There have been so many games which see four people try to kill a seemingly endless number of zombies since 2008’s Left 4 Dead, I am officially bored of zombie games. So here is a four player co-op shooter where ammo is scarce, help is scarcer and you can really only rely on your friends - but now you’re fighting aliens. Ladies and Gentlemen, I present: Earthfall.
The comparison to Left 4 Dead is one Earthfall wears on its sleeve, but this is not a simple clone. Developers Holospark have updated everything, from the gunplay to the level design. This truly is a modern day interpretation of the genre, with all the bells and whistles one would expect from a new AAA first person shooter. Holospark also included new mechanics that can drastically change how you would normally approach this kind of game, making a lot of different tactical approaches viable.
The gunplay is the area that has seen the most improvement. You can aim-down-sights, and aiming in general feels tighter and more rewarding. Aliens explode and fall to the floor in a satisfying way, and they react to being shot if it takes more than one bullet. The guns have a range of different uses depending on how you want to play: the shotgun is great for running into a load of aliens and blasting out the other side, whereas the rifles are better for a more methodical playstyle and the sniper rifle is great on some of the maps where you need to defend a single place. My only complaint with the guns is that they sound like pathetic pea shooters rather than assault weapons.
The maps are quite large and very detailed, and they have a nice variety of environments and map styles. The first mission is a traditional linear affair, go from point A to point B. The second mission takes an entirely different approach, as it shuttles you around an underground facility and takes you back through the same places you’ve already been. There’s a central office that effectively becomes a home base, somewhere safe and easily defended while everyone heals and refills their ammo. A third map forces you to camp in one location and gives you everything you’ll need to survive while you repair an escape vehicle.
Earthfall also introduces 3D printers and health stations, along with placeable barriers. These additions help keep locations secure, although they still need an active defence to stop you being overrun. Those barriers only last a short while when being attacked by a horde, and against a boss they’ll be destroyed almost instantly. The 3D printers are effectively limitless ammo, allowing you to create a fresh gun from a partial list of the weapons in the game.
The enemies are also quite varied for a horde game. There are several types of basic alien that make up the standard cannon fodder, each with different abilities that differentiate their role in an invading force. Above them are the range of special aliens: these are alien versions of the specials from Left 4 Dead, updated enough to make them different to fight. Finally, there are the two boss aliens, which require a significant amount of resources and can be exceptionally difficult to fight. All of the aliens look great, and they play like aggressive hunters searching out the last remnants of humanity.
As with all games in this genre, it is best played with friends and Earthfall allows you to drop in and out of a mission relatively easily as long as you are not the host. I was able to join a game while it was loading and connected quickly enough that I was in only a few seconds after those who had launched it, and when people had to leave the AI took over very quickly. The ally AI itself is also quite competent, and has a few settings available in the mission setup to increase or decrease their effectiveness. The main problem the teammate AI has is priorities - it would rather take down all the aliens first and then rescue the player from unconsciousness afterwards, particularly when a boss is around.
The game is relatively bug-free for an Early Access game, though we did encounter a few. One of the bosses, the Blackout, has trapped itself inside a wall when using its dash attack on a couple occasions, and in multiple instances the icons telling me what equipment my allies had were either wrong or just missing. Other than that though, the game handles the sheer number of enemies on the screen superbly - especially when it looks as good as it does.
Earthfall is an exceptionally promising title; it needs a little bit of tweaking and more content, but its such a strong experience. I’ve gone back to play Left 4 Dead 2 since playing Earthfall and it is so surprising how much better Earthfall plays and feels. The game is due for release on Steam, PS4 and Xbox One sometime soon, and I hope that the completion of the content will lead to Holospark to add more missions after launch.