Almost a decade ago the co-op shooter genre hit a high point which has never been surpassed when Valve released the still-incredible Left for Dead 2. Despite its age, Valve’s game still has enough gusto to pull gamers back to it over and over again and those of you who have never experienced it for yourself are likely to be incredibly impressed should you venture back into the recent past. It may seem strange to talk about a totally different (and some may say outdated) game when the review clearly states that this piece of rambling cultural commentary is aimed squarely at Earthfall, yet it is nigh-on-impossible to even contemplate this new game’s potential without making reference to one of gaming’s greats. The similarities are numerous, but it’s fair to say (spoiler alert) that Earthfall falls short of its predecessor’s heady heights on a number of levels. However, this was likely to be the case, so we’ll try and look beyond this for the rest of the review. We’ll try.
In short, Earthfall has a simple premise that sees players join forces as a squad of four who are then tasked with blowing the living daylights out of anything which moves and looks vaguely inhuman. As you might expect, there are vast hordes of enemies for you to slaughter in your quest for survival and these come in a reasonable range of types. Aside from the standard cannon fodder of the grunts, which are easy enough to dispatch and don’t cause too much trouble other than the sheer numbers in which they flood the screen at times, each series of skirmishes throws in some surprises to keep you on your toes and players have to adapt to each enemy to ensure that they can regain the upper hand. In my opinion, there are a few things which could be ironed out in a future update in terms of the ‘bullet sponge’ aspect of some of the opponents or the pattern in which the enemies spawn, but the action is still thick and fast enough to keep things interesting.
On the first play through things get pretty tense and there is a sense of urgency which comes from trying to complete an objective and then hearing the tell-tale screams of an impending rush on your location. As a result, it doesn’t take long to recognize the distinctive sound of each class of alien intruder which gives savvy players an advantage if they communicate with their team-mates effectively. The missions themselves are varied enough and require a bit more than an itchy trigger finger to get from A to B and there are certainly some stand-out moments which you’ll find yourself reminiscing over when you try to encourage others to get in on the action.
At this stage it is worth noting that this game is a bit of a mess when you play solo with AI in support – you will find yourself doing most of the hard work and wondering why you brought the others along for the ride at times, but they do sometimes come to the rescue if you find yourself in a bit of a pickle. It’s clear that the team behind Earthfall wanted to make an action-packed co-op experience which is more than just shooting wave after wave of baddies, yet you can’t help but feel that a bit of extra development time on the solo aspect would have been worth the effort (especially as the online aspect can be a bit up and down when it comes to establishing a solid connection (this is obviously dependent on internet speeds etc. too but it’s still worth recognizing)). However, if you get into this with some like-minded friends and your internet is up to standard then there is plenty to love about this title.
It is hard not to veer back into the comparisons mentioned at the beginning (I feel like I did pretty well up until this point), but the only real gripes with this game come from knowing that it lacks the same panache as the game which truly inspired it. One of the biggest issues a game often faces at its heart is its replay value and what tends to keep people coming back for more in this type of experience is the promise of random events and surprise occurrences. In more recent times, games like PUBG rely on players to create their own stand-out moments so this puts pressure on developers to come up with ways of keeping things exciting if a game utilises waves of computer-controlled enemies. What made Left for Dead work so well was the randomized manner of enemy spawning and ever-changing locations of safe-houses and weapon drops etc. In many ways, the only reason that the game is still so popular to this day is that you can never completely guarantee what is going to happen in the heat of battle. Earthfall stumbles at this hurdle and you soon get used to the sequence of enemies in each map – this doesn’t detract from the actual quality of the game itself, but you can’t help but feel it won’t have the kind of longevity it needs for it to gather a respectable reputation amongst the hardened gaming community. If you’ve never played the ‘other’ game then this is less of an issue, and it can be remedied at some point in the future I assume, but it is still one of the biggest negatives.
One of the other things which did stand out as being below par is the sound and feel of the in-game arsenal. I like guns to feel weighty and powerful and intense gun fights should provide a sense of empowerment, but I never really felt like I was causing huge amounts of damage whilst wielding the guns on offer here. Add to this the fact that the enemies don’t really register bullet impacts in any massively noticeable way and combine it with some pretty unimpressive death animations (and some graphical elements which are a bit dodgy on the whole) and it is easy to understand why the experience might be considered to be lacking in polish. It’s not that it isn’t fun to play: it’s just not as exhilarating as it could have been.
Overall, however, there is plenty to commend. The level design is well thought out and there are some really original flashes of brilliance on show, but there is a lot which has been seen before in other games in the genre. In the past few years we have seen a bit of a resurgence in this field and you can’t help but feel that Earthfall crashed down just a little bit too late.
Game play & images – IGN