Yuke’s newest installment in the Earth Defense Force series is actually more of a spin-off than it is a sequel. The title having no number should be the giveaway for that but there’s actually multiple reasons for coming to this conclusion. The main one is because Earth Defense Force: Iron Rain is actually kind of an experiment in many ways.
I’ll start with the most obvious stride that Yuke’s made which was in the visuals of the EDF franchise as a whole. The Earth Defense Force games have a recognized nostalgic look that reminds players of either an arcade game or a PlayStation 2 title basically. While this can be unappealing to a person unfamiliar with the series, it always does sell with diehard fans of the series. It also fits with Earth Defense Force’s quantitative nature.
With Iron Rain, however, Yuke’s wanted to take it a step forward. Of course, they do have a massive fanbase that exists already, but what if the game was marketed to even more people? How do we get new people into the Earth Defense Force franchise? The first answer that came to Yuke’s mind was to update the game’s graphics. While they didn’t do so very radically, they did step it up a notch by bringing the Unreal Engine into the mix to give the gameplay a more refined look.
Iron Rain therefore does look quite more prominently like the current gen games the industry is pumping out nowadays. It doesn’t have that slightly unpolished arcade look anymore. Was this the right step to take on the other hand?
The thing with slick looks for what’s essentially not a realistic and very detailed game does create a pretty bad combo. This is due to how the animations and movement types actually look in a game like Earth Defense Force, one which is on the goofier side of Japanese gaming. The reason it never bothered us before is how the gameplay matched up to the dopey graphics.
But now we got this really smooth and HD look coupled with lanky rigid gameplay that looked especially weird on the character models. It sort of looked like an unfinished Unreal project with how stiff the character’s limbs were the whole time. It reminded me a lot of Jump Force actually, including the very cool lighting effects in that game’s defense.
As for performance, the graphical overhaul did deal a blow to how stable the framerate of the game stayed. With a game like EDF where there’s always so much going on simultaneously, low maintenance graphics actually served their purpose very well. The FPS did dip several times even on my GTX 1060 due to how many giant ants would sometimes horde me on screen or how different structures blew up with flame and lighting particles spreading everywhere. They definitely looked different and arguably better than previous installments, but it’s still sort of a trade-off.
In the end I suppose it comes down to a matter of player preference. Some like their franchise to remain nostalgic and arcade like while others want to see growth and change in how their favorite series looks. Graphics and visuals weren’t the only thing they changed, however.
The class system of the game was also pretty changed up than the usual norm of picking between things like air raider and assault. Instead, you make a custom character that can seamlessly switch between the class options based on what you upgrade and use more. Another thing to add is how you acquire weapons and gear. Since the class system was changed up, so was this. Instead, you had to grind your favorite weapons from assigned missions now by seeing what they have to offer.
The amount of combinations of your character abilities and weapons you were using did make for potent combinations. I also admired the freedom granted by Yuke’s in the customization you had over your character in Iron Rain. This freedom really shined when it came to the game’s online multiplayer. You no longer had that syndrome of looking exactly the same as the guy you were playing with.
Furthermore, the different combinations of weapons and gear you could have along with how differently you used them added to the uniqueness. Other than this class system revamp, the game is still classic EDF. That being in the form of a third-person shooter centered around fighting aliens.
The game worked in levels/missions but each one actually had a very open ended sandbox environment to fight your foes in. An environment that also allowed players to be very highly destructive. Whether it was with their high caliber weapons or heavy artillery loaded vehicles. Roaming around and blowing alien bugs into huge chunks while unintentionally causing millions upon millions in property damage was definitely very encapsulating as an experience.
The fact that you can switch classes and playstyles on the go also means you won’t miss out on any of the experience with the game. It may slightly lock out a layer of replayability that the previous EDF games used to have.
Regarding the setting, writing and story, Iron Rain follows the classic Earth Defense Force formula. You know how the cheesy Japanese humor where the English voice actors really throw themselves out to just sound as goofy as they possibly can.
It’s something I really adore about the EDF franchise since the writers and actors aren’t taking themselves seriously either. It’s even better when you perceive the setting itself and can’t make sense of it in any way. All you know is that there are aliens and you have to go stop them.
Earth Defense Force Iron Rain is a good starting point for any new player to the franchise due to its updated graphics and flexible gameplay. You can get it on the PlayStation 4 or on Steam today.