Earth Defense Force: Insect Armageddon Review (PC)
This game was reviewed on the PC.
Originally a console release, Earth Defense Force: Insect Armageddon was recently ported to the PC for the Steam community to have a go at the ant-flattening, hornet-swatting, tick-popping Vicious Cycle shooter. The game earned some modest praise on console, including a respectable 4.0 from Wanderson75’s own Dominic Marzolino, but how does it fare on the PC?
Jumping into the powered boots of a soldier of the Earth Defense Force – or EDF as it’s commonly referred to – your job is ostensibly to protect the people of Earth from a mysterious invasion of huge insects by utilizing a variety of intensely destructive weaponry. Of course, the titular Earth Defense Force comes off as a little ironic; for one thing, “Earth” seems a little broad for the small section of the US’s East Coast you defend. And for another (more damning) point, you and your squad perpetrate a much larger amount of destruction and mayhem than the insectoid invaders. Small arms can blow up gas stations, your heavy weapons can level apartment buildings, houses, and other structures; but the invaders – aside from the giant robotic mini-bosses – lack the same destructive capability, preferring instead to crawl or fly over and around the buildings that your team gleefully topples. It would be nice to say that it was a creative choice; that the writers of the game were winking at us with an ironic title and a deliberate satire of the macho militarism that comes part and parcel with most shooters. Sadly, it doesn’t seem that way. The plot is nonexistent, aside from what few details you can glean in between fighting eviscerating swarms of Them!-sized insects.
The visceral impact of leveling apartment structures is a great touch to the game, but it loses some points because every structure collapses in the same way (which means you can’t blast little holes in the wall or use building debris as offensive shrapnel against tightly-packed waves of ants). They just fall straight down with a little dust cloud; so there’s no way to utilize the destructible environment to your advantage. In fact, every toppled building just removes an obstacle that might slow the waves of enemies.
As far as the gameplay goes, everything’s fairly static. There’s not much mission variability, it’s all pretty much defend-this-point or blow-up-that-hive; even that would be fine if the AI could handle the load itself, but it can’t. The invaders are mindlessly aggressive, to the point where they free themselves from the responsibility of choosing any tactical options. Instead, they just charge blindly into your guns. The difficulty of the later levels comes not from a cleverly extrapolated hive mind AI, but from a variety of one-dimensional enemies who all attack in distinct yet simplistic ways. Fairly superficial, yes, but at least it gives the game a little variety.
Unfortunately, there’s also a bit of a problem with the control scheme. Coming from a game originally optimized for a controller, the game initially doesn’t utilize a full keyboard-friendly scheme; instead, trying for a one-to-one translation. The effect is a bit strange. The controls aren’t terrible, but they’re certainly not intuitive, and that leads to pausing the game in order to review the button layout in the middle of a firefight. Luckily you can customize it, and aside from that initial wonkiness the game is spectacularly free of irritating control or movement hitches that plague even hugely popular shooters.
Earth Defense Force gives you some fairly typical class choices; there’s the trooper, an all-around useful soldier-type who balances damage-dealing with damage-absorption; tactical armor, which plays a somewhat indirect role in a fight through building and maintaining combat turrets; the jet, which trades firepower for maneuverability and short-range flight; and battle armor, which is the EDF version of Team Fortress’ Heavy, complete with a low-slung heavy gun and a plodding, methodical pace (they leave the boisterous Russian accent back in Moscow, however… if Moscow still exists). Character personalities are practically non-existent, but it’s something that you probably won’t notice if you’re playing cooperatively. In single player, however, the paper-thin character development is very apparent, to the point of being distracting. But Earth Defense Force isn’t looking to innovate the shooter experience; it’s out to set it on fire.
To that degree, Earth Defense Force largely succeeds. The missions are all breathlessly quick, not wasting any time on unimportant details (like a coherent plot or characterization), allowing you to jump in and open fire with the vast selection of weaponry available. There are weapons in just about every variety, from lasers and shotguns to homing missiles to complex explosives that scatter into smaller smart projectiles that can clear huge swathes of the battlefield free of enemies. There are even tactical nukes available, ostensibly as a last resort but more typically something to fire off whenever it looks like you might be overrun. It covers just about everything short of hopping into an orbital defense cannon and blasting Barringer Crater-sized holes into the earth you’re expected to defend. This is what fun is about in EDF: blowing your enemies apart with a childlike joy. But as enjoyable as this is, it would have been nice to see some specified gadgetry, clever ad hoc weaponry designed specifically to take out insectoid enemies without destroying half of the battlefield in the process. Tanks firing cans of Raid or turrets surrounded by weaponized citronella candles, for a couple of absurd examples. The fact that there’s a whole slew of truly classic science fiction bugs as the antagonistic race to draw from makes the lack of any kind of depth a little less forgivable.
Overall, Earth Defense Force: Insect Armageddon comes across as a budget title (which it is) that plays it a little too straight. Most comparable games tend to delve a bit more into the innovative aspects of the genre to balance out the lack of cutting-edge graphics or BioWare-level production value. However, Insect Armageddon seems content with allowing you to really explore all the nuances of explosive firepower. For that, I can hardly find fault in it.
Earth Defense Force: Insect Armageddon earns 3.75 crushed anthills out of 5.
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