Earth is in shambles. Giant mutated ants, scorpions, and spiders wander the countryside, terrorizing humanity's remnants. In the few remaining urban centers, gargantuan robots stalk between high-rises, smashing skyscrapers like temperamental children. Towering alien kaiju rain from the heavens, obliterating humanity's pitiful attempts at resistance. This is the world of Earth Defense Force: Iron Rain. The latest EDF game shifts focus from Japan to North America, adopting a more serious tone and story to match. With newcomer developer Yuke's at the helm, Iron Rain boasts a whole host of changes, but is it enough to warrant another round of bug-squashing action, so soon after previous games like Earth Defense Force 5?
Yes, absolutely. Primarily the developer of the WWE 2K series, Yuke's was brought on by D3 Publisher to make the latest in a long line of EDF video games. D3 sought a developer with Japanese roots but one who understood American tastes and sensibilities. Clearly free to innovate on the series at will, Yuke's took advantage of their opportunity. Everything from the menus to character loadouts was remade for Iron Rain, modernizing a series that got its start as a budget title. We've already covered the biggest changes, but Earth Defense Force: Iron Rain is a unique EDF experience, and the series is better for it.
Changing the EDF Formula in Iron Rain
From the very first mission, it's clear Iron Rain is different from the past Earth Defense Force games. No longer a nameless soldier in a war machine, you're Closer, the sole survivor of a desperate human offensive. Seven years ago, you were tasked to take down an alien mothership, only barely succeeding. You're named after a hopeful effort by humanity to now "close" the dark chapter in their history. You're embedded within Blast Team, a close-knit battle-hardened EDF squad. Your missions take you up and down the West Coast of the United States. You'll attempt to free cities and rescue civilians, all while keeping the EDF's financiers happy.
It's deliberately less campy than the bug-smashing exploits of earlier games, but Iron Rain does a great job of selling the desperation and overwhelming odds. Whereas Earth Defense Force 5 is "so bad it's good", Earth Defense Force: Iron Rain feels tonally similar to Starship Troopers. Wisecracking soldiers crumble under threat of annihilation. As the war drags on, attrition sets in, especially as the enemies grow in number and ferocity. Yuke's clearly learned from American action films. Characterization is light, and overuse of firepower takes center stage. While it would have been nice to get more development outside of some loading screen tips, your fellow squadmates do at least have distinct personalities.
Three of the four main EDF classes make a return with some minor changes. You no longer have to individually upgrade classes (here called "PA-Gears") as the different gears all share health. Your standard Trooper carries the most equipment into battle and comes with a short-range dash. The Wing Diver is now the Jet Lifter, a speedy soldier with the power of flight and airborne dash moves. The Fencer is now the Heavy Striker, a lumbering tank with an energy shield. The Prowl Rider takes over for the Air Raider, flying through cities using wires like Attack on Titan. Every class also comes with an "Overdrive" ability, which boosts stats as well as making you immune to status effects. The Prowl Rider's Overdrive, creatively, also summons a bug for you to control and attack with.
Shooting the Invader Aggressors in Earth Defense Force: Iron Rain
At its core, Iron Rain is about shooting lots of giant creatures. Now named the Aggressors, you'll travel to many locales across 52 missions to keep the aliens at bay. With only a mercifully handful of escort and protection missions, pure combat takes center stage. Missions lengths vary anywhere from five to 20 minutes. You're graded on four factors: time, damage received, pickup rate, and score. There's no penalty for getting a bad grade in a mission, other than an injury to your pride. Some of Iron Rain's longer missions could have sorely used some checkpoints, but against the nonstop action, there's almost no time to breathe.
What good is an EDF game without hundreds of weapons to choose from? You're no longer stuck scouring levels for weapon boxes, as new gear now comes as you complete missions. The hundreds of guns aren't usable immediately, as you must spend acquired currency and glowing crystals that enemies drop. Higher difficulties award rarer items at higher quantities, as well as more currency. There are your standard assault rifles and rocket launchers, as well as railguns with bouncing shells and satellite targeting systems that call down massive missiles. With Iron Rain removing weapon restrictions on classes, you are free to experiment with weapon combinations. I'd love an ability to save different loadouts, but it's not a dealbreaker.
There's also an incredible arsenal of support items and vehicles at your disposal. Fake blow-up soldiers, pulsating shock mines, flamethrower tanks, and powerful mechs are all available. You only have to spend energy gems to unlock these items initially. Using them during missions deducts credits from your final payout. Early on, you're discouraged from using such items. Very quickly, however, losing a few thousand credits on top of a huge payout becomes irrelevant. Unfortunately, vehicles still control terribly, but they're rarely required.
Diving Deep Into Iron Rain's Lore[gallery link="file" size="large" ids="286180,286178,286177"]
Iron Rain is chock-full of worldbuilding. As mentioned earlier, you are largely beholden to North American EDF's financial backers in-game. The backers are also your weapons suppliers. There are well over 400 weapons to unlock plus many more items and vehicles, each with their own blurb. There's an impressive amount of writing and worldbuilding here, even for something as ridiculous as a laser Gatling gun. It adds depth to the weaponry, which is no longer upgradeable via weapon drops. Again, it would have been nice to see this worldbuilding more directly, but what's there is fine as-is.
