I hadn’t heard about Earthfall until briefly before E3. After checking out a few videos I knew I had to get my hands on it. Co-op shooters like Earthfall and Left 4 Dead almost fit within their own genre, and they are few and far between. Nonetheless, developer Holospark has attempted to fill the hole in our hearts that Valve left us after two Left 4 Dead titles, so how well did it turn out?
Earthfall is very similar to Left 4 Dead, this was something the developers were really up front about. Instead of trying to reinvent the genre, Holospark swapped out zombies for aliens, and implemented some cool environment features that help add a new element of strategy instead of just running and shooting. It’s pretty great that one developer that has a huge passion for a specific type of game took it upon themselves to create a game they love.
The meat of the game takes place over 10 different stages, split up into two campaigns. While environments aren’t exactly unique or inspired, a majority of the stages are different and are fun to play. Dashing through all 10 stages is way more enjoyable with other players, even one buddy makes things more fun. It helps that the AI is more than competent. If anything I found that the AI even on a medium skill setting was more reliable than some other players. The strong AI helps keep things fun and interesting even while playing alone, so not having a group of friends or other players doesn’t make Earthfall not worth playing.
With each level playing out similarly, having varying environments was pretty key to keeping things fresh. I did mention that the levels aren’t inspired, but there are some exceptions. One stage towards the end of the second campaign has players traversing an environment taken over by alien foliage. In the ground were pits that enemies crawled out of, and players will throw satchel charges down them to close them off. Other portions of stages take place in darker areas where the flashlight is important to navigation.
Gunplay in Earthfall is actually really strong. There are 10+ weapons for players to use, and each one behaves a little differently than the others. The shotguns feel meaty and powerful, while the assault rifles are good for keeping large amounts of aliens at bay. In addition to the standard pistols, shotguns, and AR’s, there are a handful of other powerful weapons. An incredibly strong chaingun, flamethrower, and sniper rifle all mix it up during levels. These power weapons are few and far between, so I often ended up carrying one around and dropping it to use a main weapon to save them for one of the powerful bosses.
Speaking of bosses, there are only two in Earthfall. The powerful Beast, and the Blackout. Both behave very differently, but are handled similarly; by pouring a ton of bullets into them. There are two big problems with Earthfall, the first is a lack of enemy variety. Sure, it’s a ton of fun running through levels shooting enemies, but after a certain point, the glaring lack of variety is hard to ignore. There are basic enemies which come in three similar varieties, cannon fodder, spitters, and ones that just take more bullets. Then there are four special aliens. The first is the Whiplash which are quick on their feet. They will run up to a character, grab them, and then run off to kill them in peace. The second is the violent Thresher. The Thresher jumps on players, pinning them to the ground and beating them to death. The third is the Sapper, think a boomer from Left 4 Dead. The last is the Enrager, which doesn’t actually attack players. Instead, it just makes the drones stronger and more aggressive. It may seem like there is a lot of variety, but after engaging the same enemies in every stage, it gets repetitive. Luckily, the variations in some of the levels does help mix thing up, even if it doesn’t always feel like it.
The other thing that helps keep players on their toes are dynamic enemy spawns. Every level plays out the same, but enemies spawn in different places, and sometimes areas where I had fought a boss before didn’t have a boss at all. Some areas will have a Blackout spawn directly after a Beast, and the dynamic spawn differentiations do help keep things fresh.
The second thing that holds Earthfall back from being something truly great is a lack of content. I burned through all ten stages in about 6 hours, and other than the higher difficulties, there really isn’t a lot of replay value. Developer Holospark has stated that there will be extra levels, modes, and other content, and all of it will be free. The reason behind this move is to keep players together. Earthfall is best with friends, and the developers know that, so in attempt to keep players unsegregated behind DLC walls, they’re making all upcoming content free. There will be paid cosmetics in Earthfall, in order to counteract making the DLC free.
The biggest aspect that sets Earthfall apart from the competition is the barricade system. Scattered around levels are barricades that players can put up to help fortify the area. These barricades have doors that slide open so players can come and go freely. In addition, kerosene tanks can be strapped to them to create fire doors, so if enemies try to break through they catch ablaze. Arc grenades (grenades that emit electricity) can also be strapped to doors as a trap for the alien invaders.
Visually, it doesn’t hold up as well graphically when compared to other current gen titles, with some muddy textures. Thankfully, a smooth, consistent framerate keeps players in the action throughout. I played on Xbox One X, so even though the textures were a little muddy, the game still looked pretty crisp and I didn’t lose track of the action. I didn’t have any frame drops in my playthrough either.
Earthfall is a lot of fun with some friends, but it is less enticing without them. Still, competent AI help a title built to be played with others. A lack of enemy variety and a short campaign are the two things that hold Earthfall back from being a co-op classic, but there is a ton of fun to be had blasting through the 10 stages with a large arsenal of weapons.
Earthfall is available now for Playstation 4, Xbox One, and PC. This review is based on an Xbox One copy of the game provided by the publisher. Purchases are available here.