Production costs have skyrocketed over the last few years and budget titles have largely disappeared. Japan’s D3 Publisher was going against that grain and found a profitable niche by releasing games like Earth Defense Force and Onechanbara. However, it was just a matter of time until we got an entry with upped production values and that’s exactly what the Yuke-developed EARTH DEFENSE FORCE IRON RAIN is. But it’s nowhere near the quality of top-notch action games or shooters, and it lacks the low-budget charm that once made the titles a favorite among fans.
This shift has put Earth Defense Force Iron Rain in a strange place. After all, if one booted up an Earth Defense Force game, they were promised a buggy experience. Not only would they get to shoot down hundreds of gigantic ants and spiders, but they’d see hilarious graphical glitches, bad physics, and stilted animation. It wasn’t quite The Deadly Tower of Monsters in regards to being an homage to bad science fiction films, but the lack of production value worked in its favor.
It’s weird to say, but Earth Defense Force Iron Rain is both the best EDF game and the least fun one. By improving many of the series’ weak points, Yuke’s has made a game that shows just how flawed the general gameplay loop is. When you’re focused purely on the action, the actual gunplay reveals itself as repetitive and dull. There are less laughs to be had as the plot plays everything pretty straight but doesn’t craft a narrative that is compelling. Everything is objectively better, but the charm is gone and we’re left with a pretty middling game as a result.
Earth Defense Force Iron Rain Review | Enough is enough
Iron Rain makes a surprisingly strong start with its campaign, which is not typically a strong suit for the series. The opening sequence has the player taking out a huge mothership, getting caught in the debris of its destruction, and then waking up from a coma seven years later. It’s surprisingly heavy stuff, even if the script doesn’t do it justice, Regardless, the situation has only worsened while the player was out and it’s up to the former hero to one again save the day.
Another interesting wrinkle in the plot is that they get the EDF soldiers fighting other humans pretty early on. This rebellion faction has a different set of core principles than the player, but they are willing to create temporary ceasefires if giant bugs start becoming a threat to both groups. This creates a number of great storytelling opportunities, but it never really tackles the divided game world with any tact or substance. Mentions of the squad fighting for private sponsors are discussed occasionally, but we never get a good glimpse of what the world is like, nor does the protagonist have anything to say aside from some grunts during gameplay.
As mentioned before, there are a number of upgrades to the core Earth Defense Force gameplay. For one, the physics are more stabilized, although there are still plenty of buildings getting destroyed by gigantic ants. It’s a cool sight and the extra visual sheen makes it a fun looking game and even kind of creepy when a giant bug sneaks up upon the player and suddenly the whole camera is filled with bug appendages.
Beyond that, the core mission structure is as repetitive as ever. Drop into a map, which is never quite big enough and then eliminate everything that moves. The same simplicity that gave the series its core charm is still present, but it is more monotonous than ever.
Earth Defense Force Iron Rain Review | I’ve had it with these ants on this battlefield
Other improvements are a complete victory for Yuke’s. The method of unlocking weapons and different pieces of equipment is no longer based on random drops, as players purchase it with in-game currency. It’s a much easier system that allows players to just use the weapon types that they want rather than switch around. This meant that you’re less inclined to change up from what was working, but any veteran of the series knows how they like to play EDF by now. Not enough has changed to merit a ton of experimentation and it doesn’t quite have Monster Hunter levels of depth in the combat.
Terrible teammate artificial intelligence is one thing that hasn’t changed. These soldiers are beyond useless and will just stand around while gigantic insects topple cities. Thankfully, there is online play that makes the entire experience much more bearable. However, it’s a pretty tough game to convince friends to pick up, so the appeal of extra soldiers is limited by default.
While the titles have always been a selective taste and been rather low in quality, past Earth Defense Force games were fun because they went against the grain. While other series became more cinematic and tried to match the art in other mediums, there was a simplistic charm to EDF. It was a dumb game that was filled with laughs and worth checking out despite its many faults. On the other hand, Iron Force is everything that they weren’t. It’s an attempt to commercialize shlock and broaden the audience. Everything about it makes sense, and it’s a better game at the end of the day due to the added polish. However, it’s not nearly good enough to get recommended with the games it’s now competing with and has lost much of its original appeal along the way.