Earth Defense Force: Iron Rain (PS4) Review
Release Date: April 11, 2019
Developer/Publisher: Yuke’s/D3 Publisher
Price: $59.99 standard, $89.99 Ultimate Edition
Earth Defense Force has always been a wild ride that held close to it's B-Movie roots. I recently was able to review Earth Defense Force 5 and really enjoyed myself. As comical as these next few sentences sound, it felt like a Japanese Kaiju movie trying to relate to American cinema as told through the eyes of a traditional action-based anime. Iron Rain is a tangential tale that takes that confusion and places it through yet another filter to try to appeal to American audiences. It's like if Street Fighter: The Movie got an anime adaptation and then Hollywood decided to remake THAT. The game may try to mask itself under a high-res veneer, but it's still the same bug-squashing good time under the hood.
The game starts with a troop of heroes out to vanquish the evil alien menace. After a terrible attack, one of these elites passes his powerful skills on to a basic grunt. You control this grunt and happen to take down the mothership, but can't stop the invasion. You are hospitalized unconscious for seven years, and when you wake up you are heralded as the savior of mankind and instantly put back in the fight. Everyone's hailing your triumphs after two or three battles and envisioning your skills leading humanity to victory, despite pretty much waking up a week ago or so.
So despite the hardcore upgrade in graphics realism, we are still dealing with the same corny B-Movie level plot and voice acting that the series is well known for. Most of the plot can be quite literally missed as it comes over commlinks while you are blasting at giant ants or cockroaches. The creatures run the entire gamut, from the aforementioned bugs to giant robots, Godzilla-like behemoths, and UFOs. You start a level choosing your class and weapon loadout, and head out with your squad to blast everything that moves.
The realism of the environment has been upgraded on EDF:IR compared to the rest of the series. EDF5 feels like an anime, with a focus on crazy art styles and things blowing up. It can look rather cartoonish. Meanwhile, Iron Rain goes for a "lighthearted grit" where you can almost recognize real-world areas that the battlefields are based upon whilst blasting giant bugs through thick dust and fog that is kicked up in the skirmish. It still feels the same as it's predecessors, but with that modern kick. I can tell it's an attempt to reign in more modern players with the graphics and 8 player online battles (locally two can play split screen, a welcome addition for couch co-op gamers like myself).
A B-Movie game can come with some nagging B-Movie qualities though. I had a rough first impression of the game. In Level 1, you are tasked with shooting down a spaceship while hordes of enemies try to take you down. I couldn't tell if I was actually hitting the ship or my rockets were blowing up early, which led to my death. Level 2, I got too far away from my team and a hive of enemies popped right up. I couldn't figure out how to escape. Level 3, you are to seek out some deactivated enemies who don't show up on radar until they gear back up. I got off the main path and it took ten minutes to find my way back. Level 4 had me fighting a long time until I was swarmed and overpowered. After that happened three times I had a hard time wanting to go back. I feel like despite all the customizations, there's a "way" to play the game right. As you press forward you unlock weapons, items, and power ups, but they still cost in-game currency. There's a bit of a grind to go forward, but those who are looking for this classic arcade vibe will feel right at home.
Even though I had level after level of frustrations, pushing past them I came to enjoy my time with Iron Rain. I feel that EDF5 had a better streamlined quality to it: battles had a defined direction and came to you, and it never felt like every single enemy was out to take you on directly. Iron Rain seems a bit more abstract, but that doesn't make it bad. Creating a special character and crafting a loadout for each mission makes the victory feel all the more sweet when you realize that your perfect combination helped you seal the victory.
Iron Rain is a great game and feels a lot closer to the traditional series than I would expect for one more "grounded" in "realism." I feel a tighter game in EDF5 but that doesn't kill the joy in Iron Rain. Followers of the series will find more of the same to enjoy here: a wondrously arcadey blow-em-up where you just try to survive while killing anything that moves, and newcomers will find a great entry point to a crazy twitch shooter series that has flown under a lot of mainline gamers' radars.
-New graphical style breathes fresh life into the series
-The combat and corniness you expect from Earth Defense Force remains intact despite the realistic tones
-Customizing your character and loadout helps you feel like you are making a difference in the outcomes
-Looser guidance than other EDF games
-Arcade gameplay can get "samey" after a while
-Myriad of guns and boosters to unlock kind of meld together to where it's hard to see any benefit to a particular weapon
Special thanks to Yuke's and D3 Publisher for providing a code for review!