Earth Defence Force - Insect Armageddon Review
Microsoft Xbox 360Also available on Microsoft Xbox 360 and Sony PlayStation 3
Summer on both the Xbox 360 and PS3 is a very quiet time for retail releases, something which Microsoft and now Sony are countering with cheap(ish) downloadable titles. This is a wise move as it tides over the core user base and makes them some money before crazy season where all the AAA titles are released. Earth Defense Force - Insect Armageddon is looking to busy our minds at this quiet time of year with some pure, unrelenting, third person shooter carnage. To a degree they are successful.
Earlier Earth Defence Force games, developed the Japanese development house Sandlot, have had a massive cult following and reasonable critical success. These games are adored by fans for their over the top, tongue in cheek action and the games just simply had a bit of character. Now comes the turn of the Americans to pick up the mantle to try and emulate, or maybe even progress, the series with Insect Armageddon. The North Carolina based studio Vicious Cycle, while built upon the experience of the now defunct MicroProse, have had the unenviable task of pleasing the aforementioned cult following and bringing the game to a wider audience.
The story....well it doesn’t matter in the slightest to be honest and to try to actually explain it would almost be an exercise in pointlessness. Put simply, there are loads of giant bugs and invading aliens and, it’s your job to kill every last living thing. Don’t get me wrong there is a plot, there are characters but the only time you will pay any attention is when the nice lady is directing you to your next objective, usually a way point.
For the most part the game is graphically somewhere between average and above average which isn't the best demonstration of Vicious Cycle’s in-house engine, unsurprisingly called the Vicious Engine. There are some neat touches littered here and there, plus it will take you a while to tire of seeing a skyscraper come crashing down covered in pesky ants and ticks. Perhaps the goal with the mid level performance of the engine was to emulate the earlier games which were full of stuttering and mediocre graphics, if this is the case it can be said they have achieved their goal. Other nice moments are mainly derived from the sheer amount of carnage on the screen, it’s just sadly never jaw dropping or in any way epic. Character animation is fine - your soldier will run around freely enough with the option to sprint, jump or dive, with the latter proving useful in the context of the game but proving quite awkward looking visually.
When it gets down to the audio design in EDF it’s all quite bland, the music fits the invasion theme and the effects from the bugs themselves are adequate. There are a handful of effects which are clearly ripped from War of the Worlds but it’s all been done before and while fitting to the action on screen you cannot help but feel it’s just not all that original. The voice acting is comical but not really in a good way, the actual intentional comedy just isn’t there, or at least for this reviewer it didn’t come across as effective. One of the biggest disappointments is the sound of the weaponry and particularly in the lower tiered weapons, it's hard to believe a rocket launcher that makes the same sound as a cheeky fart can bring down a building but there you go. It’s annoying as you would imagine in the grand scheme of making a current gen console game, one would assume that some aggressive sound effects for the weaponry isn’t the hardest task on the list of things to put together. The situation does improve but it takes quite a lot of gameplay before you are handed anything that is remotely satisfying.
As with any game, budget or AAA, the gameplay is where the game should really sell itself and if the gameplay was of a high quality you could forgive sound and graphical quality as it’s a budget title with expected limitations. Well, it’s a bug fest of course and the key to the game is to wipe everything out before progressing to the next area. The campaign clocks in at about half a dozen hours and can be played co-operatively with up to 3 other players. Normally I would say this is an excellent addition to a solid single player game but in the case of Insect Armageddon I would actually say it’s a must. If the game did not have a co-op campaign it wouldn’t be anywhere near as entertaining and on your own it would fast become the definition of a grind, even with friends the whole thing is a grind but at least you can have a laugh (e.g. woooah, hang on, big guy, where?, big guy, lasers, heeeeeeeeeelp etc).
The campaign consists of what are best described as loose map based objectives which really only consist of ‘move to A, kill everything, now move to B’. You are presented with fairly bland mini horde areas dotted around a city map and as a result the campaign is really horde mode with a bit of running around. It’s quite tricky on ‘normal’, especially when you meet an end level boss (there is one at the end of each Act). Even when you confront the bosses it’s more of a grind than all out fun. Wait for the red bits to appear and blast, all the while chaos ensues all around you in the form of spiders, wasps, little space ships, giant hectors, small gunships and annoying little ticks.
There are times when it is fun, sure, it’s completely unrelenting; there are no mid level checkpoints but luckily ammo isn’t a factor. Playing co-operatively with a few friends or on horde with a bunch of randoms is a blast, but only in short periods. There is no way I could sit through hours on end, not even with a box of Stella and all my friends online at once, it just does not hold your attention for long periods. As the campaign essentially consists of joined up mini horde games, it makes sense that there is also a full horde mode. Called survival mode in this game, it supports up to 6 players online and is arguably a better experience than the campaign. The kitchen sink comes at the squad of 6 and you will do well to get past wave 10 on some maps, even with a full house. This isn’t good news for all those good people out there who love achievements. Some are insane, requiring you, for example, to kill 25,000 enemies, or complete 500 waves in Horde mode. They take the gaming phrase ‘grind’ to a whole new level, but are all easily achievable if you put the time in, none are difficult.
It’s a budget blast and you shouldn’t go into it expecting more, perhaps my mistake was that I saw the cult following for the titles that had come before, I saw co-op and I thought I was in for some serious fun. In the end the ‘budget’ in ‘budget title’ shone through and whilst Insect Armageddon is a laugh in co-op (in short bursts) it becomes far too much of a grind, very quickly. It’s one of those ‘pick it up cheap’ titles and luckily, cheap is it's starting price point. Pick it up if you have co-op buddies to grind with and not a lot else to play this summer.
Some may well say "You just didn't get it did you?"...nope.