcade shooters of yesteryear.
Earth Defence Force: Insect Armageddon is the latest game in the series and, as the name suggests, features an even larger collection of insects, arachnids and aliens. The plot can be summed up in three words: destroy alien invaders. There are no contrived cutscenes or lame attempts to flesh out a narrative (aside from some chatter over the radio), just a small team of soldiers against a large group of aliens - oh, and an endless supply of bullets.
The gameplay is incredibly fun and highly addictive and consists of running to checkpoints and gunning down waves upon waves of enemy ants, spiders and spaceships - as well as the occasional giant robot or screen-filling insect. The controls, which are very typical of most third-person shooters, are much tighter this time around and far less fiddly than in past incarnations, which makes it even easier to pick up and play.
Lightning team - the squad in charge of cleaning up the city and obliterating the aliens - consists of three soldiers, who support players with bullets and occasional medical aid. There are four character classes, each with their own skills and special abilities - such as the jet soldier who is able to fly - as well as their own weapons, which can be unlocked by downing large enemies and levelling up. The AI is actually very good, and the computer controlled soldiers can hold their own against the biggest of enemies - often stealing valuable kills, in fact - and will revive a fallen player with very little fuss.
It's much more enjoyable, however, to have some human companionship, and Insect Armageddon supports two-player, split-screen co-op, as well as seamless three-player online play. The frame-rate is largely very good when playing over the internet and there's very little lag, which makes for a really enjoyable co-op experience. Insect Armageddon's uncomplicated nature also makes it a great game to play with both casual and hardcore gamers, without having to hold back or play through tedious tutorials.
Despite its simplicity, however, the amount of enemies on screen is staggering and can be slightly overwhelming, and the enormity of some of the battles, especially towards the end of the game, is mind boggling. Fitting this number of enemies on to one screen comes at a price and Earth Defence Force: Insect Armageddon remains as technically deficient as its predecessors, especially in the presentation and visual department.
Dead insect carcasses no longer litter the streets like a badge of honour, while the New Detroit setting is as bland and uninspiring as anything we've seen and makes it hard to pick out any stand-out moments from the main campaign. While the original games had insects destroying Big Ben, robots ominously coming in with the tide and dedicated boss stages, Insect Armageddon is largely the same thing over and over again.
It's also very short, featuring a mere 15 levels spread across three chapters and can be bested in around four or five hours by an experienced player. The levels are longer than before and feature numerous objectives and checkpoints, although it tends to boil down to following the map, killing everything in sight and moving on.
Frustratingly, the developers have increased the challenge and added longevity by including level restarts upon dying, resulting in ten minutes of tedium before reaching the challenging part of the mission (only to die again in some cases). The real replayability comes in the form of the survival mode, which features half a dozen of the most basic but challenging maps we've ever faced and is another great co-op mode.
Earth Defence Force: Insect Armageddon is unquestionably a fun game, but it's the same fun we had with its PS2 and Xbox 360 predecessors. The latest game offers very little that it can call its own, has a severe lack of memorable moments and is often incredibly dull and repetitive. Perhaps it's because we've seen it all before, maybe it's because of the new mission structure or possibly it's down to the boring backdrop, but Insect Armageddon has lost a bit of the series' magic. On the plus side, the vastly enjoyable online element and co-operative play, not to mention the wonderfully addictive survival mode, certainly make up for some of the game's shortcomings, and the budget price is an added bonus sure to resonate well with fans.
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