Earth Defense Force: Iron Rain Review

Giant insects from outer space, knows as Aggressors, have once again invaded our dear planet, and Earth Defense Force hurries to the rescue, like so many times before. In a move towards a more serious take on the subject, Sandlot, the long-running developer of Earth Defense Force series, was replaced by Yuke’s, which is best known for its endless array of wrestling games. More serious? Come on! Earth Defense Force: Iron Rain is still as much a B-game as ever. Let’s put it like this; Starship Troopers, which, too, featured armed human forces fighting giant insects, was a great, if widely misunderstood movie, but its numerous sequels were straight-to-video trash. Earth Defense Force: Iron Rain is very much like a Japanese cousin to those follow-up films.

It’s the year 2040 and seven years have passed since the Operation: Red Sprite when Earth Defense Force had a desperate struggle against the Hivecraft, a massive alien ship. The hero of the battle fell comatose for seven years. Meanwhile, the war against Aggressors raged on. Now, the fallen hero has woken up and is enlisted straight away to a Blast Team, a new elite force in the front-line of the ever-lasting war. Guess what? You play as the said hero and get to shape him or her up through a rudimentary character creation. Still, it’s better than a pre-created toon, even though the result looks more like a plastic mannequin from a shop window. Of course, the character also falls into a category of a silent protagonist who has nothing to say on the matters thrown at her.

The rest of the game goes like this; you pick up your armor, weapons and equipment and go to challenge the Aggressors, be them insects or robots, in numerous short campaign missions that take place from San Francisco streets to the Mojave Desert. There are four armor types unlocked through the campaign progress. Trooper is your bread and butter armament with passable mobility, armor and equipment slots. Jet Lifter is the most useless of the lot. The idea of a flying armor is, of course, fantastic but don’t expect anything of the Tony Stark variety, as the armor’s controls are too arbitrary to be of any real benefit. Heavy Striker is a slow-moving damage sponge with pop-up shields and is obligatory to wear in some of the more demanding missions. Prowl Rider is the last armor you’ll unlock. It’s more agile than the Trooper and you can also swing around with attachable cables like a makeshift Spider-Man, but ultimately, it’s a bit pointless. Despite free hands while clinging to a wall, you can’t shoot from there. All armors have an overdrive feature that means enhanced firepower for a limited set of time, except for the Prowl Rider which has you riding an alien insect of your choice. Pretty fun, even if a bit useless, too.

Equipment for missions not only costs credits to unlock but also energy gems, blue, yellow or red, that drop from the downed enemies. When you use a support or recovery item, such as a grenade or healing pack, it’s deducted both from the mission score and the overall credits. That means you have to grind previous missions in order to afford all the stuff you’re going to need to make further progress in the campaign. Thankfully, missions are short and soon you’ll find those sorties of the lot that are most easy to grind in.

Initially, mindless third-person action against goo-spilling insects is whole lot of fun, but eventually, you’ll realize you’re fighting the same limited variety of enemies over and again. When a new type of monster is introduced, the following missions will feature them to no end, culminating in an avalanche of overly familiar creatures and machines in no time. Things won’t be helped by a weak hit impact. It’s hard to tell when you are hit or when you’re hitting enemies. So, it’s best to keep an eye on the radar and have your nose lined up against the red dots on it, and keep firing until the dots are gone. Not very exciting or fun anymore, mind you.

The game takes wild difficulty swings. Some missions are simple walkovers while in some you’re bound to hit a wall if you don’t have a co-op partner to play with. In that sense, it was stupid that the online play was not available during the review period. Luckily, I had my twin brother to have as a local co-op partner in a split-screen play. Without his added firepower (and his character serving as a second target for the swarming enemies), some missions would simply have been too overwhelming to handle, even if their difficulty was set to easy.

Again, claims about more serious take on the subject seem absurd when taken into account the overall presentation and the narrative. To put it simply, Earth Defense Force: Iron Rain looks like it would be homey in the PlayStation 2 library. And not even as a very good-looking PS2 title, either, but more like a budget game the series originated from. Everything about Iron Rain looks blurry and ill-defined with an erratic frame rate. However, effects are nice and can make screen captures look better than the actual action is. I won’t hold subpar visuals against the game, though, because in a way, a title like this demands them. The narrative is also meager. It’s almost solely carried through a radio chatter between your AI team mates (who are useless in action), but you hardly have time to pay attention to it when you’re concentrated on nuking the bogies.

One could argue it’s therapeutic to blast and hack insects into smithereens and hammy presentation ensures it’s not too scary either – until you find your thoughts wandering to entirely something else, like coming up with tomorrow’s grocery list, during the supposedly heated action. The featured gameplay is too samey and numbing to hold excitement through longer spells of playing. Even in shorter sessions, you can’t help but wonder if you’re just wasting your time. The thing is, everything in the game, from visuals to the gameplay, is definitely B-grade stuff - except for the price tag. Why an obvious budget game sells for a full price beats me. Earth Defense Force: Iron Rain is a game that begs to be picked up only from a bargain bin.

Video game nerd & artist. I've been playing computer and video games since the early 80's so I dare say I have some perspective to them. When I'm not playing, I'm usually at my art board.