"Earth Defense Force: Insect Armageddon"
For: Playstation 3 and Xbox 360
From: Vicious Cycle Software/D3Publisher
ESRB Rating: Teen (animated blood, mild
language, mild suggestive themes, violence)
By Billy O'Keefe
Before it was cool to love "Deadly Premonition," "Earth Defense Force 2017" was everyone's ironically adored game of choice — a low-budget, sloppily assembled but wholly lovable Japanese third-person shooter that took bad graphics, terrifying voice acting, comically stiff controls and jerky animation and mixed in a too-ambitious-for-its-own-good scope and some dead simple but absolutely chaotic shootouts to create one inexplicably great time.
With "Earth Defense Force: Insect Armageddon," we have the third-person shooter equivalent of a cherished unsigned band putting out its major-label debut. An American developer has wrestled away the reins, and it's clear a bigger budget was in play during development. "Armageddon's" control tweaks — both on foot and in vehicles — are a night-and-day improvement over "2017," and while the visual presentation remains behind the curve, it's considerably more stable and much better equipped to handle the action when everything is collapsing and exploding.
"Armageddon" has similarly matured in terms of content. Four soldier classes — trooper, jetpack, tactical and battle — each has a separate experience points system that unlocks new weapons as you play, and with more than 300 weapon variants on offer, you'll have to play through the campaign multiple times to unlock everything.
For its part, the game includes remixed versions of finished missions and co-op support (four players online, two players offline) to make that prospect more enticing. Per genre custom, an arcade-style survival mode also is available for six players to shoot through together.
All of those frills are well and good, and they make "Armageddon" a technically better game than "2017" even as they take away some of the rickety-ness that made that game so lovable.
Fortunately, if you can get over that, what remains is a game that, more polished and Americanized or not, still embraces what ultimately made "2017" a blast to play.
As the subtitle makes perfectly clear, "Armageddon" has not replaced giant insects with soldiers or stuffed the action into claustrophobic corridors. This isn't a cover-based shooter against moderately large bugs: It's an all-out bonanza against absolutely monstrous bugs, robots and spaceships on massive battlefields that are every bit as destructible as the balsa wood buildings from "2017."
That, in this age of every third-person shooter running for cover, is what's most important to preserve, and "Armageddon" hangs on for dear life.
The downside to all this is that, for all the chaos "Armageddon" unleashes, that chaos doesn't change much from mission to mission. New enemy types appear, the remixed levels are a nice touch and the class and weapon variations certainly provide some additional flavor, but the core action — shoot lots of enemies, and then shoot lots more — doesn't change much from the first mission to the last.
"Armageddon" isn't much for storytelling, and that's easily forgiven when your orders are to kill everything that moves and the act of doing so is mostly great fun. But when you don't have much storytelling to do, you also don't tend to mind your rhythm and tempo very closely. In "Armageddon's" case, that leads to missions that start loud, stay loud, end loud and sometimes outstay their welcome.
This, of course, is nothing taking an occasional break won't fix. But it's something to bear in mind if your plan is to blitz through "Armageddon" during a quick rental rather than buy it and play it at a more measured pace.
(c) 2011, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.