When it comes time to qualify games as either justifiably “good” or “bad,” it should come as no surprise that doing so isn't always subjectively easy. Each conclusion is often smeared by more than one counterargument, and what might be taken as a failed aspiration in one edit can actually turn out as ironic success when it's time to publish. The pieces of a game's puzzle don't always fit together perfectly, but, even if a couple are missing, sometimes the finished product can still be gratifying.
It's this type of dilemma that befuddles the experience that is Earth Defense Force: Insect Armageddon. Taking up the reins from SANDLOT's creation, Vicious Cycle's turn on a series focused on snuffing out hordes of giant insects and mechanized aliens somehow garners an appreciably, if not inexplicably, satisfying byproduct from its hollow context and ad hoc design. For some reason it's entirely possible to lose segments of time to entirely repetitive tasks. Nevertheless, when taking a step back to examine the parts to the game's whole, even as a “budget title,” Insect Armageddon isn't much more than its core formula decorated with a few modern standards haphazardly stickered on for effect.
If there's blame to be made for Insect Armageddon's inadequacy, it's found in the game's inability to accomplish any other goal than, simply: Kill a lot of oversized insects (or insect-like enemies). There is literally nothing else to do. Checkpoints in the campaign move your Earth defender, clad in one of four armor types, from one point in an indiscriminate section of New Detroit to another to complete objectives, while loading screens between levels try to make you believe you're doing so in some kind of ordered manner. What unfolds, however, is so trivial its not even worth describing, and is nearly impossible to recount. There's you, with assorted weaponry. Things are attacking you. Kill them. (Oh, and hold the action button over a downed EDF landing ship when prompted.) When a game reiterates, “You know what to do,” or, “You know the drill,” and mission text has to bust out a thesaurus-worth of alternate ways to inform you to clear an area of enemies, the thrill and novelty wears out quickly.
What little other dialogue there is simply misses the mark. While some exchanges may cause a chuckle or two from their sort-of-meta lines (an Intelligence officer not being able to understand the translation of an enemy weak point as maybe a nod to the East-to-West property transition), the delivery and interaction between characters and on-screen action never syncs. What's left are disconnected characters, most of which you never actually see, whose portrayals vary from a cheezy caricature of a pilot to a steadfast operation commander. Your character is even a throwaway avatar for which no time is spent creating any real dramatic connection.
Fair enough. Not all incarnations of interactive entertainment have to portray themselves as some great metaphor or even lesser contrived narrative. If the substance isn't in the context of the story and how its conveyed, then it should be found in the act of gaming itself. With Insect Armageddon, unfortunately, such is not the case. Everything other than the ability to play online is merely shortsighted and underwhelming—especially for a boxed title.
Vicious Cycle evidences an ability to balance technical functionality with multiplayer chaos by supporting three people (online, or two in simultaneous split-screen) to play in a relatively open, fully destructible environment, with nearly fully stable connections. (Lag presents itself on harder difficulties when enemies swarm, but it's not the kind of debilitating chug some games exhibit.) The world may be aesthetically and textually flat, making it uninteresting, but it's the spectacle of collapsing superstructures from an errant rocket without stutter that's attractive. In fact, playing with friends or randomly matched players turns the entire throe of going through the similar multi-part chapters into a hypnotic RPG-ish grind, as scores earned from your kills turn into experience points to level up the different specialized armors sets from colonies of canon fodder.
The contrary to that fact, on the other hand, also reveals Insect Armageddon's other major shortcoming: Without social companions, playing either of its campaign or survival modes is listless monotony. Neither option of play feeds into the other with any cross-compatible content, and each nets nearly an identical experience. Moreover, choosing to confront escalating waves of enemies under the “Survival” heading proves the worse choice for lone-wolves since the game neither scales the difficulty accordingly without 6 players in the arena, nor gives you more than a stock soldier with few choices of underpowered weapons.
It's simply unnecessary, redundant and disappointing to take what's already found in abundance from a campaign, recycle it, and call it extra content. Without any kind of customizable options or compelling reward, the only other thing to do in Insect Armageddon than play its 'story' doesn't present itself as an exciting addition.
At a point in gaming history where thoughtful ideas and robust features find their way into downloadable bytes without a need for deep pockets, what's stored on Insect Armageddon's disc is comparably trite. It's a technically competent game that never offers anything more than a singular task—something the mobile frontier demonstrates it can provide for with stunning success. Blowing up arthropods in short interval sessions with friends is easily and entertainingly digestible, but with so little to do in the game, and with nothing to distract you from its single-track design, even its budget status is too weighty. It's a perfect bargain bin timesink, maybe.
You've probably played one of the games in the series, what's your take? How could the game be better? Or, is this exactly what you were looking for? Tweet us @gamers_hell