It’s not a bold statement to say that the Earth Defense Force isn’t for everyone. For those of us who love the series, it’s been a reliably fun way to blow off steam at the end of the day while mindlessly grinding levels and cracking open thousands of giant bugs and robots. As for everyone else, it’s easy to see why they’ve never gotten hooked. It’s admittedly clunky, with low production values and an overall aura that might get you thinking, “Are they doing all of this on purpose?”
Last year’s EDF 5 made some strides toward addressing some of those criticisms, but plenty of its legacy issues stayed along for the ride. Now, a few months later, EDF: Iron Rain is getting close to its simultaneous worldwide release. The spinoff has been designed with Western audiences in mind, but it has plenty for longtime fans to appreciate as well. Here are some of the highlights, based on our extensive hands-on time with the game as well as conversations with series producer Nobuyuki Okajima.
1. A Different Dev Team
Sandlot created the series, and it’s the studio behind the vast majority of its releases. Iron Rain is being developed by Yuke’s, which is perhaps best known in the West for its 2K WWE games. Okajima says it wasn’t just a logistical decision. “With EDF: Iron Rain, we just wanted to come up with a different outline, and different supplemental elements around that core game design. We wanted to take it to the next level for overseas fans.” Yuke’s definitely has its own take on the series, and it wasn’t afraid to try out new things, either, as I’ll be getting into in a bit. Okajima made it clear during our conversation that this appeal to new audiences shouldn’t worry fans who like what Sandlot has been doing. “I think for the future, there will be two types of EDF games: One like this, and one like the traditional games.”
2. A Slightly Different Tone
EDF’s B-movie vibe is integral to the series, and some of Iron Rain’s prerelease coverage has focused on a more serious, grittier tone. While it certainly does take itself more seriously, it’s by no means a “serious” game. There’s an attempt to humanize some of the members of your squad, with back-and-forth dialog that’s playful and right at home with the game’s action-movie vibe. From what I’ve played, it doesn’t veer completely into crazytown, such as the back half of EDF 5’s oddball exploration of religion and the nature of god. Perhaps that’s because the game is set several decades after the last game, and the people are now even more accustomed to fighting giant bugs and robots. One thing I liked a lot is that the soldiers refer to giant ants as, well, giant ants, instead of calling them ravagers, invaders, or any number of other terms the previous games have leaned on. I mean, they’re unmistakably giant ants.
3. It’s The Same Action, At Its Core
Backing up for a second, what is EDF? How would you describe the series to someone who hadn’t ever heard of it before? I posed that question to Okajima. “You save the world. You’re a human fighting against big creatures. The enemies are huge and numerous. You’re overwhelmed in every stage and location, but as you play through you always find a solution – and hope.” That core is completely intact in Iron Rain. Yuke’s just has its own interpretation of it, is all.
You’re still amassing a huge arsenal of weapons and finding the best ones for every situation. Grinding for better equipment is still important. Bugs still blow up in satisfying ways. It just feels slightly different, is all. For example, the giant ants don’t seem as fixated on charging at the player and biting them as they were in EDF 5. They’ll still do it, but not to the same, aggravating degree. The sprint from EDF 5 returns, along with a host of other mobility improvements across the game’s four classes. In short, it definitely feels different, but it’s not a startling change from what came before.
4. Upgrades Have Been Overhauled
OK, I may have just fibbed a little there. While the basic combat may not be a startling change over what came before, Iron Rain’s weapons loop absolutely is. In the past enemies occasionally dropped gear for players, in the form of weapons crates, armor upgrades, and health-restoring items. It was a little shocking to finish a level without seeing a single green crate. After all, getting those new weapons is one of the reasons why I keep grinding away at these games. Instead, enemies now drop energy gems. Different types drop different gems, which are then used to craft specific weapons. In other words, you’re not as beholden to the random-number generator as you may have been in the past. If you don’t use shotguns, you won’t be disappointed to learn at level completion that the crates you picked up were filled to the brim with those unwanted weapon types. Instead, you get blueprints for new weapons, and you choose whether you want to devote your resources to unlocking them. In practice, it’s a subtle but substantial shift from what came before. My biggest takeaway was that the good weapons are going to cost you, since they naturally require more of these precious gems than trash-tier items. Another appreciated tweak: There’s a 30-second countdown when you complete a mission objective, giving you a clear amount of time to scramble around the battlefield and snatch up all your loot. It beats frantically rolling around, trying to beat the victory tune and the inevitable fade to black.
