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December 2021

Earth Defense Force: Iron Rain

Platform(s): PlayStation 4
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: D3 Publisher
Developer: YUKE'S
Release Date: April 11, 2019


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PS4 Review - 'Earth Defense Force: Iron Rain'

by Cody Medellin on Aug. 14, 2019 @ 12:00 a.m. PDT

Earth Defense Force: Iron Rain moves away from its traditional series and into new territory.

Buy Earth Defense Force: Iron Rain

The Earth Defense Force series is excellent if you can accept its quirks. The dialogue is cheesy, the graphics are serviceable, and the performance is wildly variable, but the gameplay is what really sells the title. The combat is akin to Dynasty Warriors, except with you wielding guns as you fight against a gaggle of giant insects and robots. The weapon selection is quite varied if you're diligent about scouring the environment before a level ends, and it never feels like a slog even though you're punching your way through the levels. These elements have earned the series a cult following in North America but a much larger audience in Japan. In its second attempt to lure more of a Western audience, D3 has employed Yuke's instead of Sandlot to come up with a spin-off title with broader appeal. Unfortunately, Earth Defense Force: Iron Rain does more to hurt the series rather than help it.

The attempts to change things up begin with the story. The game opens with a big battle between the Earth Defense Force and the alien forces known as the Ravagers. After a fierce fight, the Ravagers' mothership is defeated, but a majority of the EDF is wiped out in the process, except for one soldier who falls into a coma and is later placed in cryogenic sleep. Seven years later, that soldier has been reawakened to lead a replenished EDF in a new fight against the returning Ravager forces.

The beginning may seem normal for the series, but the loading screens and some of the dialogue start to paint this as a more serious and darker tale compared to past titles. There's a tidbit about how all of the past governments have fallen, and now the Earth is under the rule of one ubiquitous body. Energy has become a precious resource and is now being harvested from fallen ravagers. The energy is being rationed to people, but there appears to be a rebel group that's attempting to steal the energy for themselves. Despite most of the places looking pristine, the world feels rather bleak.

The attempt to make the situation more serious is constantly thwarted by comedic dialogue. The bubbly deejay who appears during some of the loading transitions may feel like the game is trying to channel the propaganda pieces from the "Starship Troopers" movie, but it does so without any levity or satire. There are lines uttered about losing money at the ant races or how video games have become a relic, but they're throwaway lines. For longtime fans, the random EDF chants have been drastically reduced, and their brief appearances are sad rather than inspiring.

Despite the dour storyline, the core gameplay mechanics remain the same in Iron Rain. Every level has you landing in a battlefield prepared to face off against giant insects, giant robots, or a combination of both. You have two weapons at your side at all times, and you have infinite ammo, so you don't need to be too careful. Killing enemies provides you with collectibles, and clearing out all of the enemies in the level is the only way to beat it. From here, you're back to your flying base, where you can configure your loadout and progress to the next mission.

Playing solo is fine, but the real appeal is co-op play. Locally, that means playing two-player co-op with a vertical split-screen, while online play is a six-player affair. The community for the game is very small, and it only seems like Japanese players are creating sessions, but online play was quite good in the few matches we got into. There's also a PvEvP mode, where two teams of three players each kill Ravagers and try to take their collectibles back to base. It sounds like a decent mode, but unless you're going to coordinate that elsewhere, don't expect to go into a random match online because no one seems to be playing that mode.

You may have expected the gameplay formula to be different due to the different developer, but you likely weren't prepared for just how many changes have been made. For starters, the game now has throwables, which don't replace the two guns in your arsenal, so you just have more firepower. You can heal yourself and others with some of the throwables you encounter, and while the enemies can still drop health pick-ups, this works when you need something quickly and don't have time to scour the environment. Resurrection of teammates can also be done with throwables, which is important since you or your partners have limited resurrection times from a collective pool, forcing you to be less reckless on the field.

Tied into that fact is the enemy count. You have a ton of new enemies this time around, from spiders that instantly produce small spiders to crickets that shoot fire to scorpions that spew poison. The actual enemy count is lower in Iron Rain, and while it isn't a drastic reduction, you'll notice that the enemy floods aren't as thick. To compensate for that, the enemies are tougher to kill, so it takes more machine gun bullets to down a common ant. It's a welcome change for those who felt the earlier games were too easy at normal difficulty. However, it can be annoying when medium-sized robots take way too many bullets to down; it creates a sharp difficulty spike in the early stages when the game throws lots of robots at you.

