This article was originally published on 2/6/14
As longtime listeners of the podcast know well at this point, Kelsey and I have a lot of fun poking fun at Rich’s continued avoidance of Mass Effect 3. Really, though, any gamer worth their salt has played a sequel so disappointing that they find it hard to make it through to the end.
In that spirit, we’re proud to present The Sequel Slump, a new feature here at the Joy of Geek – returning from the previous site – dedicated to taking a look back at the follow-ups to some of our favorite games that just failed to reach the heights of their predecessor. And given how often I’ve extolled the virtues of the Earth Defense Force series, it seemed appropriate to start this feature with a look at the black sheep of the franchise, Earth Defense Force: Insect Armageddon.
Again, I’ve talked my love of Earth Defense Force to death on the podcast, so I’ll try to keep from ranting too much about its strengths here. While the gameplay basically just boils down to laying waste to hundreds upon hundreds of giant ants, spiders, robots and spaceships, that doesn’t stop it from being ridiculously fun. Destroying buildings, sending alien carcasses through the air and filling the screen with giant explosions somehow remains thrilling throughout dozens of stages and multiple difficulty levels.
For all of their outdated graphical assets, abominable vehicle controls and numerous glitches, Earth Defense Force 2017 and 2025 offered arcade-style gameplay of the purest variety. One would think that trying to fix those problems would make for an overall better experience, right? Oh, if only…
The strange thing about Insect Armageddon is that in a lot of ways, it’s far more technically competent than any other game in the series. The graphics took a huge step forward, with enemy models in particular boasting a lot more detail. Vehicles, awkward and unwieldy in 2017 and 2025, were viable options in Insect Armageddon, if few in number. And Insect Armageddon was the first game in the series to offer four different classes to choose between.
Yet, for all it does to improve things on a technical level, Insect Armageddon remains a lesser game in practice. The graphics, for example; though the various giant bugs look more realistic, there’s an undeniably disgusting quality about them as a result. Similarly, everything in Insect Armageddon looks as if it’s been dragged through the mud; this is an aggressively brown game. Things may have been plastic-looking and draped in simple textures in 2017, but at least the assets were bright and vibrant.
The story also received an overhaul, with Insect Armageddon presenting the alien threat of the Ravager invasion in a far more serious manner. Sadly, this grittier approach just doesn’t work with the inherently silly concept of giant bugs invading the planet. The series’ heart and soul lives in the B-movie feel, with over-the-top voice acting delivering ridiculous lines like “They’re going after people!” and “Wing Divers are the natural enemies of giant insects!”
Another negative change came as a result of the class system. While each class had unique abilities, they also had a large number of guns that only they could use. These guns, instead of being found on the battlefield, could only be unlocked with credits and experience earned in battle. This is a system that works in most games, but part of EDF’s charm is the loot system. Enemies would drop random weapons – as well as armor upgrades – in each level. It added a palpable excitement, turning each enemy killed into a chance at the next great weapon.
When you’re killing hundreds of bugs, that constant incremental progress helps to keep you invested. In Insect Armageddon, the amount of experience needed to reach each level and access new upgrades is way too high, leading to a lot of grinding. Granted, grinding is a big part of the EDF experience, but it’s far more annoying in Insect Armageddon, especially in light of the game’s biggest problem…
There are only 15 levels in Insect Armageddon, spread across three chapters. Given that the first mission is a short introductory level and each chapter ends with a boss fight level, Insect Armageddon is severely lacking in content. Even with a special remix of each stage offering new enemy arrangements, there’s just not enough here to keep you invested, let alone give you sufficient time to fully level up each of the four classes.
The sad thing is that Insect Armageddon has a lot of good ideas. The class system helped to bring a sense of individuality to your character among the other faceless Troopers. Plus, this game finally brought online co-op to the series, the biggest omission from Earth Defense Force 2017.
Fortunately, Earth Defense Force 2025 saw the series return to the hands of 2017 developer Sandlot, who integrated the best ideas from Insect Armageddon – multiple classes, online play, new insects to fight – into a more entertaining package. And for PS4 owners, Earth Defense Force 4.1 provides all of 2025’s improvements along with more content and a vastly improved framerate.
As it is, I’d be hard pressed to call Insect Armageddon an outright bad game; Vicious Cycle made an entirely serviceable action title. However, all of Vicious Cycle’s well-intentioned advancements simply couldn’t replicate the success of the original formula.