5. Class Warfare
There are four classes to pick in Iron Rain, several of which are familiar to longtime fans. The Trooper is your standard jack-of-all-trades grunt, while the Jet Lifter can get around the world faster thanks to her limited flight abilities. The Heavy Striker can wield two of every weapon, giving him considerably more firepower to accommodate his plodding movements. The coolest new addition has to be the Prowl Rider. This character uses grappling hooks to propel himself across the world in what is, let’s be real here, an homage to Spider-Man. It’s great. Better still, the new class uses experimental tech to bring captured (and hopefully tamed) bugs to fight for humanity. You can equip ants, spiders, scorpions, and more to come in and wreck stuff on your behalf. You maintain control as you ride these creatures, pinning enemies down with your scorpion’s tail or squirting some kind of corrosive goo from your ant’s posterior (try not to think about it). This mix of mobility and weird science seems like a perfect solution for players who couldn’t get past how damned slow getting around on foot could be. Sure, EDF 5’s sprint helped, but it’s not nearly as quick as using a cable to whip around the world.
6. All For One And One For All
A frustrating aspect of EDF has been that once you started playing as one class, switching to another could be painful. EDF 5 addressed the most painful aspects by allowing you to acquire weapons for classes you weren’t playing as and upgrading their armor, so you weren’t starting completely fresh if you decided to try a new class midway though the campaign. Iron Rain is overhauling weapons and support equipment entirely. Now, every class can use every unlocked weapon. If you want your Trooper to be able to bring automated turrets into battle and call down airstrikes, more power to you. Each class has an encumbrance to consider, so they may not be able to pack as much in their virtual suitcases, but players will at least be able to design their own loadouts with much greater flexibility. As someone who likes to let automated turrets do much of the work but doesn’t like EDF’s support classes, as a whole, this is an absolute godsend.
7. Big Ol’ Monsters
EDF’s campaigns have typically built up to an encounter (or two or three) with a massive kaiju-style boss. That’s definitely the case with Iron Rain. I’m not going to spoil anything, but the big bad in Yuke’s game is absolutely massive, and it looks like something that would be right at home in a Monster Hunter game – even if it could trample most of that series’ menagerie. As impressive as the first encounter was, Okajima says it wasn’t even its final form. Ultimately, it gets nearly 1,000 feet tall. Perhaps it might be wise to start saving those weapon gems for something big…
8. New Locations
Okajima says he wanted to change the venue with Iron Rain, so they did. Instead of taking place in Japan, much of Iron Rain’s combat is set across the western United States, including battles in Los Angeles and San Francisco. The environments are more detailed and varied than what we’ve seen in the past, with plenty of elevations and varied terrain. San Francisco’s hills make explosives a risky proposition, particularly if you use missiles that need space to ascend. And while the worlds aren’t exactly brimming with ambient life, there are some fun little touches. If you bonk into a cable car in San Francisco, for instance, its brakes fail and you can watch it barrel down the hill – eventually plowing into a gas station and exploding. Don’t ask why the route ends at the gas pumps. It’s EDF.
9. Character Customization
The series has dabbled with character customization, but it’s largely been relegated to picking main and alternate armor colors. Iron Rain has a full suite of options, including faces and hair, eye color, and more. It’s no surprise, considering Yuke’s WWE pedigree, where character customization is an integral part of the package. You can enter the fray in fearsome suits of armor or a swimsuit, if you’re into that kind of stuff. It’s a small detail, but worth noting: You can earn special decorative emblems by completing combat challenges or finding hidden items in the world. It’s a great way to show off your achievements if you decide to dabble in the game’s online multiplayer.
10. A Robot Can Pick Up Your Bus
During my demo, I was driving a bus around like a jackass and then a robot picked up the bus and crushed it like an empty beer can. That’s probably all you need to know about EDF: Iron Rain.
EDF: Iron Rain is coming to PlayStation 4 on April 11.