Pesticide: American Style

HIGH The boss’s final form is a doozy.

LOW I’m not sure why the competitive mode is even here.

WTF Kaiju vs Anthill!

Going over-the-top is what the Earth Defense Force franchise has always been about. Epic battles, huge monsters, mass destruction – it’s a franchise that revels in excess. In fact, it’s often criticized for being so broad and strange that it’s impossible to take seriously, and while I’d argue that the games feature well-told stories of alien invasion, it’s obvious that these criticisms were taken to heart by D3 — they brought a new developer in to reimagine the franchise.

The goal? Create a smaller, more focused experience that prioritizes skirmishes instead of conflicts, and features named characters experiencing a story rather than ciphers calling out slogans and cheering one another on. The result of this project is Earth Defense Force: Iron Rain, a title that succeeds as its own experience, while not quite cutting it as a full-blooded EDF.

Iron Rain opens well after an alien invasion – in fact, the prologue is set during the final battle with the mothership. After destroying it, the main character is knocked into a coma, leaving the rest of the EDF without access to the experimental super-powered armor that granted the victory. It seems the armor is genetically locked to one person, so it’s fortunate that the player regains consciousness just as the aliens return with an entirely new plan of attack – if giant versions of Earth insects won’t get the job done, what about scientifically-magnified alien creatures?

The conflict takes over 50 missions of third-person shooting to resolve, with the focus being entirely on action. There are no patrols, exploration, or open-world combat. Every mission starts with orders to accomplish a task, and while unexpected enemies will frequently crop up during battle, players are never asked to engage by doing anything other than shooting any strange beasts their eyes fall upon.

Fortunately, the developers have done a fantastic job with the combat, so the battles never feel like a chore. The four available classes draw largely from EDF history – there are analogs for the support-based Air Raider, quick scout Wing Diver, and human tank Fencer. The key difference is that classes no longer have exclusive weapons, but rather share an arsenal. This shrinks the weapon selection from what fans might have expected, but it works well for the new kinds of encounters.

While any character can use any weapon, their playstyles softly suggest restrictions. After all, what does a flying scout want with a chaingun that can only be fired after they’ve stood still and spun the barrel up for three seconds? How useful is a vehicle specialist going to find an energy sword? Players are free to mix and match weapons however they choose, but there are clearly superior loadouts for each troop type.

Even without exclusive weapons, the developers ensured that every class feels unique. The starting soldier is built to order vehicles, surround himself with sentry guns, and call in airstrikes. The scout zips through the skies with ease, dodging freely and using hit-and-run tactics. The tank comes equipped with an energy shield that can take anything the invaders can throw at it, as long as its energy supply lasts. The new class is the strangest of all – the ‘Prowl Rider’ can swing through the map using Attack on Titan-style grappling spears, and where every other class can use their armor’s special ‘overdrive’ ability to temporarily access unlimited power reserves for special abilities, the Prowl Rider summons a giant insect to give the invaders a taste of their own medicine. Seeing heroic scorpions tearing through swarming ants winds up being a delightful addition.

Speaking of creatures, new ones constantly appear over the course of the campaign and the three distinct types – insect, mechanical, and alien – are so different that by simply mixing and matching, the developers are able to keep the combat fresh and surprising right up to the two-part final battle, which stands as one of the best climaxes the series has ever offered.

Earning weapons has been massively simplified in Iron Rain. Instead of unlocking them through random drops, weapons now appear in a store as players progress through various difficulty levels, and they can be purchased with the cash earned for beating levels, along with the three varieties of currency that different enemy types drop. Unlocking everything will still require huge amounts of grinding, but it’s less frustrating than it was in previous entries. Players can’t test guns out before buying them, though, which is a problem, since some of them are hugely impractical duds.

The multiplayer component is as solid as ever and a PVP ‘mercenaries’ mode has been added as well, but it’s less satisfying than the co-op features. Iron Rain is built around four different classes that complement one another, and each has a key role when taking on threats. Sadly, none of this content is tuned for players battling one another for resources, leaving the PVP mode feeling like a weak addition.

Iron Rain is a completely different animal than its predecessors, so it’s almost unfair to compare them. This one never aspires to offer epic action, so how can I criticize it for failing to deliver? Its goal is to offer a more grounded, focused take on the concept, and while I’ll admit that I missed seeing fleets of alien ships being blasted out of the sky by satellite weaponry, the new enemies can’t be ignored. Iron Rain won’t make it to the top of a best-of EDF list, but as a discrete experience, it’s pretty great.

Rating: 7 out of 10

Disclosures: This game is developed by YUKES and published by D3. It is currently available on PS4. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PS4 Pro. Approximately 50 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. 5 hours of play were spent in multiplayer modes.

Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated T and contains Suggestive Themes, Blood, and Violence. The game is fairly safe as action games go. Only robots and monsters are killed, and compared to other games in the series, it’s not especially bloody. Characters have tragic backstories in which their families were killed, but there’s not much human death in the story. There’s some mild swearing, and some risque costumes, but that’s about it.

Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: I played most of the game without sound, and encountered no difficulties. An extremely helpful radar allows players to keep track of enemies when they’re not onscreen. The only real issue I had was that transport craft that drop new enemies make telltale sounds when they’re deploying – and therefore vulnerable to attack. It’s a minor inconvenience though, and I was able to get in the habit of regularly checking on spawners without too much trouble. All dialogue is subtitled. Subtitles cannot be resized.

Remappable Controls: Yes, this game offers fully remappable controls – everything but the stick functions can be reassigned freely between face and shoulder buttons.

Daniel Weissenberger
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