They mostly come at night… mostly

Title: Earthfall
Platform: PC (reviewed), PS4, Xbox One
Developer: Holospark
Publisher: Holospark
Release Date: Out now
TL;DR: It’s Left4Dead with aliens
Price: PC: £30/$30
Console: £40/$40
Family Focus?: Click here for more information

Some games rely on a methodical, powerful plot or character to reel players in; others rely on flashy open worlds or campaigns that are so time consuming that your life now belongs to Persona 5 or something. But then there are games that rely on the simple things; simple things like mowing down a wave of aliens with a chain gun whilst you and your friends try to avert yet another invasion. And it’s this simple thing that Holospark’s co-op shooter Earthfall does very, very well, offering a return to those panicked sessions of mission objectives and surviving waves of alien attacks that we’ve been longing for since the days of Left4Dead.

And because Earthfall is predominantly a co-op shooter (you can play solo with a team of bots) you’ll be getting three reviews in one; Sarah, Steweh, and John all give their verdict on the game.

What’s the game about?

Steweh says: What is Earthfall? Well for me it’s the Left for Dead 3 sequel that I’ve been waiting for, for far too long. Valve’s zombie shooter is still one of my favourite co-op shooters ever, and I just want more of the same, albeit with some graphical enhancements and new baddies. Earthfall does just that, by giving us a hectic four player co-op swarm shooter, replacing ambling zombies with extra-terrestrial xenomorphs.

With ten stages set over two chapters, there is a progressing story, but it does seem a little weak. No real narrative to speak of, just some vague commentary from the four characters in the game. Seeing that Holospark have been open about being heavily influenced by Left 4 Dead, it’s a bit disappointing that the heroes don’t have the same level of banter and personality as the L4D characters.

Maya’s dead-eyed gaze doesn’t scream personality

Sarah says: You might be forgiven for thinking that there isn’t much of a story in Earthfall, other than “Ooh, survive the alien invasion!” but as you work your way through missions, you’ll unlock lore (which you can access from the title menu) that gives you a better understanding of what’s going on, what enemies you’re dealing with, as well as some background on the characters you’re playing as.

John says: To be honest, other than the plot involving aliens invading the planet and you being part of a rag-tag team of survivors, I couldn’t tell you what else actually happens in the story. You’ll get chunks of dialogue as you go from objective to objective, but because we were all chatting as we were playing, I didn’t really pick up on anything. But the game does factor that inability to listen and speak; each level contains bits of lore that you’ll get when you interact with an item, or when you’ve killed some aliens in a certain way. Basically, it gives you a bit of background on the world you’re playing in that you can read at your leisure. Bottom line is, you’re there to fight back against a fairly raucous alien invasion.

What’s the gameplay like?

Sarah says: The missions are fast-paced and give you very little downtime. You start out with four teammates and you have to make your way through the area, overcoming various obstacles and complete objectives to survive until the end, periodically being attacked by swarms of aliens.

You start off with a pistol and nothing else, so it’s up to you to go exploring and find more powerful alternatives, whether they be guns or melee weapons. Ammo crates can also be found but it’s often easier to just pick up a new weapon rather than try to wait for your next refill. You’ll also find medkits and stim-packs, while some places will have buildable barricades that you can pick up and place in doorways or other openings, making you feel less exposed, though these will be destroyed with enough damage.

As if trying to survive hordes of aliens with (sometimes) questionable weaponry and limited ammo isn’t enough, you’ll also need to contend with various types of aliens. One looks like some kind of crazed giraffe that will run at you and carry you off, leaving you helpless until one of your teammates chases it down and shoots it. Another will run up to you and explode, releasing an obnoxious acid-goo, while yet another will just pin you to the floor and whale on you until one of your teammates feels heroic and steps in to save you.

Steweh Says: Earthfall makes up for the weaker storytelling by having really tight gameplay. I’ve already got favourite maps due to the different mission requirements to complete them, and thanks to the map design and layouts, there are loads of lovely choke points and hectic areas for firefights.

Again, some of the missions feel identical to L4D; refueling vehicles and escorting vehicles, surviving swarms after triggering a generator, and so on. To add a little extra, Earthfall brings barricades into the mix to fortify entryways, or help filter the aliens into a nice kill zone. There are also deployable auto and static turrets that can be manned, to help hold back the horde.

John says:  I have a feeling that the first couple of missions will make or break the games for a lot of you. Whilst later missions offer up a decent variety of objectives, the opening segments can feel a little repetitive, boiling them down to “go here, fight aliens, now go there.” But if you make it through those opening stages, the variety of missions does expand quite nicely. You’ll still have to factor in surviving a fairly energetic horde of aliens that are trying to balls up any progress you make, but the variety of objectives, from computer hacking to repairing a van and more, compliment the routine of the shooting.

