PAX East 2011 Hands On: Earth Defense Force: Insect Armageddon
If giant alien bugs suddenly began to invade earth, what would you do? Would you run and hide? Or grab some sort of rocket launcher and get right down to it? Earth Defense Force: Insect Armageddon chooses the latter, defending the Earth from space in all its B-movie glory. This game aims to prove that no apocalypse is complete with out giant spiders, bees, and mecha-lizards.
As a fan of the game’s predecessor Earth Defense Force: 2017, it was a little hard for me to approach the D3 Publishers of America booth without giving off an aura of maniacal excitement. Thought somewhat small, the booth had six HDTVs ready to go with both single and multiplayer modes available for campaign or survival. I made sure to grab my souvenier EDF-brand flyswatter before picking up a controller and getting started.
I must say, I was not disappointed here. The controls are fairly similar to the original, making it easy to just pick up and play (although I am a bit sad that the sideways roll seems to have been cut). The first thing I noticed was the updated graphics, which portrayed a much richer range of textures and colors than the previous installment. For some this might be seen as a negative, since EDF:2017 had a very distinct artistic style with colors that were reminiscent of Japenese ukiyo-e prints. The truck-sized bugs have be re-skinned to look much more imposing than your run-of-the-mill ant. Of course, in order to prevent their soldiers from being crippled with paralyzing fear, the government have kindly taken it upon themselves to equip this round of soldiers actual armor instead of just the jumpsuits of skydiving instructors.
The Earth Defense Force team have been given some new toys and abilities along with their upgradeable armor, separating them into four distinct categories: Tactical, Jetpack, Battle, and Trooper. Each class has their own set of weaknesses and strengths. The two classes I was given a chance to play as were the Jetpack and Battle, and the first thing I noticed was a power bar on the right side of the screen (jetpack and shield abilities, respectively). If you use your special ability too much or too often, you’ll be punished with a frozen reload time, and have to wait until your power bar is completely refilled before reloading your weapon or using the ability again.
After a few minutes of play I was relieved to see that the developers had smoothed over one of the annoyances in the first game: the horrible lag. Too many explosions and piles of ant-acid (lol) used to make playing through certain levels harder than dragging a refrigerator through the mud. Now there seems to be little trouble as you shoot lightening, lasers, bullets or rockets around the city (which seems to have been built much sturdier this time around, as it takes more than one grenade to level a building).
But by far the most exciting feature on display was the new online multiplayer modes. I can’t even count how many times I’ve had friends over to play EDF:2017 and heard them bemoan the game’s lack of online co-op. EDF:IA offers three player online co-op to get through the game’s campaign mode, as well as a new “survival” mode. Survival boasts support for up to six players as you fight off waves of aliens.
Stuck with someone who lacks in skills like “aim” or “survival instinct?” Not a huge problem, since in both campaign mode and survival teammates can be revived for extra points in the game’s arcade-style scoring system. Points allow you to upgrade to new weapons and armor (although new weapons will also still be dropped by killing bugs in the level).
The only downside I’ve seen so far is the menu navigation, especially on the weapons screen. When you highlight an item it is in a darker color rather than a lighter color, and the weapon you currently have equipped seems to stay highlighted. Also the main menus are comprised of words in black boxes, and you can only tell where the cursor is by a thin white line under the entire box (as opposed to directly under the text. It is about as difficult to navigate as it is to describe in writing.
I could go on about all of the other little things in the game that make me oh so happy: the introduction of BEES (fiercest killers of the insect kingdom), customizing the colors of your armor, the inclusion of concept art in the extras, the $40 price tag, or the fact that the game immediately began to search for downloadable content on connecting to Xbox Live. I’ll try to hold back my fan-girlish-ness and leave you with this: the game improves on many of the flaws in Earth Defense Force: 2017, but some fans of the previous title may feel as if some of the B-movie charm has been smoothed over and modernized a little too much.