Man, I don't even know where to start with this one.

I guess, let's put down the raw facts first, and then get into context. So. Earth Defense Force: Iron Rain. It's a new spinoff title in the much beloved Earth Defense Force franchise, and just like the mainline numbered games, it's all about killing giant alien bugs and other B-movie classics. So, if that's the case, what's different about Iron Rain?

To tell you about that, first I have to tell you about a different game entirely. Earth Defense Force: Insect Armageddon. That was another spinoff game in the franchise, the first of its kind. Released in 2011, it came at a time when the franchise was still young and niche, especially outside of Japan, and tried to be a gritty, serious take on the whole concept.

It was also...Kind of rough. Woefully short on content, and with fewer, longer missions that forced you to carry a very generic "okay for all situations" loadout instead of playing with the fun stuff. But it had some very interesting ideas, including a four-class system, that would eventually come into the mainline series with Earth Defense Force 2025.

So here we have a different company, coming at the same core concept of a spinoff. It's a thing with some turbulent history in the series, but even before we play the game, it certainly has a lot of potential...So, now that we've talked that, we can talk Iron Rain.

Our core gameplay loop is pretty standard for the franchise. Two guns, infinite reloads, giant enemy bugs, you probably know all this. But the game makes some very key changes that get interesting. First and most obvious is the aesthetic. Where most of the games aim for a sort of 50s B-movie aesthetic, railgrinding the dividing line between Japanese and American takes on the same core, this one instead shoots straight into 80s R-rated aesthetic. It's not quite full on serious, and certainly not the brown-and-bloom of Insect Armageddon, but it's sure something else.

And after beating the first mission, we get into the other trick. See, here you're not playing as a class, like one of the many Soldiers or Wing Divers or whathaveyou.

No, here you're playing a custom created character. Complete with customized costume. This one character will be suited up in the gear of whatever class you want to play as. Which also means you can be a dude in a jetpack, or a lady in heavy armor.

Another element of this, ironically the complete opposite of our comparisons to Insect Armageddon, is that you always have the same weapon choices. Whatever kit you strap on, you have a similar broad set of weapons to pick from...Which also means that you're getting fewer different things to buy than you might unlock in one of the main games.

Oh, and I said buy. Because we have a completely different system of unlocks here. Now, instead of getting randomly dropped weapon boxes and armor unlocks, you get credits for beating the mission well, and gems are the primary enemy-drop-thing. Beat a mission for the first time on a given difficulty, and it unlocks some new gear to buy access to with your credits and gems.

I'm not entirely sure how I feel about this more curated experience. It does mean that the game can produce a steady flow of things, from weapons to consumable items(they take credits off of your reward when you use them, so it's a real balancing act) to new costume bits for your custom hero. But it also removes some of the charm, and turns the replay value from 'grind for new rolls on the weapon chart' to 'grind for cash to buy the thing you already can see in the weapon shop', which is a bit less fun.

(Oh, and just so we're clear? This isn't a Fee 2 Pay situation. The game's got no premium currency, no way to buy the in-game currencies, it's just balanced around getting that stuff from play like the games of old. God, I wish I didn't have to clarify that...)

Once you're in a mission, most of the stuff's normal, but there is some interesting details. Every 'class', now a suit of PA Gear, includes an energy core and can do things with it. The basic suit has little dodge-boosts, the jetpack suit can obviously fly, and so on. And on top of that, every suit has a once-per-mission Overdrive Mode, which cranks your movement speed, your firing rate, and your reload speed through the roof while giving you unlimited energy for the duration.

If there's one thing that I think absolutely needs to make it into the next mainline game, it's this core idea of an 'oh crap' button. Knowing that you've always got that one card up your sleeve in the event that things go really sideways, giving you the firepower to blast your way through and the sheer bloody speed to run away, is really useful. And I think the game’s take on some weapons having Quick Reload actions, but not all of them, is an interesting balancing tool.

Let's talk outright issues real quick. There's two big ones that stick out to me.

The first is that a lot of the battles manage to feel smaller. The game's only willing to throw so many bugs or robots at you, and while the ones they have are cool and fun to fight, it does feel like I wish there were more basic enemies running around at any given time...

But on the other hand, I'm not sure the game could handle it. I played this on the baseline PS4, and there were definitely some missions where the game bogged down. There's one near the start of the game, your first encounter with the game's second enemy faction, that has a moment where the whole thing gets real choppy. (Though at the same time, it only happens for a little bit, right when a whole set of big enemies spawns in at once, which makes me wonder if this might just need a few timing tweaks. And as I was writing this review, a patch came out that helped smooth these problems over noticeably. They’re not gone, but they’re sure not as bad as they were.)

So, at the end of the day, let's talk actual opinions.

I don't necessarily think this should be your entry into the series. It’s just got too many little differences and quirks. But, BUT, I do think it makes a very good second game. If you've already played a lot of 2025/4.1, or you put some time into 5, and you want a change of pace? I think this absolutely does a lot of interesting things to be worth looking at.