True to their name, Aggressors are legitimately aggressive. Even from the outset, the basic Storm Ants relentlessly charge over buildings, spewing acid and close-range bites in the hopes of chewing through your armor. Wolf Spiders endlessly send their babies to suicide into your armor, before spraying sticky webbing at your feet. Beetles, bipedal robots and more all rarely give you a breather. Yuke's also brought in some outside talent to design their towering kaiju, in the form of talented sculptor Ryu Oyama. His monsters bristle with malice and powerful attacks, and they demand your full attention to bring down. There's a very graduated sense of difficulty throughout Iron Rain's missions and monsters, eventually culminating in a memorable fight.
The story in Iron Rain comes to a close with a monstrous final boss. After a series of devastatingly difficult missions, you're treated to a slight reprieve, as you use battleship laser weapons and mounted guns to battle a truly gargantuan kaiju. Despite your best efforts, all the technology and weaponry, and an endless stream of money, the final mission has you fighting alone against an army of bugs, and a horrifying creature. All of the hours of frustration washed away in the final fight, which took a good half-hour to complete. The EDF series has always hinged on absurdity, but here, Iron Rain revels in the ludicrous nature of a single soldier fighting against what amounts to a space monster with magic powers. It's a fitting end to a surprising campaign, and one that professes the professes the power of human perseverance.
Earth Defense Force: Iron Rain's Style of Play
The major point of frustration comes from the sheer aggressiveness of your foes, and the hapless nature of your allies. The final third of the campaign has you fighting against mutated kaiju, faster and better-armored bugs, and hulking robots with elemental attacks. Unfortunately, most of their attacks guarantee a knockdown if they hit you. While some of the frustration surely stems from my own ineptitude, no one enjoys getting stunlocked from full health, helpless as you burn through your energy reserves. Mobility is paramount to success, but far too often, the bugs and robots completely ignore your AI companions, leaving you to endlessly retreat. Your AI allies rarely get kills either, adding to the frustration.
Thankfully, taking on the battle against the invaders in co-op alleviates most of these problems. You can play split-screen with a friend, or with up to five others online. The difficulty increases to match the number of players, but not to a ridiculous extent. Missions that previously gave me a headache were easily overcome with a group playing after release. Sadly, you can't sing the EDF song, but the new customization options mean that a group of six shirtless men can zip through cities killing giant bugs with shotguns. There's also a 4v4 PVP mode included, which sees two teams competing to collect resources by racing to kill bugs. It seems like a great idea, but it's executed poorly. Arenas are too small, and matches too long to really enjoy the all-out brawl that takes place.
Performance and Presentation in Earth Defense Force: Iron Rain
Of course, no review of an EDF game is complete without touching on the now series-defining performance issues. Yuke's opted to use the full power of the Unreal Engine during development, and it shows. Visuals are crisp, clean, and almost modern. Buildings explode in massive showers of debris and framerate drops. Slowdown occurs often, but it's mostly manageable. You'll rarely hit 60 fps on a standard PS4, but fewer frames mean more opportunities to kill bugs, right? Iron Rain is possibly the first EDF game to take advantage of current-generation hardware. There are showers of sparks off of railgun blasts, devastating explosions from missile hits, and crisp slices from energy swords. Iron Rain is frenetic in a way that few shooters are. Still, beyond all of the wanton violence, the sheer scale of the Aggressors makes them stand out.
Outside of a few choice pieces, the music is nothing home to write about. The menu is catchy, but many of the other pieces are utterly forgettable. Much of the sound work went into the weaponry and enemy attacks, and it shows. Enemy attacks have distinct noises, constantly cueing you in on impending pain. Your own weapons thrum and provide a nice backing to the cacophony of war. The sound mixing could use some work, as it's impossible to hear the ambient cries of your fellow soldiers in the heat of battle. Still, many of the humorous chirps come during the end of missions regardless.
Final Thoughts on Earth Defense Force: Iron RainPacked with staggering depth, Earth Defense Force: Iron Rain proves that new blood can invigorate a series. Yuke's adeptly innovated on almost every part of the EDF formula and came out ahead for their efforts. It may lack some of the charms of earlier EDF games, but it makes up for it by providing a more polished, complete experience. Many of the smaller issues, such as a lack of checkpoints or misplaced worldbuilding aren't dealbreakers but might prove to be too much to ignore. Though the messy AI for both enemies and friendlies makes some missions a real chore, the nonstop action, challenging difficulty, and defining replayability make Iron Rain hard to ignore.
TechRaptor reviewed Earth Defense Force: Iron Rain on PlayStation 4 with a code provided by the publisher.
Despite aggravating AI, Earth Defense Force: Iron Rain's wealth of content, challenging difficulty, and empowering action make it the best EDF game to date. This is a tried-and-true EDF game for newcomers and veterans alike.
- Surprising Depth and Writing
- Gratifying Gameplay
- Satisfying Climax and Conclusion
- Frustrating AI
- Framerate Issues