My first introduction to the world of the EDF was thanks to an enticing review of Sandlot's Global Defence Force (the European release of EDF 2) by Teletext's GameCentral. Bought on release, it was a brilliant mess of arcade hijinks, B-Movie stylings, and so... many... ants. However the poor PS2 could barely keep up, and the slowdown was crippling (and even worse for us PAL gamers, if you can imagine the horror), so I was please to find out there was also a Sandlot EDF title on the 360.
Earth Defence Force 2017 brought the fight to HD, and whilst the increase in fidelity (and, most importantly - frame rate) was welcome, it came as a surprise that it was essentially a remake of EDF 1, featuring none of the improvements of the sequel (such as the jet-pack, or new enemy types). Despite that caveat, the EDF magic was there: ants, scale, silly weapons, ants, co-op, campy dialogue, ANTS! ANTS AS BIG AS YOUR HOUSE!, and a ridiculous challenge (us 2017 veterans who came away with the full 1000 share a sort of Vietnam 'You weren't there, man!' feeling).
So, both great games that rightfully command a cult status, but perhaps an obvious path for a sequel: give EDF 2 a next-gen lick of paint, as EDF 2017 did for EDF 1. Time for Vicious Cycle to have a crack with Earth Defence Force: Insect Armageddon...
Early signs were perhaps telling. Split-screen co-op was a late addition, included only thanks to a groundswell of internet chatter, but its initial exclusion is perhaps indicative that Vicious Cycle didn't spend a lot of time with the originals. Then you play it and... there's ants here and, well, it... it is a game that is on the 360 that has EDF in the title, but that's where the similarity ends. Gone are the B-Movie designs that made previous titles so iconic of the 50s monster movie era, replaced with generic robots, gunships and space marines. It's probably true that Vicious Cycle spent more time on the graphics than the previous games, but they fail to bring any real personality to it, and this lack of inventiveness - lack of heart - manifests itself throughout its meagre 4 hour length.
Yes, rather than 53 levels as per 2017 (GDF had 71!), EDF:IA has 15 levels. Admittedly they're longer than previous missions (arguably a bad idea, given the arcade nature of the gameplay), but it's still objectively a much shorter game. What's more, these all take place in essentially the same city environment of 'New Detriot', rather than the variety of caves, beaches, cities and forests of before.
Basic gameplay remains similar, with welcome improvements made to the controls (especially for the vehicles), and there's a fine co-op implementation (something sorely lacking in 2017). The sound is good, although the am-dram lunacy of the old dialogue is replaced with self-aware 'JOKES' which are still funny, but perhaps not it in the way they were intended.
There's a levelling system which seems like a slightly arbitrary way of hiding the random weapon-drops of the original, and remains unsatisfying. There's also different character classes, which limits the choice of weapons you had before, rather than add anything (the Jet-pack character was already in EDF2, remember!). You will, of course, have to level these all up in your quest for sweet, sweet Achievement nectar.
The most bizarre decision is to reduce the number of enemies on screen. Rather than massive hordes of creatures skittering towards you from the horizon, Vicious Cycle have instead opted to overwhelm the player by constantly spawning ants in from all directions. 2017 had you shepherding ants at range: picking off stragglers with your rifle before launching rockets into the group, or corralling enemies into turret traps. Here it's just a matter of running around, avoiding death, trying to clear a path. I don't know which focus group told them, "You know what EDF needs? Less ants, and a levelling system!"
Originally I thought much of the success of previous EDF games was dumb-luck on Sandlot's part: they threw lots of enemies in a large space; gave you 100s of weapons (many of which were objectively useless); let you crank up the difficulty to sadistic levels; but IA shows how nuanced an experience the originals were, despite also being made for no money. If Vicious Cycle had simply created a port of GDF on the 360 it would have been better than EDF 2017, and consequently much better than what they came up with instead. Even left to their own devices, it's not as if they were trying to re-imagine Mario 64; EDF is a simple premise that has few key tenets: lots of ants, open, quick levels; somehow all messed-up. What was a series with initial cheap-thrills and an underlying depth, is now just the former. Any cult status will die with the originals, and we won't see a sequel. It's a dead franchise now.
Oh, and there's no Godzilla battle. Imagine! 2017 repeated that Godzilla encounter about 4 times because it was so good, but you will have to return to that game if you ever want to shoot a massive Dinosaur in the cock. 4 times.
(I do like the way the Hectors roar, though)