It's a pretty good time to be an Earth Defense Force fan. EDF5 was released in the west just a few months ago, and now we're being treated to a brand new instalment from a brand new developer - Iron Rain from Yuke's, the folks responsible for most of the main WWE wrestling games over the last 20 years.
Iron Rain maintains the same battlefield-based bug-blasting gameplay as its EDF predecessors, but Yuke's bring a ton of new weapons, enemies and environments to the table. The gigantic ants and spiders of previous games return, but they've had a bit of a polish so they look more menacing than ever before. The spiders here are particularly nightmare-inducing - they can now have babies... These old foes are joined by flammable gas-filled beetles, gargantuan kaiju, a host of other freakish creations that we aren't going to spoil, and mechanical monstrosities created by the Aggressors, the alien race who are trying to take over the earth. There's also the small matter of a faction of human rebels to contend with - Iron Rain features a stronger story than previous EDF games, which plays out in short cutscenes and radio broadcasts bookending each of the game's 50+ missions.
As always, players have a choice of four different soldier classes which are gradually unlocked throughout the campaign. The Trooper is the all-rounder, the Jet Lifter can fly for a limited time, the Heavy Striker can dual wield weapons, and the Prowl Rider has a sort of grappling hook that lets you zip around the stages Spiderman-style, and can summon one of various giant creatures - each with their own attacks - that you can ride around and use as a weapon.
Players no longer collect weapons and armour from the battlefield - instead, many enemies drop coloured “energy gems”, which can be picked up and spent, along with credits earned by completing missions, on researching alien technology, which is the game's way of saying “buying new weapons”. Where rewards in previous games were handed out seemingly at random, Iron Rain allows you to choose which weapons and items you want to buy, giving greater freedom to create your perfect soldier. There's an insane amount of kit to buy, from assault rifles and missile launchers to the more exotic laser rifles and energy swords - many have unique abilities attached to them, and pretty much all of them are fun to use. Support items like grenades, healing stations, decoy balloons and turrets can be equipped too, and vehicles can now be called in it any time, from standard cars to get you around each stage quicker to big sturdy tanks with super-powered cannons.
Compared to previous EDF games, Iron Rain is a little less B-movie and a bit more realistic (or as realistic as a game like this can get). Stages are smaller than before, so there's less chance of enemies spawning miles away, and with hordes of enemies fighting in less expansive (and completely destructible) surroundings, the mayhem feel even more tense and chaotic than before. It can occasionally get a little too hectic when too many insect carcasses start to pile up though, and it's easy to find yourself cornered with no way out.
Iron Rain was touted as a "more serious" EDF game, and that's exactly what they've delivered. What it lacks in silliness it more than makes up for with its gameplay - exterminating thousands upon thousands of giant bugs will never not be fantastic fun. With support for up to six simultaneous players online, two-player split-screen co-op, a PVP online mode and the neverending lure of earning increasingly powerful weapons at higher difficulties, this is very much one of those games you can go back to time after time. A triumph!
EARTH DEFENSE FORCE: IRON RAIN / DEVELOPER: YUKE'S / PUBLISHER: D3 / PLATFORM: PS4 / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW