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Earth Defense Force: Iron Rain Review - Just Another Spin-Off?

VO: Riccardo Tucci WRITTEN BY: Ty Richardson
Is Earth Defense Force: Iron Rain just another spin-off in the series or did it turn out to be a refreshing and pleasant surprise for the Earth Defense Force series as well as 2019 video game releases in general?
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Everyone -- and I mean EVERYONE -- has heard of “Earth Defense Force”. It was one of those games you always saw in the bargain bin at GameStop, and while most didn’t bat an eyelash, a cult following has been culminating since the franchise’s inception in 2003 with “Monster Attack”. Although I have never played an EDF game prior to the newest iteration, I’ve had a strong urge to give the series a shot. Many people have described this game as a “monster B-movie for video games”, and I’ve often pondered what people meant by that exactly. Ladies and gentlemen, that urge has finally broken out like a mutated crocodile bursting from the New York City sewer line.

Welcome to MojoPlays, and this is our review of “Earth Defense Force: Iron Rain”!

Given that I am a newcomer to the series, I did do some research to familiarize myself with the franchise. At first, “Earth Defense Force” looked like any other third-person shooter, the exception being its campy humor. However, in my first ten minutes of playing “Iron Rain”, I realized that I was reviewing a completely different kind of game. This was something special, something unique that I never knew I wanted.

For those of you who have never heard of the series, “Earth Defense Force” is a third-person shooter that sees you taking on waves of alien creatures. Really, though, they’re a bunch of giant bugs and robots. And hey, if I’m finally given the chance to take out hordes of ants with a rocket launcher, I’m already a happy camper. Ants suck! “Iron Rain’s” story starts off with you in the middle of the invasion. When your entire squad is wiped out, a dying soldier puts his last energy core into yours, and you annihilate the Hivecraft. Fast-forward seven years, where you have been given the nickname “Closer” [pronounced “closure”] and are championed as EDF’s best soldier. No joke, your fellow recruits are obsessed with you. If I had a nickel for every time a character praised my abysmal performance, I would have ditched Earth and started an energy resource center on Mars. However, something tells me that would be a bad idea. So, I’ll suck up the admiration.

I may sound like I’m complaining about the allies, but they’re actually pretty enjoyable to listen to. I often found myself laughing at the fact that they could die at any given moment, but they’re too busy exchanging friendly banter and cracking jokes. It’s stupid, and I love it.

“Iron Rain” boasts a hearty amount of unique levels. Some players may find these levels uninspired or too basic. However, there’s more to each area than just visuals and presentation. “Iron Rain” is one of the very few games that uses destructible environments for more than just spectacle and explosive impulses. What it does is it turns these environments into somewhat of a mechanic. As you progress through the campaign, you’ll be introduced to more and more enemies, each with its own attack patterns and behavior. Ants will scale buildings to flank you, wolf spiders will jump and spawn baby spiders to overwhelm you, and Scourgers will frequently target you instead of your allies. Not only did the sizeable enemy variety keep things fresh and exciting, but it also forced me to think about using the environment to my advantage. The ants can’t use that building to flank me if I blow it up, but if I do, my fight with the Scourger may be more difficult. If the mission took place in a wider area, victory came down to priority management; who do I shoot first? Do I let my allies do most of the shooting while I go for the main objective? This is only a sample of what playing “Iron Rain” was like. Other levels included eliminating snoozing Scourgers in a city drowned in sand, exploring a claustrophobic tunnel system where ants could ambush from above, and taking on a “Godzilla”-like boss in a forest.

In addition to the varied enemies and stages, “Iron Rain” excels in a simple, yet creative combat system. Each mission unlocks new weapons (as well as customization options) for you to purchase with in-game currency. You can also utilize one of four soldier classes, and each class comes with its own abilities. In the beginning, you’ll only have access to the Trooper and Jet Lifter classes; the former can use quick dodges while the latter focuses on mobility in exchange for weak defense. Later on, you’ll unlock the Heavy Striker, which allows players to use two of the same weapon at once as well as project a energy shield. The aforementioned classes are great and all, but they have nothing against the best class in the game - the Prowl Rider! This class gives you the ability to ride on your own ant, spider, or scorpion and wreck the ever-loving crap out of your enemies! Even though each class (and the Prowl Rider) has its own fun to bring to the table, they also use each weapon in a different manner. For example, a Trooper may only use one or two bullets for a sniper rifle, but a Heavy Striker can fire two bullets at once. They’re small changes, yes, but even the tiniest shift can change the way you play.

While “Iron Rain” was a ton of fun to play, it still has its share of flaws. For instance, the experience can become mind-numbing and fatiguing when playing for an extensive period of time. Thankfully, a single mission only takes about ten to twenty minutes (on Normal difficulty). So, there are plenty of exits for you to take a break without feeling the need to wait for a convenient save point or forcing yourself to power through.

The only other complaint I have with “Iron Rain” is something that I’m not sure I could call a complaint. Throughout my time with the game, I experienced frequent stuttering and frame drops due to the massive number of enemies and explosions on screen. Whereas most people would frustrated by this, I found it entertaining because of how much mayhem was occurring on screen. It’s worth noting that these stutters never caused a “mission failure”, and the frame drops were still tolerable. I’m not condoning poor optimization here; I want games to be the best they could possibly be. However, in the case of “Iron Rain”, I see the stuttering as more of that “B-movie” quality the community has talked so much about. Lest we forget that Bethesda’s “Skyrim” was showered in accolades despite having major technical flaws of its own. We could go on about the topic of “when to accept and embrace technical problems”, but that’s for another video. Needless to say, “Iron Rain” is not a game for people who put consistent frame rates at the top of their criteria.

Also, for a game that has issues handling its own gameplay, “Iron Rain” shows competence in its online modes. While I wasn’t able to try the PvP (since no one was playing it), the online co-op felt about as stable as playing the game in single-player. Even when playing with people on the other side of the globe, I had stable connection. The only time I ever had technical problems was when there was too much madness happening as I addressed a few minutes ago.

Lastly, let’s talk trophies. “Iron Rain” has a pretty easy Platinum trophy to nab, albeit mildly time-consuming. Most of the trophy lists consists of playing as each class for a set # of missions, using certain abilities a handful of times, and killing a hundred enemies with each weapon type. There are only two trophies that may give you a hard time as both require you to complete one mission on the highest difficulty (one trophy for online, the other for offline). Aside from that, it’s a Platinum trophy you don’t need to rush for. Progress at your own pace.

“Earth Defense Force: Iron Rain” was a pleasant surprise for me. After playing the lazily-assembled mess that was “Generation Zero”, I held off playing shooters for a while. I’m glad “Earth Defense Force” pulled me back in. What seemed, to me, as another cult franchise with a niche fanbase has now become one of my favorite games thanks to its creative use of destructible environments and a deep, yet simple combat system. Is it enough to be a contender for Game of the Year? Unfortunately, not so; not everyone can tolerate stutters and frame dips. It may not be a perfect game, but it does a lot of things right in clever ways, which is enough for me to give “Earth Defense Force: Iron Rain” my full recommendation.
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