Thursday, 11 August 2011

Game Review – Earth Defence Force: Insect Armageddon

Formats: (PS3, Xbox 360)

I was recently flicking through channels on the T.V. and stumbled upon one of the worst joke-horror films I have ever seen, Eight Legged Freaks. This spider-fest saw hordes of mutant spiders lay waste to a small American village and needless to say, the residents had a pretty tough time dealing with 6-foot tall arachnids. This is definitely not a problem in Earth Defence Force: Insect Armageddon where your goal is to eliminate the insect threat, and boy are given plenty of firepower in this third-person shooter. Here you will find a game full of well-implemented action, made more enjoyable if played cooperatively with friends. While Earth Defence Force may be lacking in single player content, it more than makes up for with cooperative no-holds-bar, guns blazing action.

The premise here is very simple – the apocalypse brings about an insect invasion and you are Earth’s last line of defence. Expansive levels set the stage for absolute carnage but the game shines with the variation in which you can tackle each and every situation. Should you decide that keeping your distance if the most appropriate tactic, or whether jumping straight into the front line is the best course of action, the game will accommodate to your style of play, and indeed reward you for efficiency. It certainly helps that the maps are large in size, allowing you plenty of room to manoeuvre and even explore your surroundings, finding the best vantage points or key areas that you can take advantage of.

You are given absolute freedom to cause as much mayhem and destruction as long as the threat is eliminated. This is where Earth Defence Force shines; the sheer scale of destruction is aesthetically pleasing, while at the same time serving a purpose in combat. Collapsing large buildings with your rocket launcher can take out hordes of enemies should they get caught underneath the rubble, so you certainly play with a double-edged sword as you feel obligated to protect the environment around you, while at the same time you are allowed to massacre your surroundings to ensure the death of the bugs.

Unfortunately that’s about as much sentimental attachment you may feel in Earth Defence Force as you won’t get anything here in the form of a coherent storyline. The allure of utter destruction is reason enough to jump into the action and the lack of a narrative is easily overlooked. The bulk of Earth Defence Force’s content comes from the four unique classes available to play with. Thankfully this isn’t simply a run and gun game and care has to be taken with how you tackle the enemy – fortunately these classes ensure just that. Naturally all four classes have their strengths and weaknesses – Battle is the tank character, heavy armour, heavy weaponry and slow speed define this brute. Jet reminds me of those irritating Jetpack characters from Streets of Rage 2 and has an immediate environmental advantage with the ability to fly, but a lack of power and diminished health keeps him somewhat grounded. Tactical is your tech wizard, carrying turrets around the battlefield that can either serve as radar, increased firepower or well-placed traps for the insect threat. The final grunt is Trooper, the must-have jack-of-all-trades character – with the ability to wield all weapons and perform basic tasks at a decent pace makes Trooper a very versatile character.

Each character is a lot of fun to play around with and the vast amount of content to be unlocked for each individual soldier ensures that you will spend plenty of time with each class before you finally settle down and choose your favourite. A whole host of weaponry spread across different classifications like the assault rifle, sniper rifle, rocket launcher, grenade launcher, shogun and missile launcher prevent you from getting bored slaughtering giant insects. The distinct strengths and weaknesses of each class can be seen throughout battle and character choice is strikingly personal and clearly portrays the style of play you prefer. The ability to only take two weapons into each level also adds some tactical prowess to the game where the most powerful weapons may not necessarily be the best choice for a particular section or level.

I’ve mentioned that this is an alien-based bug invasion but what exactly are you going to be facing? Your standard arachnids and worker ants make up the bulk of the enemy forces. For some particular reason, these critters can explode from beneath the ground, but also be dropped down by UFO spacecrafts. You will also face more vicious insect foes as well as the incredibly dangerous robot units that take plenty of time and manpower to take down. The action is so fast-paced that you don’t really have time to ponder where these monsters keep coming from; you just need to eliminate all threats.

Needless to say this is a game that has to be enjoyed with friends. Teaming up with human allies can make defending the earth quite an entertaining experience. Trying to tackle Earth Defence Force solo on the other hand, is simply not worth talking about. Although the AI is surprisingly smarter than you would expect, the lack of communicating with a group of friends really brings out the boredom here. Levels last for just a bit longer than I would have liked and it’s utterly devastating having to replay segments thanks to the poor checkpoint system implemented here.

From a technical perspective, it is quite clear that all resources went into ensuring Earth Defence Force was as entertaining as possible, because the visuals and audio don’t really do the game any favours. This is to be expected due to the budget price tag, but more than anything, it is simply a shame as the on-screen chaos and destruction are not done enough justice and arguably could have been made into something rather impressive if more resources were available.

What Earth Defence Force does have going for it, is very impressive replay value. The 15-level campaign has to be completed on all the difficulty levels using all of the character classes if you wish to unlock all the weapons and upgrades. A revamped campaign mode is also unlockable, putting you against an even larger volume of enemies, testing your extermination skills to the absolute limit. A survival mode is also present but unfortunately does not allow you to use your upgraded campaign character; rather pre-set classes are available, which is quite disappointing.

Ultimately Earth Defence Force: Insect Armageddon is all about over-the-top action. If you’re looking for some fast-paced entertainment, plenty of huge explosions and a surprisingly intricate upgrade and class system, then this is certainly a game for you. It is a great multiplayer experience should you accept that this is a game that’s not meant to impress you visually and fails to impress in single player. Games are about playing with friends however, and this is an experience you will enjoy with them.

8.0 | Gameplay |
Destructive entertainment makes sure you kill so many enemies you’ll be dreaming about the insect invasion for weeks to come.

5.0 | Presentation |
Although acknowledged that this is a budget game, the visuals are average at best and the audio fails to do justice to the on-screen destruction.

8.0 | Replay Value |
Strong replay value only with friends. Plenty of upgrades, unlockables and versatility in the class system ensures you will come back to at least try the other classes.

7.0 | Final Thoughts |
Earth Defence Force: Insect Armageddon has a target market, those looking for a gun-driven, explosive and entertaining experience. You know exactly what you’re going to get here, aliens, insects and a massive arsenal to deal with them.

Igor Kharin, CeX UK Contributor.

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