Earth Defence Force 2017 was a truly ridiculous game. Sandlot's anarchic B-Movie shooter had the audacity to ship with a nasty engine and a veritable infestation of bugs when it launched four years ago, but because it decided to prioritise big fun and massive value over great graphics, it went down an absolute storm thanks to its negligible price tag. Its colourful pitched battles against overwhelming alien hordes are rivalled only by the Serious Sam series in terms of size and scope, and realising the gap in the market, Vicious Cycle have taken the reins and given the series another outing.
The basic premise is much the same. Players take on the role of an elite Earth Defence Force trooper who's been tasked with defending the planet from the extraterrestrial Ravagers. These aliens are ripped from the cheesiest sci-fi movies imaginable and gleefully deploy giant ants, enormous spiders and hilarious plodding robots onto the battlefield. Players will have a choice of over 300 weapons (accessed through an intuitive unlock screen as opposed to being doled out randomly in EDF 2017), vehicles and gear to fight back against the otherworldly aggressors, and are actively encouraged to use their ridiculous firepower to level entire city blocks that stand between them and their objective. The maps are absolutely enormous and every building can be casually destroyed on a whim. Lovely.
New enemies include annoying ticks who can restrict your movement, along with gargantuan new bosses that tower over the cityscape. Arachnophobes be warned: there are enormous spiders from the outset. Troop carriers and motherships have also had a gritty new redesign, though still share the same obvious vulnerabilities. Shoot at the glowing red hatch, guys.
The biggest new additions to the gameplay formula are four selectable armoured suits. The Trooper suit resembles the versatile armour from the original game, and as such, is compatible with almost every weapon system and provides adequate protection vs mobility. The Jet suit, in contrast, trades damage reduction for the ability to leap enormous distances with its integrated thrusters. Commanding the skies is a fun new way to play. Tactical armour allows players to deploy turrets and equipment (more useful in multiplayer than singleplayer, I'm afraid), and rounding out the package is the devastating Heavy Battle Suit. This impentetrable powerhouse can only mount chainguns, rocket launchers and shields, but is essentially a walking tank that can withstand massive enemy bombardments. Don't expect to get anywhere fast, though.
Vehicles are now much easier to pilot (read: possible to pilot) and much more useful in combat. Tanks and mech suits are responsive to drive and can take as much punishment as they dish out, and I'm gratified that the helicopter now has a viable combat application rather than being a horrendously unintuitive deathtrap. It's not as if we need even more ways to blow stuff up, but it's always good to have options. Allied troopers are thankfully more capable than their ineffectual yet incredibly eager forebears ("EDF! EDF!") and are a real asset rather than cannon fodder.
I'm reliably informed that EDF: Insect Armageddon has been "greatly" graphically overhauled compared to its predecessor, but frankly, I had difficulty noticing it. This is sadly due to Vicious Cycle's decision to tone down the colourful B-Movie vibe in favour of "grittier" battlefields. Any graphical increase is hard to see when practically every surface is brown and grey, and I was a little disappointed that the engine's sole saving grace, the ability to render fantastically lustrous metallic objects, has been completely ignored. Bye bye shiny silver robots, hello matte grey cutouts. The instant disappearance of enemy corpses is also a little off-putting. To give Vicious Cycle their dues, though, it's worth noting that character models and animations are vastly superior, and that the release version will doubtlessly look a lot better than the preview build.
Of course, discarding the colourful tongue-in-cheek sillyness of Earth Defence Force 2017 also means that Insect Armageddon is in serious danger of losing the character and charm that the series once enjoyed. I left plenty of levels unturned, and it's definitely possible that later stages will be technicolour orgies of light and sound, but the experience seems to be much more stale and soulless this time around from my time with the preview build. We can forgive a multitude of gameplay sins when a game doesn't take itself too seriously, but Insect Armageddon's po-faced posturing could well be its undoing.
But hey, when you're able to level entire cities and annihilate thousands of ravening space ants, you probably won't care.