We said it last time but you don’t just review an EDF game lightly. Sure there will always be some rushed ones that you can but these games reveal their true natures over time. You need to live with these for a while and thankfully Earth Defense Force: Iron Rain‘s embargo has given us a chance to see what a new developer can do with the series. But of course this comes with some significant risk because we still remember what Vicious Cycle did when they made Insect Armageddon which was a very, very terrible game. At least this time they’ve not handed the reins over to an American studio and instead we have Yuke’s Co at the helm, who are a Japanese developer with a prolific softography of mainly wrestling games. Okay, it’s fair to say we weren’t expecting much going in but as long as Vicious Cycle aren’t near it there is always hope.
It is best to consider this game in terms of its short, medium and long-term attributes but before we do, what can newbies expect? Well, the Earth Defense Force games are best described as the equivalent of the best monster b-movie you can imagine. Starting out with Global Defense Force on the PS2, the series hit its stride with Earth Defense Force 2017 on the Xbox 360 which introduced many Western gamers to the EDF’s insane mix of giant insect hordes, enormous mechanical foes and a dizzying array of weapons. You’d invariably be dropped into an enviroment with dozens of enormous ants, wasps, robots or whatever else and would have to run and gun your way through them and each level seemed to up the ante even more until your Xbox 360 acted like you’d just kicked it in the balls.
Since then the mainline titles in the series (Earth Defense Force 2025/4.1 and EDF5) increased the chaos each time giving the player the ultimate freedom to destroy everything in their path in order to eradicate those hordes but the games also had a deeply satisfying tactical element to them when you got into the higher difficulties requiring players to develop strategies to survive and succeed. Many players and media outlets dismiss the games as brainless shooters but those people are wrong.
Now we have Iron Rain which has arrived on these shores mere months after EDF5 promising to offer a more serious game, removed from the Japanese camp of the previous games, and updated visuals. There is also more of an emphasis on storytelling with your squad finally having names, and personalities, and your character having something of a backstory being the surviving hero of a previous battle with the “Aggressors” who are the alien invaders (usually known as Ravagers in previous games). You can also customise your character’s look more than ever too.
In order to take them on you have two weapons and your PA Gear which is an exosuit that bestows your player with mobility improvements and varying capacities for carrying support items. Unlike the main EDF games, these don’t really act as separate classes. In those games you had four classes that all had very different abilities and access to class-specific weapons. Here you get to use whatever you like and there aren’t weapon unlocks or major trophies for sticking with certain classes.
Initially you can only access the Trooper and Jet Lifter PA Gear but before long you’ll get access to the other two, Heavy Striker and Prowl Rider. With no requirement to stick with them for the whole game, you can switch up as much as you like. Do you want the flight abilities of the Jet Lifter or the extra defense and firepower of the Heavy Striker? Or perhaps the Spider-Man style grappling of the Prowl Rider is more useful (that was certainly our favourite). We like the variation but the fact that they all use the same weapons is really odd and means that ultimately their differences aren’t a big deal.
In real EDF, it was rewarding to learn and master a class. A good Fencer in EDF2025/EDF5 for example is incredibly useful in online play and a selfless Air Raider expert is often the key to success at the highest level but that won’t apply here at all and that is a shame.
This isn’t the only major change to the usual format. You no longer pick up weapons or armour upgrades off of the battlefield. Instead you pick up gems that are dropped by defeated enemies which act as currency. As you beat levels, weapons are unlocked for ‘purchase’ and then you spend your gems on them, armour upgrades and support items (healing devices, turrets, decoys and such like). This isn’t good. Firstly, armour is capped which is a bit of a sin for an EDF game, it’s also extremely expensive after a while with upgrades eventually costing millions while levels don’t offer up huge rewards especially when you lose money for using those support items.
The worst thing is how weapons are handled. A typical EDF veteran will play a few levels, upgrade their arsenal and then go back to an earlier level and attack it on a harder difficulty hoping to earn better weapons with which to continue their previous progress. However, if you go back and play an early level on Hardest (the penultimate difficulty level) and unlock a gun it’ll cost an absolute fortune to purchase. And looking at the stats, you won’t be seeing a massive firepower boost. Also, EDF is famous for its wacky and wild weaponry, normally you get a new weapon and take it out on a mission and then never use it again because it is completely stupid. Well that has a lot more risk now if you’ve have to spend the money earned in the last ten levels just to find out that the spread on that particular shotgun makes it basically unusable.
That said, when you do find a good weapon the game suddenly improves radically. And there are so many good and interesting ones that you’ll be finding great new ones for weeks. I particularly liked the satellite guns that drop death from above or the laser cannon that takes ten or so seconds to fire but when it does it leaves a glowing red ball of destruction that’ll kill anything unlucky enough to be in it. Including you. Also, assault rifles that have a 1% or 5% chance of doing massive amounts of extra damage are also fun to experiment with.
