Earth Defense Force: Iron Rain is a new spin off the long running Japanese shooter series Earth Defense Force. Like previous spin offs, Sandlot has passed off the development responsibility to a different studio. Yuke’s is handling development this time around after being axed from WWE2K’s development team. Earth Defense Force: Iron Rain introduces new classes, 52 missions, and character creation options.
Almost 20 years has passed since the aliens have invaded our planet. The Earth Defense Force is still locked in battle against Aggressors, but the unity between humanity has crumbled. The EDF is in a tense three-way battle between the Aggressors and the rebel faction that attempted a coup several years back.
The story is markedly different compared to the previous titles which paid tribute to kaiju films and old B-movies. Earth Defense Force: Iron Rain feels more like a war movie with its grizzled cast of soldiers that tick off all the archetypical roles. The writers try to retain some of the silliness from previous titles with some of the banter between squad mates, but the humour feels dull and corny without the B-movie homage.
I am not a fan of the chosen hero archetype the writers opted for in Iron Rain. Some of the charm from the previous title was being some nameless soldier caught up in an insane war. The constant fawning over the player’s ability during gameplay quickly becomes tiresome.
Earth Defense Force: Iron Rain tightens up some of the franchise’s mechanics significantly. The game is still all about players shooting massive aliens with a large variety of weapons while grinding away at an absurd amount of levels. Yuke’s has addressed many of my complaints about Earth Defense Force 5. The gear grind is still very much there, but item drops have been completely revamped for a more pleasant experience. Instead of equipment being a random world drop, weapons and equipment are made available for purchase after specific requirements are completed. Players simply need to cough up some money and turn over the appropriate number of energy gems picked up from the missions to pay for the unlock. The gem system is a lot less frustrating when it comes to missing a few drops at the end of the level compared to the constant fear of missing out that plagued 5.
The new class system feels a lot cleaner. All classes can now sprint, making the slower classes more tolerable to use. The Air Raider class has been dropped in favour of the Prowl Rider, who mixes the engineer’s vehicle abilities with a Spiderman style grappling hook. The Prowl Rider is a lot more flexible compared to the Air Raider as the Prowl Rider’s mobility gives them more survivability in an all-out brawl, making them much less dependent on teammates for survival. The Heavy Striker is also a significant improvement over its Fencer predecessor. The Heavy Striker can pair up any weapon for double the mayhem and can use its E-Shield to stay in the fight longer. The Jet Lifter simplifies the Wing Diver class, uncoupling the weapons from the energy bar. The only class that hasn’t seen major changes is the Trooper, which is a testament to its simple but solid class design.
All classes now have an overdrive ability. This is a once per level boost that makes the player faster, stronger, and deadlier. If one boost isn’t enough, players can purchase items that will allow them to pay money to trigger extra boosts during a level. The levels are designed around the boost, so it’s inevitable that players will be swarmed at some point. Harder difficulties will often require players to know the level well enough to know when to use up the boost, as the level is extremely difficult to complete without it.
The weapon design is excellent. There is a large variety of weapons ranging from swords to sniper rifles. Each weapon class plays differently enough that every player should be able to find a two weapon combo to fall in love with. I like that high ranked weapons aren’t always a clear upgrade, so weapons acquired early on can still be used if players simply like how they handle.
The friendly AI is not the greatest. It is permanently leashed to the player and will slowly plod along. It isn’t too effective at killing aliens on its own and it has a habit of getting in the way at the most inopportune times. Frankly, I found they were most effective as a distraction or a meat shield, buying some time for faster classes by thinning the monster density.
The level design in Earth Defense Force: Iron Rain isrough. The pacing of the levels is not well balanced. Some are so long that dying part way is an absolute chore. Others are gone in a blink of an eye. The levels are usually the same boring open layout. The dreaded tunnel levels are fewer in number and tend to be straight forward compared to 5, so there’s no more issues with being lost. The bosses are lacklustre as the mechanics tend to be dull or non-existent. The franchise is famous for its huge list of levels. In this regard, Iron Rain falls short at only 52 levels. Considering D3 Publisher is pricing Iron Rain at the same price as 5, 52 levels fall short of expectations.
Earth Defense Force: Iron Rain looks solid for the most part. The art style doesn’t stray far from the series, looking like a high resolution take on Japanese shooters from the PlayStation 2 era. Character customization is a long overdue addition, though some will dislike the fact it takes out some of the fan service models out of the game. The animations for distant monsters seem to be running at a significantly lower framerate than nearby enemies, so it looks strange.
The sound experience is not good. The sound effects and music are decent. The voice acting is the same B-movie quality acting found in previous games. Since Earth Defense Force: Iron Rain aims to emulate western war films instead of the traditional B-movie horror film, the acting is just terrible instead of appropriately campy.
The Earth Defense Force franchise has a lot to learn from Iron Rain, both good and bad. The improved mobility, class system, and loot mechanics are worth keeping in future titles. They address some of the most annoying issues with 5, such as low mobility making item collection a pain. On the other hand, Yukes has made some clear missteps. The level design is dull, and the game is relatively short. Additionally, ditching the campy B-movie feel at the expense of the story and voice acting was a terrible decision. Earth Defense Force fans should pick up Iron Rain to get an idea at how future games should look, but the full price is a tough sell.
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