Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Review: Earth Defence Force: Insect Armageddon (Xbox 360, Playstation 3)

Some games challenge you with punishing difficulty, others wrack your brain with complex puzzles, and others have only one simple requirement - check your brain at the door and have fun. Earth Defence Force: Insect Armageddon falls into that third category and it delivers exactly what it promises; a third-person action game with tons of high powered weapons, destructible environments and all the giant bugs your could possibly kill. It's very hit and miss as a game, but chances are that those purchasing it will know exactly what to expect and will love every minute of the experience. It's not a great game, but it generally does more right than wrong.

Given that the game is an arcade-action experience, the story is as thin and transparent as cling-film. You play as one of four soldier classes in the elite Earth Defence Force unit, a band of gun-toting misfits that takes the alien invasion and resulting apocalypse in stride. The aliens have landed, unleashing waves of giant insects and arachnids and your only objective is to learn which end of the gun the bullets come out of and then kill them all. There are four soldier classes in the unit; "Battle" which is big and strong but slow as molasses; "Jet" which is fast-moving and able to fly but relatively weak in combat; "Tactical" which provides support by laying down turrets and "Tropper" which serves as the class with a balance of skills. Most of the games I have played were either as Tactical and Trooper and they suit my gameplay preferences, though others will definitely find their preferred class after a few rounds. That's EDF:IA in a nutshell - pick your class, decide if you're going to play solo or in co-op and let it rip. The enemies you fight are comprised of giant insects, alien ships and giant, screen-filling bosses. The insects come in waves and the difficulty increases with each level, so some tactical prowess coupled with smart choices in your weapons will serve you well.

EDF:IA plays like most third-person shooters and almost identical to the previous game in the series, though the controls feel more refined and less glitchy. The "run and gun" controls are smooth and fluid, helping you move quickly and maneuver to avoid the incoming swarms of insects. The flight controls as "Jet" and handling some of the weapons will take some getting used to, however repeated plays will ensure a rather short learning curve. The open level design also gives you a lot of freedom to decide how you want to go about tacking your objectives, which include planting explosives, destroying buildings and rescuing your human and NPC teammates from the brink of death. The destructible environments also allow for some creativity in how you tackle the waves of enemies, since destroying a bridge and having it crush a cluster of giant ants is infinitely more satisfying than just shooting them one-by-one. The weapons you start with are fairly standard and underpowered, however you unlock a variety of new weapons and weapon modifications as you progress in the game, adding a great sense of reward and incentive to play more.

The game allows you to play solo through the campaign with AI-controlled allies, however the real meat of the experience comes when playing cooperatively with up to two friends over PSN or Xbox Live. Given that the levels and enemies don't vary much outside of the ramping difficulty, EDF:IA will begin to feel very repetitive very quickly, so having a couple of friends along for the ride helps keep the tedium at bay. Blowing up waves of insects as a group is wickedly fun, however the experience will feel dry and rather dull if you're playing on your own and this is one area of the game that feels rather unbalanced. In addition to the campaign, you can play a survival mode of sorts, in which you fight off waves of enemies and last as long as you can. For a budget-price title, it packs a lot of gameplay and plenty of reasons to come back if you're playing co-op. A single play-through of all levels will last up to six hours, with little incentive to replay unless you're into achievement hunting.

Being a budget-price title, the fact that EDF:IA suffers in the audio and visual department should come as no surprise. The open environments and enemy designs are impressive, but a host of framerate issues, glitches and poor hit detection of larger enemies will grate on your nerves. Disappearing health and ammo drops, enemies getting stuck in walls,and one particular moment where my character got trapped in thin air also added to the annoyances. However, these issues are ultimately forgivable to anyone who is a fan of these types of games. It may look like a late-generation Playstation 2 game, but the fun and absurdity of the game does compensate in some ways. Fans of bigger budget or story-driven games will likely find plenty of nitpicks and even the most hardened EDF fan will grow tired of it, but those looking for some mindless fun will be well serviced.

Rating: 7 out of 10

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