Earth Defense Force is a long-running series about shooting giant bugs and aliens with tons of fun weapons and vehicles while being doused in cheesy B-movie dialogue. Iron Rain retains the identity of its roots while introducing a few changes, some welcome, others not so much.
Right out of the gate Iron Rain is the best looking Earth Defense Force game in the graphics department. Though it still suffers from the occasional frame rate drop, it is also the best performing title of the series.
If you’re not familiar with EDF games. You are a soldier fighting against numerous swarms of aliens, machines, giant insects and kaiju- Godzilla sized monsters. You do this using a wide variety of weapons and vehicles ranging from the mundane to the absurd.
The dialogue is cheesy and the story is generally intentionally lame. In the previous iteration of the series, Earth Defense Force 5, the dialogue broke the barrier of cheesiness and dove straight into the realm of cringe. Thankfully Iron Rain dials it back a bit. It’s straight to DVD level charming instead of mute the television horrible.
The game is playable in single player, split-screen co-op and up to six players online co-op. When alone you are accompanied by a group of persistent EDF allies. They each have their own personalities that the game wants you to get to know. In multiplayer these characters are not present on the battlefield. But they strangely, still have all the dialogue as if they were.
The core game has you taking on various missions which are purely an excuse to shoot aliens the size of buildings, and that’s okay. For the most part, the core gameplay is as fun as EDF always has been. Battling the huge enemies in a destructible environment is as enjoyable and satisfying as ever. The enemies you face are varied between several types of insects, giant mechs and more.
Unlike previous EDF games, the enemies aren’t one trick pony’s and have several types of attacks each. Ants have their signature acid spit, but also bite you. Spiders will cover you in webbing, but also release baby spiders the size of a large dog to attack you. Mechs have multiple projectiles and melee attacks.
On the note of spiders, major arachnophobe warning. Spiders in previous EDF games have never trigged my phobia. These ones are modeled and animated better than previous iterations and the baby spiders movements invoke a feeling of dread and give me chills. Seriously creepy.
You have several difficulty settings to choose from, but it’s important to realize that they are intended to be used differently than in most games. Normally I always start on hard, in EDF this is a bad idea. The weapon unlocks are based on the difficulty you play on and Iron Rain is meant to be replayed.
You need to work your way up, playing on easy or normal modes first to acquire money and gear to take on higher difficulties. Starting on hard will make the enemies feel very spongey as they far outclass your starting set of weapons.
In true Earth Defense Force fashion, you unlock loads of weapons, gadgets, and vehicles from standard machine guns, crazy lasers, massive explosive ordinance, and energy swords. You unlock four different types of PA armor, which are more or less your class archetypes. All weapons are usable by any PA type, but each PA has their own special abilities. Every PA has access to overdrive, which for a short time gives you unlimited energy, faster fire rates, and reloading
The catch is, without the use of a specific item, you can only activate overdrive once per mission. In the beginning you have access to the Trooper and Jet Lifter PA and you can unlock the Heavy Striker and Prowl Rider later on. You can customize the appearance of your character regardless of class and can unlock several cosmetic items as you play.
Two weapons can be equipped at once and you can take along as many gadgets as you can carry. Gadgets are grenades, healing items, air strikes, vehicle drops and more. Each one weighs a certain amount. The Trooper PA has the highest carrying capacity of the four classes and is an all-around decent soldier that has the ability to dodge.
The Jet Lifter is lightly armored but has a jet pack enabling you to fly around the battlefield. The Heavy Striker can take a beating and hit hard as it dual wields your selected weapon and can deploy a shield that blocks projectiles. My personal favorite is the Prowl Rider. It’s equipped with a hip-mounted grappling hook that allows you to swing around the zones like a certain web-slinging superhero.
Equip a sword and you feel like a character straight out of the Attack On Titan series as you grapple on to the titanic enemies and slash them with your weapon as you zip past. Furthermore, the Prowl Riders overdrive function is unique, allowing it to ride a giant ant, spider or scorpion when activated.
The combat is flashy and fun, the particles effects are pretty and I really appreciate plasma marks and scorch lines being visible on enemies in combat. Weapons like the sword are much more satisfying when you are greeted with that kind of eye candy.
Unlike previous Earth Defense Force games, you do not pick up new weapons randomly. Instead, you get access to new weapons based on the mission you completed and on which difficulty. You then need to buy said weapon with one of four currencies. Money and one of three colored gem types. Different enemies drop different colored gems.
This is where the game falters for me a bit. A lot of EDFs fun stems from the wide range of weapons, gadgets, and vehicles you can use. With this system, it can be a bit grindy to unlock a large variety of gear. Furthermore, Iron Rain has a reward deduction mechanic and it’s awful. Those gadgets I mentioned earlier? Grenades, vehicle auto-turrets, airstrikes, etc? You are actively punished for using them.
Not only do you have to purchase your choice gadget, but you are also charged a set amount of coins from your mission rewards when you use them, based on the gadget itself. Some gadgets, like airstrikes and vehicles, cost you several thousand coins from your rewards. As you progress onward this does have less of an impact. Eventually, late-game missions and high difficulties have such high payouts that you won’t feel the sting as much. Early on it’s devastating.
I love using vehicles in EDF and I have had several missions pay nothing simply because I chose to have fun and deploy a vehicle. Remember earlier I mentioned the trooper has the highest capacity for gadgets? It’s also one of two starting classes. Good luck taking advantage of its core advantage early on!
Even when the cost becomes trivial, the mechanic never becomes enjoyable. It’s a pure anti-fun mechanic that doesn’t even really affect game balance. It just eats away at the money you earn for using them in game. It’s not a risk or reward choice, it’s a …do you want money to buy a new weapon? Or do you want to use those super fun gadgets?
The game also reuses maps quite frequently, it doesn’t really impact the game’s enjoyment, but it is very noticeable. The game is best when played in multiplayer with friend. But here too, I ran into a snag.
Often times, it would appear that my teammates were shooting at nothing, or that something was simply off with the action on screen. Well, it just so happens that my partner games with me. Our entertainment center has our televisions side by side. The action on screen was almost never synced between us as it turns out.
We could be fighting the exact same building sized machine in the game and on our screens not only would the enemy be in a different position, but it would also be doing different things. On her screen, it might be attacking her, on mine, it could be attacking me. This is something I haven’t seen since the days of playing games online on the PlayStation 2. It’s very disappointing and makes the co-op feel strange and disconnected.
Weirdly enough, Iron Rain includes a competitive multiplayer mode where two sides fight to collect gems. It’s an interesting scenario of two teams fighting each other while contending with hordes of giant insects. It’s fun, but the combat doesn’t exactly translate well for player vs player action.
It is still very much good old fashioned EDF fun and its refined fun at that. However, being punished for using your hard earned and awesome gadgets by deducting money from your mission rewards is purely anti-fun and the complete disconnect of the on-screen action in multiplayer is unacceptable and disappointing.
If your looking for even more cheesy goodness, check out my Earth Defense Force 5 review.
- Fun and frantic combat
- Tons of weapons and gear and four classes that play differently
- Large Variety of enemies
- Difficulty settings present
- Split-screen co-op
- Unlocking weapons can be grindy
- You receive fewer rewards if you use vehicles and gadgets in a mission, it’s not a fun mechanic.
- A limited amount of environments that are repeated often.
- Action on screen in online co-op is not synced. You can be fighting a mech, and on your partner,’s screen, the same mech is in a different place, doing something different. This isn’t acceptable in 2019.