Soldier classes are also back, with a regular soldier; the flying wing diver; and the dual-wielding, shield-bearing heavy striker. New to the game is the prowl rider, which can make you feel like Spider-Man since you can use a grappling hook to quickly traverse the environment. The character class can also ride on and take control of a few Ravager types later in the game, adding a new dynamic that freshens up the gameplay for veterans, even if it's reminiscent of driving the mech in Earth Defense Force 4.1

Another thing that Iron Rain does differently is that every class can use every weapon, so you have more freedom than before. Also, the game gives you plenty to work with in regards to character customization, as you can change things such as hair style, mask, and outfit — even the emblem on your exosuit. It's not a near-infinite combination of things, but it's much more extensive than what was available before.

All of the changes and additions are nice, and there are at least a few that should be applied to the next entry in the mainline series. However, it's all countered by the changes to the progression and weapon acquisition systems. For those unfamiliar with the other games in the series, it worked like loot-based dungeon crawlers. Fallen enemies dropped nondescript gun boxes and armor pick-ups. The latter increases your max health, while the former awards semi-random weapons. Some weapons were awesome and others were terrible, and there was a chance that you got nothing new, but you could always try them on the battlefield so you could decide on your favorites.

In this game, enemies drop none of that. Instead, they drop energy crystals of different colors. The end of each level gives you a list of unlocked classes, cosmetics, guns and vehicles. The scene also gives you a coin payout, with some being taken away for every death you incur. The coins are used to buy cosmetics for your soldier, but more importantly, the coins are used to buy levels that increase your max health. In conjunction with the colored energy crystals, the coins are used to buy new weapons and vehicles, since everything you unlock (except for classes) can't be used immediately. On top of that, every throwable you use automatically costs coins.

This set of changes is bigger than expected because the chaos of the older games has been tamped down. Early on, most of the weapon unlocks are quite terrible, so the first 20 levels or so, your base equipment is the best you've got. That gives you a good opportunity to spend coins on health instead, but it doesn't take long before the cost of levels is so high that grinding becomes necessary. The advantage of throwables is completely nerfed, since you're worried about losing the chance to get an upgrade by the end of a stage. Even if you wanted to experiment with better weapons later on, the cost is so high that you won't bother since you might be spending cash on a dud. The game becomes dull due to this lack of experimentation, and even though Iron Rain is shorter than the older entries, you'll feel relieved when you finish this. Your desire to play on is sapped away because you need to buy everything you want in the arsenal.

At the very least, the graphics shine when compared to its predecessors. There's some extra texture work on the insects and robots, so they're less shiny and more gritty. Lighting effects are amplified to bring the game to current-generation standards, but the biggest accomplishment is a more stable frame rate. It doesn't reach the 60fps that's desired for a shooter, but the more stable 30fps is appreciated. The decrease in enemy numbers may be the cause of this stability, but it's impressive to see that massive explosions don't drag down the frame rate to single digits.

Whereas the visual presentation is elevated, the sound is a step back for the franchise. The sound effects are fine, and the music goes for a more serious tone. The voice acting is good, even if the lines will barely register with you after turning off the game, but the flub is in the mixing. On default levels, the music is so overpowering that you can't hear any of the lines. As bad as the dialogue may be, it contains some important information that you can't hear because the game doesn't know how to elevate the voices over everything else. Surprisingly, the enemy calls of death don't factor into this because they're barely there. If you're trying to use audio cues to determine if an enemy is finally dead, you'll be disappointed because there's nothing to hear.

When compared to the other entries in the series, Earth Defense Force: Iron Rain is a major low point. The various changes that improve on the formula are outweighed by other design choices that actively hurt the title's overall appeal. The actual combat still has some of the magic the series is known for, and even if online co-op is barely there unless you coordinate with others beforehand, the game is still fun to play with friends. If you're new to the series, playing Iron Rain won't be so bad, but if you've already killed bugs several times before, this title won't be able to scratch that itch again.

Score: 6.0/10

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