Is the shooting any good?

John says: It’s bloody brilliant – okay, not Doom levels of brilliant, but the game absolutely nails the feel of the different weapons. Whether it’s the heavy thud of the shotgun or the firecracker sound of the combat rifles, there’s plenty there to keep you busy. And the variety that’s about means there’s a lot of room for players to take up different roles in the game, you can get up close and personal with the shotguns, cause a whole load of chaos with a flamethrower, or frantically walk backwards whilst shooting a rifle and miss everything – a style that I became pretty good at.

Sarah says: The shooting feels shooty! The pistol is your starting weapon and has unlimited ammo, but with the penalty that it does about as much damage as a wet tissue. Fortunately you pick up more sturdy replacements quite early on in the mission (if Roy hasn’t snatched it first).

The weapons are varied and interesting and, providing you can hold on to enough ammo, should get the job done. Assault rifles are by far my favourite weapon, though it’s easy to burn through your ammo quickly – especially if, like me, 90% of your bullets hit the air. Or teammates – did I mention friendly fire is turned on?

Steweh says: There are some nice weapons in Earthfall, with my favourite being the Ripley-esque flamethrower. So very satisfying to set those alien baddies on fire, yet you must be so careful not to flambé your team-mates, hilarious as it may be.

Ammunition is not in abundance if you’re looking to keep hold of your favourite weapon, but there is a Star Trek-like replicator that can print new weapons for you, once the power is operational, which is a nice little touch and something new. My only complaint about the weapons is the sound of them. For some reason they are muted when one of your team is firing, and weapons that should have a meaty kick, like the shotgun, sound a little damp. The guns themselves handled well and accurate when needed, though a lot of the time there was a some “spray and pray,” and few of the weapons were suitable for the task.

Is the AI any good?

Steweh says: Earthfall will always be best played with four friends, but if you’re not able to do that, then you can always rely on the AI-assisted bots to help fill the ranks of your team. I found the AI competent enough to accompany you for the most part, but the guys could sometimes be a little selfish and pick up the medpack before you get chance, or steal your favourite weapon.

John says: Surprisingly, yes! The great thing about the AI – both friendly and enemies, is that you can set the difficulty you want them to be on. We were playing on normal settings for both and the challenge is definitely there, but the companion AIs actually have a clue about what they’re doing. They’ll help out with medkits or reviving you, and whilst they won’t play the objective, they do an excellent job of laying down some suppressing fire for you.

Sarah says: While AI companions in most games are dodgy at best, Earthfall doesn’t do too bad a job of it. So if you don’t manage to get four friends together to battle through alien-infested suburbia – or if you just fancy going it alone – you won’t find you’re at a disadvantage.

Of course, they’re trying to survive too, so they can (and will!) pick up that AK47 you just found, or a medkit you are in desperate need of. Their apparent greed is balanced out by their thoughtfulness – if you need healing, they’ll get out that medkit that they just snatched from under your nose and use it on you. They’re also quick to revive fallen teammates, though more often than not, they’re the ones that need reviving as they do have a tendency to wander off.

The only downside I can see with playing with AI, rather than friends (or randoms) is that you can’t direct them in any way. So if your plan is to huddle together behind a bush until the threat is over, you’ll most likely find your companions won’t cooperate.

Our Verdict

Sarah says: I wasn’t expecting to enjoy Earthfall as much as I did. As a solo game, it’s average, but it really shines when playing with friends. The story is there if you want it, but it’s done in such a way that it doesn’t get in the way and slow down the gameplay. The replay value is high and I can see myself jumping back into this, as long as I have friends to play with.

John says: It’s great to have a proper return to the co-op shooter and even though Earthfall’s gameplay might be a tad too familiar for Left 4 Dead players, its slick gameplay and clever extra features mean you’re being handed a reason to squad up again on a silver platter.

Steweh says: My verdict? I loved it! It’s not quite as good story wise as Left 4 Dead 1&2, but the action is definitely there. With friends, this game really shines; laughing as your mates get pounced on by a Thresher, smashed away by a hulking Beast, or covered in exploding alien ooze. Completing a level on Earthfall gives you a real sense of achievement and I hope to come back to this game many more times with my elite pals.

The good:

  • Really fun with friends!
  • The AI is actually useful
  • Good overall variety of maissions

The Bad:

  • Might be a little too familiar for Left4Dead players

Family Focus

Earthfall is rated PEGI 16 in the UK and “T,” for Tenn in the US. Come on guys, get your kids prepared for the impending alien invasion, and have fun at the same time. Seriously though, the blood is green goo and swearing is sporadic at worst.

Disclaimer: This review is based on codes provided by PR for the purpose of this review.