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Earth Defense Force: Insect Armageddon review: Shoot, shoot, shoot, end

Justin McElroy

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It's not that it's a failure.

I can see what Earth Defense Force: Insect Armageddon wants to be: A mindless, explosive shooting gallery. I can also see that it does a pretty good job of meeting that goal. It's mindless, stuff explodes, there's shooting. Top marks all around.

But no matter how I tried to see the brighter side of this basically good-hearted game, I couldn't shake an inescapable truth: This is dumb, and you deserve better.

Gallery: Earth Defense Force: Insect Armageddon (E3 2011) | 10 Photos

You're a member of Strike Force Lightning (yes, it's called that) and you have to kill a lot of giant bugs and alien spaceships that are wreaking havoc in Neo New York New Detroit. Every level is in an expansive, almost completely destructible cityscape, but your goals won't vary too much throughout the game. "Walk over here", "kill these bugs" and "blow up this bug hole" is pretty much the extent of this third-person shooter's gameplay vocabulary.

That said, "kill these bugs" is a shockingly large umbrella. You can kill the bugs with four different types of soldiers, ranging in mobility, attack strength and abilities. You kill them with a wide array of weapons, from assault rifles to grenade launchers -- an array that will get even wider as you gain experience, improving your abilities and arsenal. You can even bring a couple of online or couch co-op buddies into the fight with you, playing through the campaign or a Horde-like survival mode.

And none of it means a god-damned thing.

Earth Defense Force: Insect Armageddon is extermination porn, free of narrative, compelling gameplay or anything other than highly murderable bugs

Because no matter what you're firing and who you're firing with, you're still just leaning on the right trigger until the voice in your head tells you you don't have to any more. Maybe the bugs explode in a gooey mess a little earlier or later than they otherwise would have, and maybe you have some people to talk to while you do it. But as long as you keep on that trigger and don't let up until the giant bugs die, you'll eventually prevail. Or not. It doesn't matter.

I had to make my peace with this pretty early on. Losing all your health means having to wait on a revival from a teammate. Whether or not they had the health to get to me and revive me depended on how long it'd been since they themselves had been revived, which I had no control over. In essence, whether or not we lost the mission was random. This wouldn't be so troubling if there were any checkpoints whatsoever in the often 20-minute-long levels.

The first few times I had to re-experience 20 minutes of drudgery, I was infuriated, until I realized that I was caring about it far more than the game was. As far as Insect Armageddon was concerned, I had been shooting bugs before I died and I was shooting bugs after, so what was the problem? This ambivalence to all things not directly related to bug murder is carried through right to the finale, when there's no climax, no denouement, not even any frigging credits. The bug killing just stops, and then you're kicked back to level select so you can kill some more stuff.

The only times my pulse even approached pounding was when I killed particularly large bug aliens or their ships, and even that excitement was generated by the sheer scale of my opponent. To put it another way, the height of Insect Armageddon's sophistication is when it prods whatever ancient holdover in my brain kept my caveman ancestors away from dinosaurs. What's that? Cavemen never co-existed with dinosaurs? Sorry, I don't know that because this dumb game has turned me into a big dumb idiot.

Even that thrill of fighting a giant creature had plenty of time to wear off as every large enemy has a comically large amount of health, turning set piece battles into cramp-inducing slogs.

"Thing big! I shoot big thing!"

There is a place for action games that aren't particularly cerebral (what's up, 50 Cent: Blood on the Sand?) but they do still have to have some semblance of game design. Earth Defense Force 2017 is no master class in game theory, but there's a genuine B-movie charm buoying the proceedings. Here, that's replaced with calculated, charmless badness. ("I'm liveblogging this whole thing, and my hits are through the roof!" exclaims one soldier, as I frantically search the classifieds section of my local paper for any career other than my own.)

If a dramatic film took the Insect Armageddon approach, it would feature only two hours of a woman crying next to a hospital bed as violins played. Sports movies would basically just be Kevin Costner catching baseballs and repeatedly shouting "Baseball!" Porn would be ... well, porn would be pretty much the same.

It's an apt comparison. Earth Defense Force: Insect Armageddon is extermination porn, free of narrative, compelling gameplay or anything other than highly murderable bugs, aliens and alien bugs.

This is normally the part of the review where I'd say "But if you just want to shut your brain off and shoot some bugs, then -- blah, blah, blah" but it would just be too insulting in this case. Even the most brainless of braindead fare can aim higher than this rat-hitting-the-feeder-bar inanity. You deserve better.

This review is based on 360 code of Earth Defense Force: Insect Armageddon purchased by the reviewer.

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