Say what you will about Earth Defense Force 2017, but at least it was distinct. Arriving stateside back in early 2007 to players exhausted by WWII shooters and Halo knockoffs, EDF 2017 treated players to massive, chaotic battles against giant mutated insects, laser-blasting walking robots and sky-filling motherships. Sure, it controlled poorly, looked like a Japanese budget game, and was sort of terrible. But it was simple and, in its best moments, totally exhilarating, with fun destruction and chaotic battles against some of the biggest enemies ever witnessed on this generation of hardware.
Four years later, publisher D3 has followed up on that game’s cult successes with Earth Defense Force: Insect Armageddon, developed by an American studio (Vicious Cycle, developer of Eat Lead) to recapture the best elements of 2017 and put them in a better game. Vicious Cycle has certainly made improvements over the previous game, but the fundamental flaw with Insect Armageddon is that it simply doesn't capture the sheer scale and explosive chaos that made its Japanese predecessor so memorable. Couple that with a shooter backbone that's too simple and too repetitive to rope in fans of the genre and you're left with Insect Armageddon, a game that will fail to entice either fans of the genre or the series.
It’s all too bad, because Insect Armageddon is, in a number of meaningful ways, a “better” game than its predecessor. Vicious Cycle has removed many of 2017’s most glaring problems and issues. The previous game’s awkward movement controls have been gutted and replaced with a standard third-person shooter scheme that actually works. Also gone are 2017’s atrocious vehicle controls, replaced again by sensible control mechanisms. No matter how much love--ironic or otherwise--one could have for EDF, that game’s control shortcomings were indefensible, and it’s good to see them replaced with a standard control scheme that lets you stop thinking about what you're doing and simply do it.
Insect Armageddon also significantly expands on the previous game’s multiplayer offerings to bring it in line with modern releases. The series' two-player split screen option returns, but Insect Armageddon also offers online co-op for the campaign for up to three players, as well as a wave-based survival mode for up to six players online. Online matches run smoothly, and, as you might expect, blasting bugs is always more fun with friends than by your lonesome. The online additions aren’t too extensive, but they’re a welcome addition.
With a host of improvements made to virtually every facet of the game, Insect Armageddon may seem like a more-than-worthy successor to 2017. However, for all of Insect Armageddon’s upgrades and fixes, I couldn’t help but feel something indelible to EDF had been lost in the translation.
Part of the problem is that, for a game ostensibly about fighting hordes of giant insects, Insect Armageddon feels very small. Though Vicious Cycle can (and does) fill the game world with whole colonies of ants, spiders and mantises, the game rarely evokes the outlandish sense of scale that helped 2017 to stand out in a sea of superior shooters. 2017 featured motherships that filled every corner of the sky, and robots so tall that the ground shook with every lumbering step across the level. The city would shatter apart with errant rocket blasts, laser strikes, and acid web discharge flying in all directions. For all of its obvious faults, 2017 did an incredible job rendering its own giant, explosive chaos.
But Insect Armageddon never manages to hit that mark. The giant ants and robots of 2017 aren’t nearly as big in Insect Armageddon, and too many of the game’s battles take place inside smaller areas, fenced off by invincible buildings that further shrink and contain the scale of the conflict. The series' ridiculous rocket explosions and ship crashes are muted and wimpy, and the act of firing those weapons isn't particularly satisfying. To make matters worse, the ants and giant robots simply disintegrate into the air upon death, which really takes the impact out of destroying a swarm of enemies. Only in the very last level of EDF’s brief four-hour campaign does the game introduce an element that actually matches the ridiculous scope of 2017, but at that point it's too little, too late. The game just can’t tap into that same well of ridiculous, explosive chaos that 2017 was able to maintain, and increasing the difficulty only serves to make individual enemies harder (rather than increasing the number of enemies onscreen at any given moment).
Without being able to emulate the specific qualities that made 2017 compelling, Insect Armageddon’s other flaws are much harder to ignore. Though it improves some of 2017's systems, Insect Armageddon still isn’t a very good shooter compared to the competition; its an achingly simple shooter with a run-and-gun mentality more commonly associated with the early 2000s than shooters today. Killing bugs and robots gets old pretty fast, and it’s all made worse by the game's total lack of mission variety. Through the game’s 15 missions, you’ll alternate between holding down a position from attackers, destroying ant hills to keep enemies from spawning, and blowing up downed ships. These objective types are recycled endlessly throughout the game, and you’ll have had your fill of these types before you’re a third of the way through the campaign.
The few boss and sub-bosses throughout the game could have offered a brief reprieve from the repetitive objective-based missions, but that boredom will only be replaced by frustration. Though every boss has a very clear and obvious weak-point target, it can be extremely difficult to tell if you’re actually hitting the weak spot. This can lead to boss battles that stretch out far longer than they should.
To make the matters of the repetitive gameplay worse, Insect Armageddon has multiple systems in place that are centered around replaying levels and encounters over and over again. Unlike certain other modern shooters, Insect Armageddon can’t make its leveling-based upgrade system compelling and, as such, the constant grinding demanded by the game never inspires the kind of level-crazed loot-focused addiction that it seems to be chasing so desperately.
Insect Armageddon feels trapped between the competing goals of trying to emulate its cult classic forebear and trying to be a modern video game. It splits the difference, and the result is a game that probably won’t please fans of modern shooters or fans of 2017. Insect Armageddon isn’t wanting for content, especially with its $40 launch price tag, but it gives you little reason to explore it.