Throughout my first playthrough of all 52 levels, none of my weapon selections felt like massive upgrades but instead I was just trying them out for review purposes and to unlock the various ‘kill 100 enemies with a grenade launcher’ type of achievements. There was no feeling of progression because so many of the weapons were either bad on paper, and therefore not worthwhile, or too expensive. There were some gems but I just didn’t get that satisfying loot loop that I expect from an EDF title.
Out on the battlefield the game has pros and cons. You do seem to have more maneuverability than you do in regular EDF and the graphics are really well defined with excellent lighting and high resolution monsters. However, much like Insect Armageddon that visual upgrade comes at a cost and has some compromises. You see, the wonder of EDF is seeing absolutely epic moments of destruction and enormous monsters that your console shouldn’t be attempting to process. The thing here is that a lot of those epic moments happen as ugly video cutscenes and not in engine. There’s a detachment that you feel when they happen. On top of that the really big beasts in the game just don’t seem to react all that much to your player.
In 2017, 2025 and EDF5 the motherships for example were full of little gun turrets that you could destroy but here the main “hivecraft” only really seems to have one weakpoint. Likewise, the giant monsters don’t seem to react to damage for ages to the point where I wasn’t actually sure what to attack for most of my encounters with them and just had to keep the faith that I was damaging them.
The smaller enemies behave more as you’d expect with the usual ants and spiders acting much as normal but they seem to come in smaller numbers as if to preserve the frame rate (an old Insect Armageddon trick) which means you never get that feeling of surviving a massive overwhelming force. There’s still plenty of them but it just feels like Diet EDF at times. They don’t tend to have nests either and instead tend to just pop up out of the ground which really affects the strategic side of things by essentially removing your ability to plan. I mean it’s not random, but there’s no real sense to it.
It gives you that Insect Armageddon feeling all over again where visual fidelity is prioritised and so the levels feel a little empty and generally smaller. If you’ve ever kited an enormous swarm of giant wasps across a large city level in EDF2025/EDF5, you’ll definitely feel confined here.
As an EDF fan I’m disappointed. This isn’t what I wanted at all but taken as a basic run and gun shooter with giant monsters the game does deliver on the basics and so people looking for the sort of mindless blaster that this series is wrongly accused of delivering will enjoy the game. On the hardest difficulty, which is unlocked after you beat the last of the game’s 52 levels, things do get a lot harder. I mean A LOT. And here you’ll need to play smarter for sure but you’ll also need to find the right weapons in an arsenal list which actively seems to be stopping you from experimenting.
The new enemy types introduced are interesting. A walking prison bug full of humans is kind of cool and the game’s end boss is certainly significant but there’s not a whole lot of wow factor to it. I think about seeing those giant frog enemies in EDF5 for example and being amazed at how they moved (and the hilariously dumb dialogue that the human NPCs came out with) but with this game I was never blown away. There aren’t enough new enemy types on offer and while there is some variation in the environments, everything repeats pretty regularly. That said, a couple of the later levels did have more of an impact. Again, it might be enough for new players but true veterans won’t be dragged away from their efforts to platinum EDF5.
Iron Rain of course offers online co-op and this supports up to six players which is very cool in principle. We’ll update when the game is launched properly and we can get some games but we did play a fair bit of two-player co-op and it worked well. The game also offers adversarial multiplayer too where teams have to kill enemies and harvest their gems. It starts off okay but the enemy difficulty ramps up so much that eventually we were being blown out of the sky as we were respawning and the whole thing became a massive farce.
So yes, it’s has some of the same DNA as EDF as you’d expect and it truly is a lot better than Insect Armageddon but the sad truth is that EDF5 is better in every conceivable way and a whole lot more fun. I enjoyed review that one immensely where as here I went from being disappointed to entertained again and again. Sometimes when you write a review you don’t know how you’re going to summarise it and even what your overall feelings are and that’s how I started this piece. Ultimately, EDF always comes with a lot of grind and that’s definitely a bad thing but is always balanced out by great spectacle, genuinely tactical gameplay and endless fun. Iron Rain doesn’t have that going for it but if you want to shoot giant things and, for some sick reason, aren’t playing EDF5 this isn’t terrible, it’s not broken and it is more enjoyable than the usual military shooters out there and the score below reflects that in the least butt-hurt fanboy way I can imagine. But it’s not the EDF we were looking for.
+ Some excellent weapons
+ Improved mobility from previous games
+ Six player online co-op
+ Decent visuals and solid frame rate
- Smaller hordes
- Large enemies feel detached from the action
- Weapon unlocking is horrible
- Armour caps. Ugh.