Earth Defense Force: Iron Rain is a passion project whose primary goal is to resonate with an audience outside of Japan. For years, the Earth Defense Force games have thrived within a niche subsect of players who enjoy mindless action juxtaposed with the schlock of Toho monster movies. To help with this push to make a more palatable iteration for westerners, developers at Yuke’s (best known for their involvement in the WWE 2K series) have spearheaded this spin-off with a focus on polish and accessibility.
Knife in a nuke fight
Yuke’s manages to achieve this, while also hitting a stride that carves its own identity unique from the more overwhelmingly scaled enemies and anime visuals found in previous titles. Encounters in levels are more focused, and less about how many enemies can be thrown at the character. Reaching a balance between good game design and spectacle. Levels in this way feel comfortable enough for the player, that when the developers do something such as introduce a new enemy type or human rebel forces it’s a genuine surprise that feels earned. The visuals are also a symbol of another balancing act that’s achieved sufficiently. With a style that is adherent more to 90’s B-movies such as Starship Troopers and Independence Day.
Earth Defense Force: Iron Rain also takes from this influence the melodramatic story that’s present. With serious world-building and characters reflected in the writing that’s brought to life by hammy voice-acting. Admittedly, should the story of the game not have been presented in this flamboyant manner, the cinematics would largely be uninteresting and surface level. However, that’s not to say that this added depth isn’t appreciated. As the effort to make a coherent storyline across missions is something which hasn’t been a focus in the series prior to this spin-off. Another facet of presentation which has been well-executed is the variety of different enemy types. Across Godzilla-like behemoths, robots, and of course the mountains of bugs; there’s a tangibility when coupled with the visual style that doesn’t clash.
If it bleeds, we can kill it
Of course, the Earth Defense Force games haven’t been emblematic of any systems technical performance. With many games in the series succumbing to debilitating slowdown. This comes mostly in later levels when an abundance of enemies are being rendered. While playing on a PlayStation 4 Pro, I was surprised to notice even in the later parts of the game, that this was one of the smoothest experiences I have ever had with an EDF in recent memory. Even during split-screen (which can be utilized throughout the entire campaign) the performance never left me or my co-op partner frustrated with the gameplay.
Considering the accessibility of gameplay, in previous Earth Defense Force titles, the variety of different weapons and abilities were locked behind specific characters. In Iron Rain, however, each class can be swapped with your unique character. Yuke’s also added a great deal of customization and various weapons (which are purchased by picking up the drops from specific enemy-types) that nourish a well-balanced progression system. Weapons are well-balanced from shotguns, assault rifles, and missile launchers, but most importantly they retain the same satisfaction from hitting targets that you’d expect.
From the decisions to have a comprehensible story mode to the efforts in accessibility as a whole. Earth Defense Force: Iron Rain is a dedicated leap in the right direction. With what has been achieved in making the series’ enjoyment more attainable to a wider audience, the developers at Yuke’s should be commended for their efforts. As among the experimentation and polish, Iron Rain is the best game it possibly can be. In that, it feels as if it was created by individuals who have had a previous love for the Earth Defense Force games. As a fluent understanding of what makes these games so enjoyable has allowed the developers to showcase their talents and create their own refined iteration of the best bug-blasting game series on the planet.