When the apocalypse comes, there will be worse things than radioactive clouds or gnashing zombies. In Earth Defense Force: Insect Armageddon, the banner of doom is being carried by thousands of gigantic bugs that no can of repellent can hope to deal with. But if total annihilation is inevitable, you might as well enjoy your final hours. Over-the-top destruction is the focal point of this lighthearted shooter, and there's an undeniable thrill in blasting overgrown ants with your grenades, plowing through abominable spiders while in a tank, or just toppling buildings on a whim. There's little need for strategy when you can just blast everything that moves, so it's a matter of readying your aim and unleashing holy hell. If you convince a friend or two to tag along, there are dozens of hours of unrepentant fun to be had, though don't expect the same goofy excitement if you venture forth alone. There are certainly small issues chomping at your heels, but there isn't enough time to dwell on the little things when another masticating monster is trying to end your life. Insect Armageddon is an unabashedly simple experience that focuses on pure fun, and it delivers it in spades.
Giant monsters are ravaging the city, and you want motivation? Well, you're not going to get much in the way of story here. You're a member of the disposable though incredibly important Earth Defense Force, and when alien invaders land on your planet, you must eradicate them. The pay isn't too hot, but you're free to make as much of a mess as you like. See that row of apartment complexes over there? Or those edifices that resemble the Washington Monument and Arc de Triomphe? One sure blast from your rocket launcher annihilates these digital facsimiles in an instant. If you've played such destruction-heavy games as Red Faction: Armageddon, forget about those intricately designed collapses. In Insect Armageddon, scale takes priority. Toppled buildings go down in a puff of thick smoke, and the entire city is ripe for your explosive desires. There are some tactical advantages to destroying everything in sight, but it's mostly just fun to make things go boom.
Open-ended levels allow you to roam the city streets at your leisure. Swarms of giant creepy-crawlies spill out in tight-knit groups, and you're free to dispatch them when and how you desire. If you'd rather explore the city for a tank or mech suit or just stay far away from those grotesque creatures, you can stroll wherever your feet take you. The lack of specific paths through levels is a vast departure from most other shooters on the market. Cities spread out in every direction, letting you run for minutes at a time before you reach a restrictive barrier, and they resemble the average metropolis you would find in real life. There are main streets, back alleys, and dead ends. Spacious parks contrast with dilapidated hovels. Gas stations stand beside fallout bunkers. Unlike a typical shooter, there isn't structured level design, and that's one of Insect Armageddon's strengths. This is a game about an off-world threat invading these peaceful burgs, and it's up to you to decide how you want to defend your home turf.
Dispatching enemies requires little more thought than pointing the dangerous end of your gun toward one of these beasts and pressing the trigger, but you do have to think about what kind of soldier you want to control. There are four unique classes, each with its own strengths, weaknesses, and weapons. Jet is the flashiest of the crew. He can soar above the ground with his handy jetpack, and his guns are fueled by pure energy. Because he's the fastest man in the unit, he has to have an appropriate handicap (durability) so he's not overpowered. Battle stands on the other end of the spectrum. He's a giant of a man, and his inflated life bar is offset by his lumbering speed. When surrounded by bustling bugs, he can whip out a handy shield or discharge a deadly blast. Tactical carries turrets with him that are lifesavers in a pinch. Double your firepower with a well-placed Gatling gun, lay down some land mines to lure your foes into a fiery trap, or tap into sonar so your enemies have nowhere to hide. The last man is Trooper, and what he lacks in style, he makes up for in substance. Unlike his comrades, he doesn't have any special tricks, but he can wield every class of gun and perform basic tasks, such as reviving friends or setting bombs, much quicker than everyone else.
