Once in a blue moon, D3 Publisher decides to entrust a niche series like Earth Defense Force to a different developer, instead of Sandlot, who curates the main numbered series (which itself tells you that it’s niche, but not THAT niche) since the very beginning and still do nowadays.
Last time Vicious Cycle Software developed EDF Insect Armageddon (which isn’t as bad as most EDF fans make it to be), a spin-off made with the intent to try and appeal to a broader audience, by basically posing the question “what if Americans made EDF?”. The answer being a decent game that didn’t convince many estabilished fans, but did help on making the series more known. An actual ending (the plot just stops at the end) would have been welcomed, though.
WRESTLE THEM SPACE ANTS
The same approach of making EDF a bit more serious, to have it engineered for international appeal can be found in Iron Rain as well, despite being handled by Yuke’s, a japanese software house mostly know for their wrestling videogames, having worked on a ton of WWE titles (and other licensed by/for Japanese wrestling associations) until WWE 2K19. Which kinda explains the infamous disaster of WWE 2K20, farmed out on the cheap to Visual Concepts, a studio that mostly assisted on other 2K sports releases (notably the NBA 2K and NHL 2K series), and also Yuke’s in all WWE 2K titles.
And yes, like EDF 5 and the EDF 4.1 Wing Diver spin-off, sadly no physical release outside of Japan, just digital on PS4 and Steam. Too bad.
Fans will be able to see right away that Sandlot is NOT on the wheel on this one, since it does many things differently, like having cutscenes done outside of gameplay, a more proper presentation, instead of most of the story just related in text briefing on the mission select menus, or told only via audio without a subtitle option (here thankfully we have subtitle), which doesn’t seem much, but sometimes is near impossible to hear the dialogues with explosions ans shit in a regular EDF title.
Oddly enough, despite the budget increase leading to a way more presentable and technically decent EDF, it maintains the cheesy vibe that distingues EDF, again translated in a more american/international style of b-movie narration and characters, with a delightfully on brand “so bad it’s funny” type of english voice acting that seems mistranslated from japanese even if it’s 100 % correct.
I’d be tempted to say it treats the plot more seriously… and it kinda does, there is more to the plot than usual, with a group of humans, the Kindred Rebellion, that ended up fighting both the aliens and the EDF for resources, and because they weren’t in a territory with sponsors funding the war machine…
But still, it’s a fun B-movie romp, with a squad of delightfully cliched dudes and dudettes, from the lady speaking with a stereotypical russian-ish accent, the black dude speaking almost in jive, all charming in their b-movie way. 🙂
But on the practical side you notice that this is indeed intended as a different take on EDF formula, since you are given a character editor for you soldier, which lets you make stuff like a chunkish fella with helmet, exoskeleton, School Girl Zombie Hunter tee and japanese schoolgirl skirt to complete the cosplay. Some of the estetic stuff is DLC, like the many cammeo shirts from other D3 Publisher owned franchises, some also seen before in EDF (like the Bullet Girls themed paintjobs for tanks or the decoy weapons that spawned chibi inflatable versions of Dream Club C characters), others new, like the Onechanbara Origin, Happy Summer Memories, etc.
I love that these collaboration t-shirts have a funny description as well, like “since our armor doesn’t protect us from the alien acid, i’m gonna wear what i like into battle”. XD
Yeah, you have a customizable character, which can change class in the pre-mission menus, and actually collect three kinds of energy gems (and the regular money) from the battles, which grade your efforts accordingly (even taking points out for using items, and so on) at the end… and i know what it sounds like, but NO, these are all in-game currencies, used to unlock/buy weapons, health upgrades, alongside the good ol’ coins, again, ALL in-game currencies.
And i will admit, it’s kinda off to see this in an EDF title, at first.
The classes are named differently but mostly behave like the ones in main EDF titles: the infantry dude with an evasive manouver (here a dash, not a roll), the flying units with energy weapons and jetpacks, the tanky unit with shield, with a new unit, the Prowl Rider, which is original to EDF Iron Rain, and is basically the Beast Master class with a grappling hook ability that makes it work like a sci-fi Spider Man, letting you attach to building and hang on them for a while, while the Overdrive ability summons a friendly enemy alien who you can ride and use.
Wanna summon the blue scorpion and mow down other alien monsters?
In EDF Iron Rain you can.
Gameplay itself isn’t that different, the second control scheme is more like the one found in older EDF titles, but still, here you can carry recovery item, grenades, vehicles summons, support stuff to use in battles (with a weight capacity), alongside the weapon loadout chosen, you can do a recovery mid air (unless you use the tank class), but all special moves are tied to an energy meter. The biggest addition is the “Overdrive mode”, which you can activate once for battle, and lets you reload and shoot faster, with endless energy for evasive/defensive manouvers, for a very limited time.
