It shouldn't really be noteworthy that Earth Defense Force is a game about killing giant ants. That's because, back in the early years, all games were about killing giant ants - at least it seemed like they were. These days, games are about cinematic set-pieces and fluid dynamics. These days, games are about feelings. Who wants that, when these ants, right, have come down from outer space, and they aren't particularly friendly? You get to shoot them with assault rifles, shot guns and rocket launchers. It's brilliant.
EDF's previous instalments were made by the Japanese developer Sandlot, but Insect Armageddon moves the production - and the location of the ant-killing - to the US. I was a little worried, frankly, about how well the ants would travel. Would an American developer like Vicious Cycle pile on the cheese a little too knowingly and damage the B movie earnestness of the original games? Even worse, would it take the whole thing deadly seriously, throwing in cover, racial stereotype team-mates who say things like, "Aw hell yeah!" and "Aw hell no!" and heavy overtones suggesting that killing ants was some kind of analogy for the war on terror?
Luckily, none of this has happened (apart from the team-mates bit). It's ant-killing as usual, and all the new developers have really done to mix things up is opt for fewer, longer missions, and a little bit more in the way of internal structure.
It's intensely, almost shamefully, satisfying to play [...] .
And it really is only a little bit more. Insect Armageddon is now a game about following a waypoint around. Don't worry, though, because, when you're following the waypoint, you'll probably encounter some ants that need murdering. When you get to the waypoint, you'll probably encounter some more ants that need murdering, although there may also be mechs or tanks or turrets to murder them in, and anthills you have to blow up with mines.
Actually, I'm being a little reductive. Sometimes, there are spiders, too, and wasps, and mechanical spiders. Then there are really, really big mechanical spiders, and drop ships, and giant robots marching around and causing havoc, not to mention even bigger giant robots. (Once you reach a certain size in the Earth Defense Force universe, you tend to grow glowing weak points, incidentally, and that adds an element of precision to the general ant-killing slaughter.)
The pacing is brilliantly unforgiving, mid-mission check pointing is totally absent, and the ammo, thankfully, is unlimited. This is a game for getting into the zone, in other words. I like to play using a homing rocket launcher, in fact, which means I don't even have to really aim anymore: I just surf around the battlefield, ducking giant critters and slowly blowing random pieces of the surroundings into slimy chunks.
What's weird about such a simple formula is that it's intensely, almost shamefully, satisfying to play, whether you're sat there on your own, or teamed up with friends. (Insect Armageddon supports two player split screen, three player online co-op and up to six in Survival mode.) It's hard to pin down exactly why this should be.