Previewed on PS4

To say that the Earth Defence Force series is an acquired taste might be a sly attempt at verbal evasion. It’s a series with a very specific audience. If you’re a sucker for arcade-style mission structures, a screen full of enemy hordes and a love of explosions, then this is for you. Oh, and you need to be able to deal with the occasional dip to 10fps or so. It’s a series staple.

We’ve spent three hours with the game so far, but Earth Defence Force: Iron Rain is already shaping up to be one of the best entries in the series. It certainly helps that with this entry’s move to Unreal Engine 4, Iron Rain benefits from a huge visual overhaul. Enemies are higher detailed, and therefore more disgusting, and animations on your playable character are rather detailed. Watching your PA Gear expand into wings and then subtly collapse back up once you hit the ground is actually rather satisfying.

Environments have seen a massive boost in visual fidelity, too. Cities are more detailed with shrubbery and vegetation growing around buildings, there are even decently rendered cars strewn around the streets. Of course, all of this can be destroyed with a few rockets. Much like the other EDF games, you’ll see most of these maps numerous times throughout your playtime, but there’s a much greater sense of realism to them. Well, as realistic as they can be once the hordes of gigantic ants start clambering over each other and getting stuck on one another. The visuals don’t help the game’s bugs (I don’t mean the insects) but there are areas where I actually felt impressed. For a series that has always looked and felt a generation behind, Iron Rain finally helps EDF catch up.

THEY’RE EVERYWHERE! EDF’s huge hordes of hungry insects are easily taken care of with a rocket launcher. Just a few missions in and you’ll unlock the Naughty Boy – cyoar!

From the streets of San Francisco to the game’s hilly beaches, Iron Rain feels much more ambitious than the iterative entries we’ve seen in recent years. A larger focus on narrative—complete with actual cutscenes—and all-new gameplay mechanics make Iron Rain feel fresh when compared to its predecessors. It certainly still feels like an iteration. It doesn’t reinvent the web-coated wheel, but it does improve upon it.

In just the first few hours, I’ve already had a blast. I love EDF, and I can see myself adoring Iron Rain the more I play it. In just ten or so missions, it’s enthralled me, entertained me and even surprised me. The game’s new Overdrive mechanic—which allows you to essentially fire your weaponry at enhanced speeds with lightning-fast reload—is a blast. If you fail during a mission and have to restart, you can keep it bottled up until the part where you needed it most. It truly helps EDF rise above the power fantasy it already is.

Of course, there are also the game’s intimidating new enemies to deal with and it really doesn’t take long until you’re forced to deal with them. In the time I played, I already encountered a few of the new foes. Firstly, there’s the new Sideros enemies that burst through the sky like a meteor. In the third or fourth mission, one blasted into a gas station I was using as cover – I was far from happy and rather terrified. It doesn’t help that as soon as you get close to them they transform from a large red pillar into a horrifying Dr. Who-style monstrosity with brutal close range attacks and even scarier long-range ones. They dish out the damage and they take it, too. A few hours in and I’ve fought hordes of them—it’s terrifying.

One of Iron Rain’s new enemy types, the Sidero’s are a terrifying foe in numbers. Just look at what they’ve done to this lovely middle-class neighborhood!

Then there’s the Harvesters, an easily destroyed enemy but one that houses humans within pods on its body. Taking them out is simple—shoot the big eye on its front—but you may want to be careful with spraying missiles everywhere as you could accidentally murder the humans you’re trying to save. However, that might not be as simple as you’d think as hope as they’re almost always accompanied by members of the insect horde.

Alongside its visual and core gameplay improvements, the core loop of EDF has been slightly altered somewhat. While you’re still fighting alien insects and unlocking new equipment, you also have to gather up energy crystals to be able to unlock them. Different enemies drop different types of crystals—for example, the Sideros drop red ones—and you’ll have to be careful with gathering them in the heat of battle.

Listen, I don’t just use the rocket launcher but all of the other screenshots I took were bad. However, I do always use the flying class instead of the standard soldier… because I’m a hack.

For as little as we’ve played, Earth Defence Force: Iron Rain is one of EDF’s best entries yet. It certainly feels like a step forward, just not a huge one. If you already adore this fantastic series of whacky and bizarre shooters, Iron Rain is just as bonkers, brilliant and bombastic as its ever been. Also, apparently in this one you can ride the ants… I can’t wait to try it!

Earth Defence Force: Iron Rain launches April 11th on PS4.