With a new developer, new game engine and new elements to its gameplay, Earth Defense Force: Iron Rain ($59.99, $89.99 for the Ultimate Edition) ends up being kind of a reboot on one hand, but totally new and harder that the other games in the franchise on the other. This is a good thing, although a few elements could use some fixing up. Veteran Japanese developer Yuke’s decided to go with making the game tougher overall even on the easiest mode to the point it’s rough going to solo some missions unless you have very particular weapons or play with other live players in split-screen or online. While yes, you can tackle missions alone if you like, the mix of enemy types combined with less open maps and AI allies who seem to expire too quickly in some of the busier maps make for less mindless fun but more challenge at the end of the day.
It’s also a big game, with new character customization galore and the ability to play any character as any class, swapping out the new PA Gear at will between missions. Though not quite as mission varied or long as the Sandlot-developed games, it’s still a lot of game for the money and if you’re into that, it’s going to be money well spent. Granted, the mighty EDF 5 did suffer from a few repetitive missions and maps and the next to last boss fight dragged a bit because you needed to figure out how to beat that transforming spaceship boss as quickly as possible (and it took a while to do so the first time). A few tweaks here would help make a good game better, though. The appeal to western audiences ends up adding some elements to the game that it really didn’t need, and I’m saying this as someone who liked Earth Defense Force Insect Armageddon because it shook things up back when it was released.
Dropping the reloading mini-game entirely has to happen via a patch as does a return to “fire and forget” play for more of the weapons. Stopping for a few seconds for a faster reload chance or aiming some weapons becomes pesky as hell when you have giant insects and even bigger robots and kaiju chasing you en masse. That, and some of the more powerful weapons take quite some time to reload, making things worse until you get some decent gear with high damage and fast reload times. To be fair, other EDF games also have this issue. Here it’s more pronounced thanks to some of the new enemy types (I’m looking at YOU, wolf spiders and those annoying baby spiders that are too tiny and fast-moving).
Add to them the new spaceships that dart around and vanish unexpectedly that will whittle away your health while larger and smaller foes peck at what remains, the poison and exploding bugs and a few others and it’s a whole new learning curve to get used to. Weapons need a bit more kick to then, and explosions could use a bit of lingering around because they “poof” out quickly, much like a budget magician doing a weak magic trick. Using the new Overdrive feature is sometimes more trouble that it’s worth, as it leaves you a bit exposed after you’ve drained your power, which is not a good thing if there are ticked off enemies left to come after you. The level of destruction, though? It’s just about as good as in other EDF games in most areas.
It’s still the king of “turn your brain off” games to some extent, with a mostly silly plot, campy voice acting and overly dramatic music galore. But there’s a darker undertone that, much like the Sandlot-developed entries in the series, creeps in and makes the camp more of a distraction when things get serious. Well, as serious as this sort of game gets. There’s nothing like the sheer wildness of a game where blasting bugs and ‘bots manages to suck up time like a vacuum and hours pass by. When all is said and done, it all hooks you in even more than some AAA games. That said, the currency system and difficulty of some character classes to gain more of those dropped crystals is a bit of a letdown. Unless you can collect those colored crystals before the clock times out, you lose out on then when levels conclude. Turn off the countdown, please Yukes! Or hell, make it maybe two minutes or at least end the mission automatically when the last crystal is collected.
There are some killer enemy designs here and the way some of the larger kaiju appear and stomp around or stay in place with menace because they can’t be beaten (yet) is awesome stuff. In terms of classes, you can play as three (from the later EDF games) and are joined by the thrilling to play ant-riding, zippy Prowl Rider class that uses some new weapons and skills, making it super fun to play as and faster in some respects than the Jet Lifter, who’s my go-to character for her flight and mobility. While enemy counts are smaller than other EDF games, most stages feel more confined thanks to borders that annoyingly give you an out of bounds alert and equal a mission failure if you cross them for more than 15 seconds. Hey, sometimes a pack of enemies will chase you to an area’s edge and you’re in need of some breathing room while reloading.
In general, the missions range from really short to “Grrrr, I wish to hell there was a save mid-mission!”, but most don’t wear out their welcome unless you need the proper weapons as a must to keep from replaying some maps. Yes, you can choose to equip helpful limited use gear like healing and a few turret types before missions, but that has the result of taking money away from you as it costs a bit of coin to deploy the better gear, something that the plot pokes at from time to time. There’s an overall story here that has the EDF a less than perfect place to work and simply recruiting as many people as possible with promises of easy rewards to gain. But it soon becomes apparent that more troops means a whole raft of issues (and less survivors than it seems). EDF 5 had a similar thread in its sunny recruiting dialog amid the encroaching gloom from time to time as things went to hell around the world. In both games, it’s a running not so subtle gag that bleeds into some seriousness as things go from bad to worse.
The Unreal 4-powered visuals add a nice coat of “realism” here with a film-like visual look that’s a nice change from the later Sandlot-developed titles (past EDF 2) and the game uses hills and other sloped terrain a bit more effectively in some areas. Desert maps or areas with sand as a major environmental focus can be a bit bland, though. The enemies in then will definitely have you a lot more focused on dispatching then when they appear, naturally. There’s multiplayer onboard, and this time there’s a rival faction to deal with both in the main story and multiplayer/online play. I didn’t play more than a few matches because I’m more of a solo guy, but the different ways ti plane and wealth of custom characters was pretty impressive overall.
So, yeah, it’s a very good game here, but as noted above can be even better with a few more changes. There’s a lot of game here, even more so if you have a season pass via the Ultimate Edition and want to overdose on content and costumes, plus some extra DLC if you don’t mind shelling out for it. Granted, a game like this is so gigantic if you play every class and unlock everything that it’s pretty much all you may do for a while, so there’s that to think about if you’re hooked in. Yeah, I can’t wait for the next one, current complaints aside. While I don’t want it to go the yearly franchise route, a new EDF game would be nice to see, no matter who makes it (and if it’s good, of course).
Score: B+ (85%)
-Digital code provided by the publisher, Ultimate Edition upgrade was paid for by the author.