This four-player co-op shooter is the gaming equivalent of store brand Coca-Cola. The creators have tried to replicate a highly successful formula – in this case, Valve’s classic Left 4 Dead series – but when it comes to sampling its delights, those accustomed to the real-deal will instantly notice something a little off.
Perhaps ‘store brand Coca-Cola with a twist of lemon’ would be a more fitting analogy, as developer Holospark has put their own sci-fi spin on things. Instead of hordes of festering undead, the four ‘everyday American’ survivors – which include a bearded chap in a plaid shirt, and a hooded teenage stoner – are up against an alien onslaught.
The bipedal beige-skinned scourge behaves in a similar way to Valve’s dearly deceased, often found wandering aimlessly and occasionally taking a few seconds to react to your presence. They’re also keen on surrounding the survivors when aggravated, especially on harder difficulty settings. A forceful shove gives breathing space, but only temporarily. Dillydally in one area for too long and the alien hordes will soon catch up, tearing down doors and haphazardly descending from high ledges and skylight windows, familiar incidental music and all.
Even Valve’s ‘special infected’ have been replicated with an off-world spin. The ‘Whiplash’ – which vaguely resembles a small giraffe – will carry off any stragglers, and there’s the usual assortment of toxic goo spewing spitters, exploding bloaters, and crowd rallying enragers. The tank-like alien has seemingly escaped from Turtle Rock’s uber-flop Evolve, meanwhile, able to breathe fire. Indeed, the alien army’s design is hardly inspired, resembling the rogue’s gallery in a straight to DVD sci-fi movie. The ‘Blackout’ – a ferocious cyclone of spindly tentacles – is about as creative as it gets.
The sci-fi twist does fortunately lead to a few unique ideas, albeit literally just a few. The ‘arc grenade’ is a nifty gizmo, electrocuting any aliens that step into the blast, while the colossal ‘Valkyrie’ rifle instantly turns the opposition into dust. There’s also a bigger emphasis on fortifying locations than L4D, with self-erecting barricades – which handily ‘snap’ to fit doorways – and both mounted and auto turrets commonly found in areas where holdouts take place.
Sadly, Earthfall’s most promising sounding feature is also its most disappointing – futuristic 3D printers, able to produce weapons on demand, are nothing more than sci-fi treasure chests. With spare weapons bountiful, we rarely felt the need (or desire) to stop and use them. In fact, they simply appear to be present just so Holospark could add weapon crafting to Earthfall’s feature list.
The ‘off brand effect’ rears its head elsewhere too. Chatter between teammates is almost constant – warning of incoming threats, pointing out any weapons or health packs in the vicinity, and making general observations – but the dialogue isn’t anywhere as witty or memorable. But even though the four playable characters are equally bland, the voice acting is, at least, commendable.
Level design is another high point. Ten stages set in rural America spread across two chapters. Waypoints and mission objectives are always clear – save perhaps for when being tasked with finding ways into boarded-up facilities – and there’s a solid sense of progression and constancy. The first chapter commences with a routine supply run in a ramshackle country town, while the second chapter ends with the ragtag team deep in hostile territory. One of the smaller bite-sized missions takes place solely in a junkyard, setting up a perimeter in the garage while heading out to find vehicle parts, while another involves resorting power to a dam. So, so, many valves to turn.
As was to be expected, the AI doesn’t have the capacity to take the lead and complete objectives, merely following behind. They’ll take down enemies with pinpoint accuracy while you carry fuel canisters and such to their destinations, and will also come to your aid if your health bar plunges into the red. This doesn’t mean they’re entirely trustworthy, though – if you aren’t quick off the draw when entering a resistance storeroom, then they may pocket a weapon or two before you have the chance. The cheeky scamps.
There’s plenty of potential for improvement for the weapons themselves. Except for the ‘Vendetta’ – a pistol with a loud echoing chime – the rest of the assortment feels a little light and flimsy. The sniper rifle, in particular, lacks weight and heft. The rate of fire is so rapid that it can be carried and used like an everyday assault rifle. On the flipside, the heavy machine-gun and flamethrower are fun to use, successfully giving the sensation of being temporarily invincible.
We’re hoping for more far-flung alien weaponry in the incoming (free!) post-launch DLC. Indeed, expanding on the sci-fi setting would really help Earthfall carve its own identity.
In its current form, it’s very much befitting of its £25 price tag. Every element found here is functional but far from fancy, falling short of the bar Valve set long ago. This includes the overall presentation – the bold and brash HUD could’ve used refinement, occasionally obscuring the action, and for the most part it resembles a late last-gen release. Maybe early current-gen at a push.
Going back to the off-brand fizzy pop analogy for one last time, Earthfall isn’t as sweet, nor as buzz-inducing as Left 4 Dead, but it’ll quench your thirst for a while. It’s a palatable alternative.