When the original Earth Defense Force 2017 shipped for the Xbox 360 in 2007, Western players were finally officially introduced to one of the hidden gems of Japanese game development. While 2017 was the first US release, the series had been going strong since 2003 in Japan as part of D3 Japan’s line of budget PlayStation 2 titles. The third-person shooter cast players as one of two soldiers in a military force dealing with an alien invasion that mixed traditional fare, such as giant robots and flying saucers, with slightly insane stuff, like giant ants, spiders, and Godzilla-like monsters. If it sounds insane, it is, but the series makes it work thanks to a B-movie feel. For the latest entry in the series, the recently announced Earth Defense Force: Insect Armageddon, D3 is making some surprising choices that should please and possibly shock fans. We had the chance to check in with D3 to try a work-in-progress version of the Xbox 360 game to see how it’s all coming together.
The first and most shocking bit of news about Earth Defense Force: Insect Armageddon is its developer, Vicious Cycle, is of Eat Lead: The Return of Matt Hazard and Matt Hazard: Blood Bath and Beyond fame. While this marks the first time development of the series has been handled by a Western developer, D3 pointed out to us that key members of the original team are working with Vicious Cycle to ensure the game is in line with the spirit of the previous entries in the series. Another key element of development to point out is that D3 and Vicious are taking fan feedback to heart for this new entry in the series and including online co-op play for three people. A new competitive online mode will support up to six players, marking the first time an EDF game has online play. The feedback has also led to some changes in the gameplay mechanics and structure. While the core mechanics of running around and blasting bugs remains the same, some of the fine details have changed--probably for the better.
You’ll now have four characters to choose from and each has unique armor. The armor types fall into the basic categories you’d expect: trooper, battle, tactical, and jet. The trooper armor is in line with the classic soldier that’s been in all the games. The battle armor is a slow but heavily armored suit that features powerful weapons, while the tactical armor is nimbler and specializes in laying down turrets. Finally, the jet armor is the spiritual successor to the pale wing character seen in the previous games and features a jetpack and unique energy weapons. The way you’ll earn armor and weapons has changed to a more structured system that has you using credits you earn from destroying enemies to buy weapons and armor in a shop. A subtler tweak can be found in how the game doles out achievements and, now, trophies. Unlike EDF 2017’s six painfully tough achievements, EDF: AI will feature 50 achievements that will be earned for a variety of different actions.
We had the chance to try two levels, 1-2 and 3-1, in three-player online co-op. The 1-2 level dropped us in a city level to deal with massive ants, so clearly the stage had a nice comfortable feel to it. There were buildings, giant ants, and explosions--exactly what you would want out of an Earth Defense Force game. We also heard some snippets of audio from our fellow soldiers as we dove into battle. While there just seemed to be informational sound bites coming out of the boys, we’re hoping Insect Armageddon comes packing some of the zany one-liners we’ve come to expect from the series.
Everything blew up nicely in our play session in the game, which was satisfying. While there wasn’t quite as much chaos onscreen (the game is a work in progress after all), the frame rate was good and stable. The 3-1 level changed things up a bit by tossing more flying enemies, including massive robo-wasps, at us, in addition to the standard contingent of ants. All told, things definitely felt like an EDF game. The new gameplay tweaks, especially the different armor types, had a nice distinctive feel to them that affected our tactics in the levels.
The same comfortable feel extended to the game’s visuals, which, despite using an all-new engine, were in line with the previous games. There’s a lot more nuanced detail in the environment, especially around light and shadow, which reduces the slightly blown-out gamma look seen in 2017. Explosions were suitably satisfying, and the sense of scale--at least in the two levels we played--was close to what we expected. We hope once we see more of the game, we’ll find levels that are set pieces for even more massive enemies than what we’ve seen so far. The best news lies in the game’s frame rate, which stayed good and stable, even with the massive number of critters onscreen.
Based on this early first look, Earth Defense Force: Insect Armageddon is a promising sequel to Earth Defense Force 2017. While we’ll admit to being a little concerned at the developer change, it certainly looks like Vicious Cycle is headed in the right, eccentric direction to capture the flavor of the previous games in the series. From a feature standpoint, the addition of online co-op play is worthy of a fist pump. If you were a fan of the original game or simply enjoy blowing things up with friends online, there should be some very compelling reasons to check out Earth Defense Force: Insect Armageddon when it ships in the first half of next year. Look for more on the game in the months to come.