Earth Defense Force: Iron Rain is a good step forward for the series, and could help bring its status of cult favorite to wider mainstream popularity.
The Earth Defense Force franchise is sort of an enigma in this current age of gaming. An unsophisticated wave-based third-person shooter, EDF strips away all the livery of modern shooters and gives players a straightforward yet enjoyable experience. The latest in the series, Earth Defense Force: Iron Rain, is the ninth game in the franchise and is a spin-off from the mainline series much like EDF: Insect Armageddon.
Earth Defense Force: Iron Rain is developed by Japanese developer Yuke’s, which works on the WWE 2K series and previously developed the Pacific Rim video game. It’s the second game in the series that isn’t made by Sandlot, the first being the aforementioned Insect Armageddon, and as such doesn’t use any of the classic EDF assets, but still retains the series’ iconic horde of giant insects such as ants, spiders, and more.
"Iron Rain doesn’t use any of the classic EDF assets, but still retains the series’ iconic horde of giant insects such as ants, spiders, and more."
Iron Rain also sheds away the light and comical tone the series is known for and has replaced it with a more serious plot as well as an actual cast of named characters. This new installment is also the first in the series to introduce a completely customizable main character.
Iron Rain is set in an alternate North America and begins with the EDF (Earth Defense Force) finally fighting back against the alien invaders called the “Aggressors” and their giant flying Hivecraft. The battle culminates with most of the EDF’s forces being decimated by the Hivecraft and the player becoming the lone survivor and hero of the pivotal battle, successfully destroying the Hivecraft with the help of the EDF’s new Type-S PA Gear exosuit.
The game then jumps forward seven years as the player wakes up from his/her coma. Now wielding the last existing Type-S PA Gear, the player, who now goes by the codename Closer, joins Blast Team as they defend against the returning and rapidly growing threat of the Aggressors as well as the appearance of the Kindred Rebellion, a group of anti-EDF renegades that oppose many of the EDF’s policies.
While Iron Rain does present a more substantial plot than its predecessors, many of its elements are still pretty cliche, and most of the plot and character development is presented either through running dialogue within the missions or in between. Regardless, the relatively stronger plot and the addition of actual characters and character development made the experience significantly more engaging and immersive. Each of the characters felt fleshed out enough to be invested in them.
"While Iron Rain does present a more substantial plot than its predecessors, many of its elements are still pretty cliche, and most of the plot and character development is presented either through running dialogue within the missions or in between."
As previously mentioned, Iron Rain still keeps the same wave-based third-person shooter gameplay as its predecessors wherein players are placed in enclosed but large maps and fight off hordes of enemies. The game allows players to switch between the classic center-positioned third-person camera angle and the off-set over-the-shoulder camera angle
Players have access to four different PA Gear types that are unlocked at different points in the campaign including Trooper, Jet Lifter, Heavy Striker, and Prowl Rider. Each of the PA Gear types have their own set of special abilities that use the Energy Core meter. The player can also use the Overdrive ability to use special abilities without consuming energy while also being able to fire and reload weapons faster.
Character loadouts are limited to two weapons and each PA Gear can carry a limited amount of items. Like other EDF titles, Iron Rain features a large variety of weapons across several weapon types for players to unlock. But while many of the weapons are pretty balanced when it comes to their respective strengths and weaknesses, there are a few that feel like they were created just to pad the weapon count in the game.
Players also slowly gain access to a wide assortment of items they can equip and use during missions that range from recovery items and traps to turrets and vehicles. Apart from the weight limit of each PA Gear type, bringing items on missions also include a cost that will be deducted from the earnings after each mission. Unlocking weapons, items, and upgrading the player’s health all cost either money, gems, or both.
"While many of the weapons are pretty balanced when it comes to their respective strengths and weaknesses, there are a few that feel like they were created just to pad the weapon count in the game."
While Iron Rain retains the same ammo mechanic as its predecessors, wherein players have an unlimited pool of ammunition and can keep reloading their weapons indefinitely, there are certain weapons in the game that have an actual limited amount of ammo and cannot be reloaded or replenished within the mission. With the amount of enemies players have to deal with in missions, it’s good that this mechanic was kept intact.
As with previous EDF games, the Aggressors in Iron Rain come in two types: Giant Creatures and Ravagers. The former can range from giant insects to kaiju while the latter are different robotic weapons including mechs and giant spacecraft. The Kindred Rebellion also possess both mechs and giant creatures that are hostile to the player.
Unlike Earth Defense Force 5, which had over 100 missions, the campaign of Iron Rain has been trimmed down to a little over 50 missions. The decision to reduce the number of missions could have been made to help the game’s story progress better, given that this installment has a bigger emphasis on its plot. While some of the missions were definitely tedious and felt like filler, most of them were still engaging and progressed the plot rather well.
Sadly, while many of the gameplay elements were interesting and enjoyable, the game’s controls oftentimes just felt janky and sluggish. Going from sprinting to anything including shooting and even using some of the special abilities at times requires players to let go of the analog stick first, which is a caveat you no longer often see in modern shooters. Vehicle and mount movement was also unresponsive and the implementation felt archaic and tacked on.
"The decision to reduce the number of missions could have been made to help the game’s story progress better, given that this installment has a bigger emphasis on its plot. While some of the missions were definitely tedious and felt like filler, most of them were still engaging and progressed the plot rather well."
Thankfully, the visuals of Iron Rain have improved significantly over its predecessors, even over last year’s Earth Defense Force 5. While it doesn’t come to par with many modern AAA shooters, the series has never really put more importance on the fidelity of its visuals over making sure it ran smoothly in spite of the sheer number of elements presented during each mission. As such, any visual improvements are greatly appreciated and Iron Rain has done a great job balancing its graphical improvements and performance.
Overall, Earth Defense Force: Iron Rain is still a generally enjoyable experience and is taking strides that would be good for the series moving forward. In spite of its issues and its tendency to become tedious and repetitive, the game is riddled with a large number of fun moments. The inclusion of a more thought out plot along with the gameplay improvements its making give it a more engaging experience that could give the game more attention outside of its usual audience.
This game was reviewed on the PlayStation 4.
More engaging plot; Generally enjoyable gameplay; Great customization options.
Can get tedious and repetitive; Controls are janky and sluggish.
Earth Defense Force: Iron Rain is a marked improvement over its predecessors in spite being a spin-off by a different developer. Fans of the series will definitely appreciate the additions made to the game while still retaining what made the series so enjoyable. If further installments are able to improve on what Yuke's has done with the series while also fixing some of its issues to bring it up to speed of other modern shooters, it could expand the game's market well beyond its cult following.