There’s not much reason to play this derivative co-op shooter when Left 4 Dead 2 already exists.
Frankly, I was never able to successfully shake the phrase “Left 4 Dead, but worse” from my mind during my time with Earthfall. Admittedly, Valve is one of the toughest acts to follow in all of gaming, but every aspect of this co-op shooter falls short of its inspiration and none of its depressingly few new ideas stood out as innovative or meaningful. But perhaps Earthfall’s greatest shortcoming is the lack of replay value for its limited batch of levels.
Earthfall sends a team of four players through 10 mostly linear missions set in the aftermath of a cataclysmic alien invasion. You’ll combat an unending onslaught of shambling alien drones and endure frequent attacks from the teamwork inducing “special” enemies, most of whom are extremely derivative. Sappers explode, Threshers pounce, and Whiplashes whisk away teammates. Annoyingly, this trio spawns together at predictably regular intervals. The two disablers let loose an initial battlecry, but good luck keeping track of them after that, as they emit hardly any sound. As a result, getting pounced or grabbed feels unavoidable and obligatory.
The two bosses are serviceable challenges, and while aesthetically distinct, the Beast and Blackout are dealt with in much the same way. The one exception to this menagerie of monotony is the super-fragile Enrager which empowers smaller drones but tends to stay hidden. Hunting down and popping this shy alien balloon often proved to be a fun distraction from Earthfall’s mostly repetitive mission structure.
The phrase “This will attract a swarm!” quickly became comical in its frequency and application. Cranking a winch, opening a door, charging a car battery, and even downloading files onto a laptop invariably brought all the boys to the yard. To its credit, some missions successfully broke out of this tedious rut with exciting and unexpected finales; notably, a train getaway and experimental weapon test stuck out as a pleasant surprise.
Very few elements of Earthfall’s 10 missions are randomized.
Unfortunately, one lesson Earthfall didn’t take from L4D is that very few elements of its 10 missions are randomized, which leads to extremely repetitive experiences when you replay the same level. There will always be a sniper rifle in the first train car of Radio Silence and the exterminator’s van will always be the correct vehicle to inspect in Breakdown. The few elements that are random, like enemy spawn locations, lack the variance to offer any meaningful replayability.
Small shelters with 3D weapon printers and health stations are liberally scattered across the stages and need to be powered up – which, survey says, attracts a swarm! These caches can also contain vital ammunition and grenades, as well as situationally useful barriers and turrets. 3D printing is so hot right now, and swapping weapons mid-mission is a welcome option, but in practice I found myself using these stations functionally as ammo crates after developing clear favorites within the limited 10-gun arsenal.
One of Earthfall’s greatest strengths is the visual presentation of its firearms. The MP5x, for example, retains the classic real-world receiver but its heavy modifications perfectly evoke the near-future, sci-fi setting. In spite of this, shooting feels okay at best. Most weapons, especially shotguns, feel lacking in the punch department. In part, that’s because vanquished aliens tend to anticlimactically slump or flop over instead of making a spectacle out of it. Location damage is always welcome, but when alien limbs detach it sometimes reduces entire drones to an ugly, low-polygon torso.
The shooting in Earthfall feels okay at best.
The reticle situation is an absolute mess. Aiming down sights causes a hit marker to appear over your weapon’s iron sights whenever you aim at an enemy (usually hit markers are reserved for hitting an enemy.) The marker slowly fades away when aiming at nothing, and turns red whenever you score a hit. The end result is a sloppy and confusing series of reticles that succeed only in cluttering the sight picture and making Earthfall a less visceral shooter.
The combat experience becomes noticeably worse when connecting to someone else’s game, which you tend to do often in a co-op focused game. I’d like to offer some more specifics but Earthfall provides no way to see your ping or that of any other player, much less any way to filter games based on connection. Earthfall also offers no host migration, so if the host is disconnected or leaves a game at any point during a mission, it’s over. With all of that said, I had no problems finding other players with matchmaking and my lobby usually filled up quickly after being created.
Finally, the five missions in each of Earthfall’s two campaigns provide a light storyline when played sequentially, with the latter levels integrating some welcome new objectives which tie into the story nicely. Any of the missions can be played solo, with derpy bots taking the place of players. Some missions took me as little as 15 minutes to complete on my first playthrough at what, for me, was a leisurely pace. At a very conservative estimate, assuming no wipes, all 10 missions will take you no longer than four hours.
In the absence of a versus mode, this is where Earthfall’s limited random variables and subsequent poor replayability hurt the most. Cranking up the difficulty is always an option, but one foray into the “overwhelming” difficulty mode didn’t strike me as all that different from my experiences with “regular.” Aesthetic progression seems like a pretty obvious next step for Earthfall, as a carrot on a stick would at least provide some incentive to replay the campaigns. But while there is a customization tab in the menu, at the time of this review it’s entirely barren.