Finding the right soldier for you takes a bit of experimentation. You may think the joys of flight sound like an unparalleled experience, only to find that the buildings you're desperately trying to snipe from are being destroyed by your trigger-happy co-op friend. And don't turn up your nose at Trooper just because he doesn't have any fancy moves. He's the most versatile member of the team and easily rises to hero status when his number is called. No matter whom you choose, you need to put in many hours to earn the best weapons. Each character levels up individually, and you gain access to new tools of destruction with every rank you climb. There are hundreds of guns in the game spread across six classifications (assault rifle, missile launcher, sniper rifle, rocket launcher, shotgun, grenade launcher), and seeing what you unlock next is a strong reason to keep pushing ahead. New guns are usually more powerful than what you were using before, but they have other attributes as well. For instance, you may unlock a homing shotgun or a launcher that splinters into many rockets before exploding. Because of this, the highest ranked gun may not be the best for a specific situation. You can only carry two weapons at a time (selected at the start of a level), so tinkering with your loadout is important for success.
Giant ants and spiders play the role of expendable minions, and you frequently have to square off against dozens of these foul beasts at once. Sometimes they pour forth from anthills (which you have to destroy); other times, they erupt randomly from the ground so you don't know where to expect them. However, there are more than just insects on your path to saving the world. Flying saucers are a persistent irritant. UFOs come in two types. There are nimble crafts that rain down fire and require you to gun them down them quickly. And, there are mother ships that unload hundreds of grotesque arachnids until you fill their weak points with your explosive might. Oh, and don't forget about the robots. Playfully called Hectors, they stomp around the cities like they own the place. The smaller model stands dozens of feet above the earth and will happily charge at you when you least expect it. The bigger model is hundreds of feet tall and has devastating eye lasers that can decommission your team in short work. Destroying these attacking enemies is a lot of fun, but the bigger models take a bit too long to take down. You may have to fire at a hovering ship for 10 or more minutes before it finally explodes, and though it's always a thrill to see it plummet to the ground, it does get tedious firing in the air for such a prolonged stretch.
Repetition is one of the frequent issues that haunts this game. Every level sets you loose in expansive cities against a wealth of vile creatures. There's little in the way of variety (either gameplay or visual), and the act of mindlessly firing your gun gets stale after a while. Levels stretch on for 20 minutes or more, and without a checkpoint, it can be devastating when you lose all your progress because a giant foot took out everyone in your party at once. If you try to save the world alone, Insect Armageddon gets boring pretty quickly. You do have two helpful AI allies, at least, and they're smarter than you would imagine. They resurrect you if you should die, are a sure shot against the many enemies, and even do their best rodeo clown impressions to give you a breather. But you can't talk to them, and plowing through these streets isn't nearly as exciting when you have only your own thoughts to keep you company. Things are a lot more interesting when you play with friends. Insect Armageddon is a laughably good time, and cutting through enemies while cracking jokes makes this a relaxing, fun diversion from the typical shooter.
If you do get sucked in (and that's likely if you're playing cooperatively), there's a lot of content. It takes roughly five hours to tear through the 15-level campaign, but that's just with one character on the easiest difficulty. You most likely need to play through all three difficulty settings to gain access to the most powerful guns, and you have to repeat the whole process if you want to see what the other soldiers are packing. And that's only the start of things. Once you finish the game the first time, you open up a campaign remix mode that places you in the same environments with even more enemies. And, once you tire of the campaign, there's Survival mode as well. The levels are smaller in this mode, but you can play with up to five other players in it. Surviving waves of enemies with a gung-ho team of willing fighters is a lot of fun, though sadly, you don't get to import your character from the campaign. Instead, you have a designated character with a limited arsenal. It's disappointing because every other mode is persistent, and you lose access to your favorite guns. It's still entertaining gunning down hordes of enemies, but it's a shame that it doesn't tie in to the rest of the game.
One look at Insect Armageddon makes it clear that it is a budget-priced game. The graphical fidelity is nowhere near what you'd find in other games, and the weak sound effects barely communicate the awesome chaos onscreen. But if you dig deeper, there's a lot to love. Insect Armageddon focuses on delivering huge scale and a lot of fun, and it lives up to those goals admirably. Gunning down insects and robots is a blast, as is laying waste to the many buildings that surround you. There are certainly issues, such as the lack of variety, and playing alone is tiresome, but this game manages to overcome those problems and keep on ticking. Earth Defense Force: Insect Armageddon is another good entry in this ridiculous franchise, and there's lots of enjoyable cooperative content for the reasonable $40 price tag.