Another nice touch is that now you have 30 seconds after you finish the mission to collect all energy gems/items, which is better than before, with 5/6 seconds needed for the “Victory” text to fade out. Seems like a very minor issue, but it’s good streamlining in a game like this, for more details please refer to my previous EDF 5 review.
I was a bit worried for the mission design, but no, it sticks to the basic formula, just telling you more clearly what exactly you’re doing there, or to put it another way, the context for the shooting of the alien bugs, monsters and robots that you’re gonna fill with rockets and lead for survival & gem profit. It’s still just go to the red dots or just where the giant enemies are and kill them, with infinite ammo, and EDF needs to be kept simple at heart, i feel; it needs to be expanded, but not really changed. This one has more missions where you need to defend a base or something, and sometimes destroy enemy nests, but even in heated situations, the game never throws at you the insane amounts of enemies like regular EDF titles do.
Mind you, i feel it’s more because Yuke’S couldn’t get the engine (Unreal Engine 4 instead of the in-house Sandlot uses) too stable, and there are still some framerate drops here and then, alongside the texture loading in seconds later when entering a mission. Weapon selection starts off more standard, but you get the stupid weapons, like a line of assault rifles that are weak but have a 0,001 % probability of instakilling the target, rocket launchers that can basically go through matter, energy swords, satellite laser guns, energy lances, the ability to shorten the reload time via precise timing, and all that fun dumb stuff. 🙂 Also, you get a lot of new enemies, there are the classic ants and bouncing spiders, but most of the new ones are not stand-ins for, and i like the new robots and kaijus, like “Thunderzilla”. Pretty cool enemy designs, honestly.
And – lo and behold – they finally managed to make vehicles useful… and sometimes even fun, empowering, like the giant walking mech (not a giant robot, just a “chicken walker” type), with controls that make sense… mostly, some of the lesser useful and powerful vehicles still somehow.. HAVE to control like ass, but in this case the “EDF curse” has been defeated.
While the production value are higher and pretty much everything is better looking than pretty much all EDF titles that came before, there is a lot of pop-in (as i said before), not of enemies per se, but many building and textures don’t load fully straight away, so you see a building and your own character details “grow in” seconds later. Odd to say, but Sandlot’s in-house engine (i think it’s in-house, i might be wrong) works better, maybe just due to years of tuning, with the Unreal Engine 4 you can do better, but i guess it kinda to be expected from a company not used to action games.
The campaign is a bit on the short side, with 52 missions, which seem like a tiny amount compared to the 110 missions the EDF 5 campaign has, but it has some challenging encounters, cuts down a lot of the repetition while checking off all the necessary/essential EDF scenarios, include caves, which are thankfully not that long winding and with obvious sign-posting, which i’ll gladly take over some of the cumbersome cave levels of the series, especially one insanely frustrating cave level i refered to in my EDF 5 review. It keeps thing short and sweet, but still delivers a sizeable 12 hours campaign, which can be played co-op online and local.
Aside from replaying the mission at harder difficulties to obtain better weapons (and maybe find the collectable drones hidden in the stages, for extra rewards or rare unlocks), here you can play against other player in a 1 Vs 1 mode… for reasons, sure, the old EDF titles had versus mode, but even they abandoned it, because EDF isn’t about PvP, it’s about jolly cooperation rocket launchers of friendship against the face of a space bee. Then again, there is a story reason, a set-up for 1 vs 1 here, it’s not as random as it seems, and it’s something, Not something i cared to try, but it’s there.
EDF: Iron Rain is the EDF spin-off that fans never knew they wanted, because while it changes something in order to appeal more to a bigger audience, it doesn’t betray the cheesy b-movie spirit of the series, just declines it in a more american-ish b-movie fashion, and with a proper budget that finally manages to give EDF a proper presentation, with cutscenes, finally decent graphics, alongside some new classes, new enemies and a bigger emphasis on defense missions.
But make no mistake, this EDF all the way, the new systems are fun, so much that i wouldn’t mind to see some of those being integrated in the next mainline entry, like the class that’s about using a hook in a Spider Man-esque way and summoning giant scorpions to ride and use against the opposition, but in order to make this work with prettier graphics and to avoid too much framerate drops, Yuke’S take on EDF never truly throws endless waves at alien bugs and transforming robots at you, and the gunplay, while decent, still feels more satisfying in the Sandlot developed titles.
But on the other hand, Iron Rain sports less content…. which means less repetition due to strecthing dozens and dozens of missions over an handful of locales, and still manages to deliver a satisfying and often challenging campaign, definitely a shorter but more packed experience that doesn’t feel too short or too long. And of course there is jolly co-op, as well as 1 vs 1 mode, because why not?
It’s worth checking out both for the already converted, and a perfect starting place for people that wanted to give EDF a chance but were put off by some design choices, since it retains most of the good stuff from the main series AND removes many of the glaring flaws that make this series less easy to get in for newcomers.
Pretty cool spin-off, honestly.
EDF! EDF! EDF! EDF! EDF!