It’s near-impossible to talk about Earth Defense Force: Insect Armageddon and not compare it to Earth Defense Force 2017. In fact, forget the “near.” It’s just impossible. 2017 was something of a cult darling, getting plenty of love and affection from gamers and reviewers alike for its cheesy simplicity and mindless (not to mention extreme) fun. When Insect Armageddon was announced, it made people nervous. Would it capture the magic of the earlier title? Would it be better? Would it feel too “big budget?”
The problem with Insect Armageddon is that there are two mutually exclusive camps it can appeal to: die-hard fans and new potential customers. As we all know, it’s damn near impossible to strike a balance between the two and make both happy. Apparently the developers never knew about this, because they’ve gone and done it. That’s right, Insect Armageddon miraculously hits that sweet spot between the fuzzy memories of the rabid fanbase and the “What else have you got?” mentality of the average gamer. Of course, it’s not without its flaws, but it wouldn’t be Earth Defense Force if it were perfect.
I’m going to go ahead and get the worst of it out of the way first: Insect Armageddon doesn’t feel quite as magical as 2017. This is pretty much because of the mission structure. In a nutshell, there are a lot fewer levels on offer here; almost 40 less. This is padded by “remixed” levels that are available once the campaign is completed, as well as the Survival Mode, but it still feels a little shallow. Plus the “boss-only” stages have been done away with, so now players have to trudge through the lengthier missions before they can tackle the massive scary things. It’s not a deal-breaker, but it does make me lament the loss of being able to jump straight to giant cyborg dinosaur fights.
However, even though Insect Armageddon doesn’t perfectly recapture that one indefinable quality of 2017, it’s still a great game. A great EDF game. The voice acting has been ramped up a bit, but it’s still campy and fun. I find the voice for Ops to be a little annoying, but she still gets the job done. What I love is the decision to use Michael Dobson (a.k.a Deathspank) as the voice for Intel. There’s just something about his voice that makes the incredibly cheesy and humorous dialogue (“The trick is to shoot at them a lot while avoiding their attacks”) shine. And yes, the repeated cries of “EDF! EDF!” are still here.
There have also been a slew of graphical improvements, obviously. As I mentioned in our preview, the visuals have received a huge boost. Not only does everything have more detail, but the animations have been beefed up as well and there’s significantly less slowdown. EDF troopers all move realistically and the Ravagers actually look like they’re walking on solid ground this time. There have also been a number of improvements in the smaller details, like the heavy, plodding gait of the big Hector robots or the way a carrier will actually crash (as opposed to just fall) when shot down. This won’t embarrass Nathan Drake, but at least now we can defend the Earth from giant bugs in a game that looks like it’s from the current generation.
There is one improvement that may cause a split between fans, though: the trooper classes. Now, I love the incorporation of four different armor classes that can gain individual experience and use their own special weapon loadouts, but I can also see how it might annoy veterans who loved being able to simply start playing and use every weapon. To be fair, the Trooper is still around and is the most versatile class with access to the most weapons, but he’s also the most fragile. The Tactical class is a bit tougher, but has the weakest selection of ordinance out of the group. His guns tend to have tiny clips and are nowhere near as effective as his buddies’, but he can throw down gun turrets and set traps for the ravager hoards, so he definitely has his uses. Then there’s the Jet armor, which is by far the most mobile, but also the most tricky to use. Flying uses up suit energy, which is also used to power his weapons, so it’s essential to keep an eye on those energy reserves. Last there’s my personal favorite: the Battle armor. This guy is a slow, lumbering behemoth with tons of armor, an energy shield that can be used as a weapon of sorts, and the most powerful (and lethargic) guns in the entire armory.
Each of the four classes will gain experience and level up independently as they’re used, and only certain weapons can be used by certain classes. So while it is a little disappointing that I can’t use a certain kind of rocket launcher with a certain kind of armor, it also forces me to weigh my options and find the right balance that works for me. And I apparently prefer sitting in the middle of the battlefield absorbing hits while blowing the hell out of things with heavy firepower. It sounds suicidal, and it can be, but thankfully another addition bestows players (and AI team members!) with the ability to revive fallen comrades. This is a huge improvement.
Once the campaign is complete, which doesn’t take all that long, there’s still plenty more game to enjoy. Each difficulty tier has a maximum level that the classes can reach, capping at 5 on Normal and so on. It certainly encourages multiple playthroughs, but it also introduces players to the most important aspect of playing an Earth Defense Force title on tougher settings: better loot. That’s right, as with 2017, the best weapon drops are found on Inferno mode. And Inferno mode is a freaking beast, just as it was before. But that’s still only the beginning. After the campaign (which can be played solo with AI teammates, split-screen with a friend, or even online with two other players) a remixed mode opens up, allowing you to play through each campaign mission with different, tougher groupings of enemies. And if that still isn’t enough, there’s also Survival Mode which pits players against increasingly tough waves of Ravagers. No special armors, no fancy weapons. It’s just the basic troopers with limited lives and a few basic guns against impossible odds.
Each and every mode, online or off, is a ton of fun. That said, I did have a few problems when playing online. A big annoyance is that there’s no host migration, so if the player who set up the game leaves or loses their connection for any reason, the entire mission is a bust. You don’t even get to keep any weapons or experience earned; it’s a total wash. Another problem I had was some pretty severe latency issues when hosting a game. Things ran smoothly, but close to a dozen times during our Survival match I realized there was a Hector or something about that size running around the area that I couldn’t see. It never attacked me, but I could see the other five members of my team shooting at something that seemed to be hurting them. Their rockets were even connecting with this invisible thing, exploding in midair, but I couldn’t see or even interact with it. And again, this happened often. Usually toward the end of a wave.
Even so, I know I’ll be coming back for more again and again. Earth Defense Force: Insect Armageddon is pretty much exactly what I was hoping it would be: an updated, but still lovably campy followup to one of my favorite “budget” games. Aside from missing the ability to farm giant bosses as easily as I could in 2017, and the occasionally spastic netcode, I absolutely love it. It’s a vast improvement in almost every way, and is the perfect imperfect action game for me. Hell, they even made the vehicles not suck. That’s saying something.