Alone in the center of a desolate city. Skyscrapers loom from all sides, glowering downward. I feel small. There are plain, empty cars scattered on the street around us. Two men in futuristic armor stand near me, silent and waiting. No one else in sight. What happened here?
A small group of people tumble out of an alleyway a few blocks from us, their faces twisted in an unnatural expression that I guess is supposed to represent fear. They scramble along the road as dozens of grotesque, elephantine wolf spiders scuttle and pounce over the horizon behind them. Figures.
I'm having another nightmare about spiders.
Years ago, I'd have these every couple of weeks. A dream interrupted by an onslaught of feral spiders, all gnashing and spitting. I'd wake up, alone, sweating and shaking in the dark. And though I was awake, the dream would continue. Spiders would crawl from every shadow, forcing me to turn on the lights and leave the room. Eventually, I stopped sleeping there altogether, opting for the couch downstairs instead.
The two faceless men in armor rush forward, but I can't move. I thought I'd gotten over this fear. I did. But staring into the cold, unfeeling eyes of a wolf spider three times my size as it rears up and lunges towards me makes my stomach turn. I want to run away; I want to wake up.
But I can't, and instead, I realize that I'm holding a rocket launcher. I have my own futuristic suit. I can fly. As the spiders get closer, I hover above the street, out of their reach, and rain rockets down upon them. They flip and spin in the air, legs frozen, before disintegrating into nothingness. One catches on and climbs the skyscraper next to me. I notice just before it can spring off and knock me out of the air. I panic, firing blindly, wildly. The building crumbles, and the spider falls. I feel like a god. This is no nightmare. This is catharsis.
A voice crackles into my ear — something about "saving the world" or whatever. This isn't about "saving the world." It's about saving myself. So I drown it out with a-ha's "Take On Me." It colors everything differently; there's no terror here anymore, just a brilliant, rotoscoped power fantasy. I'm smiling, even laughing, as I confront an adolescent fear. I'm flying, soaring, ripping apart buildings with reckless abandon and a childlike sense of wonder, tearing down any semblance of structure or civilization around me.
No one is telling me to be more careful, or stop. Or maybe they are, and I'm just not listening. I don't care.
I slaughter wave after wave of these spiders until there's nothing left but my two interchangeable allies. We press forward, into a cheap facsimile of a neighborhood. No one has ever lived here; it's nothing more than a cardboard arena meant to be destroyed. Huge, mechanical ants swarm us. UFOs zoom overhead, lasers firing wantonly. An enormous spider spewing acid from its swollen, bright orange abdomen crashes through a house. A 50-foot robot stomps ferociously through the street, striding through buildings with ease. My dream has become a 1950s-era sci-fi flick.
I switch to "Blood Sugar" by Pendulum.
Everything shifts again, just as radically as before. It's not silly or light-hearted anymore. It's manic, a frenzied double shot of adrenaline to the heart. The pounding beat acts as an electrifying war drum, commanding me to fly faster and farther, and shoot with an urgency I hadn't felt before. It's intoxicating.
And yet, now I find myself getting bored with how repetitive everything is — the same objective over and over, the same environments over and over, the same enemies over and over. I find myself getting frustrated by how my weapons reload; for whatever reason, they share energy with my jetpack, so I'm often left both unable to fly or reload for long periods of time. I find myself wishing I could tell how much life the bigger enemies have left as they can take forever to kill.
Everything keeps ramping up. At first, the piling on of bigger enemies is just annoying, but soon we reach a point where there's so much going on that I can barely keep up. Now it's absurd and awesome and dumb in the best possible sense. And then it all ends in the most anticlimactic way imaginable.
It was like being woken up by the world's most inopportune alarm clock and getting cheated out of a real ending. Earth Defense Force: Insect Armageddon is too short, too repetitive, and too tame, but it was therapeutic enough that I'm glad I played it at least once.
Earth Defense Force: Insect Armageddon / $39.99 / PS3 [reviewed], 360Tweet