Co-op games and experiences where players could band together and take on hordes of enemies became one of the defining multiplayer experiences of the past generation, and at the top of that list would have been Valve’s Left 4 Dead series. While those games are now ten years removed from their original release and co-op games have fallen a bit out of favor with the rise of the battle royale genre and more online-focused competitive experiences, developer Holosparks is seeking to reignite that love of difficult, co-op-centric experiences with their upcoming title, Earthfall.
During PAX East 2018, we had the chance to check out a preview of Earthfall on the show floor (with the game currently available on PC through Steam Early Access), and to see what the upcoming shooter has to offer ahead of its full PC release and its impending debut on PS4 and Xbox One this spring.
Earthfall is a co-op first (or third) person shooter that pits four players against impending waves of alien forces that are seeking to take control of the Earth, little by little, after a devastating meteor crash leaves the planet reeling. The players, as a band of human survivors trying to make their way through the Pacific Northwest to safety, must complete objectives and ward off waves of extraterrestrial forces by whatever means necessary through weapons, obstacles, barricades, and more to avoid certain death and fend off the waves of alien invaders.
From the brief time that we had with the game, the most notable aspect of Earthfall is the fact that the game is mostly attempting to be a spiritual successor to the Left 4 Dead series, and that’s readily apparent from across the board. From the four-player co-op team to the structure of its missions and objectives, and right down to its alien enemy types, everything in Earthfall should feel very familiar to fans of the beloved Left 4 Dead games, but with a bit more of a modern touch suiting today’s graphical standards and capabilities.
I’m sure for a lot of gamers (myself included), that initial pitch is a lot to get excited about, especially given the surprising lack of games that have wanted to take up the co-op survival mantle that Left 4 Dead perfected so many years ago.
Essentially, the game starts out with the simple goal of trying to get to the end of each map, where the ultimate goal is to complete an objective specific to each map and then call in for an evac to make it out alive. Of course, that objective becomes all the more difficult as various choke points and obstacles can deter the players along the way, while the inevitable mass hordes of alien forces will require that players be strategic of where and when they fight. That also ties into the coordination and teamwork that players will have to utilize to get out alive.
Earthfall in a lot of ways felt like putting on a familiar pair of old shoes or gloves, and it’s certainly the type of experience that I’m sure many who have been hoping for Left 4 Dead 3 to arrive (which it may never will) will surely love what it is offering. The one downside to this is that Earthfall perhaps pays a bit too much of a loving tribute to what Left 4 Dead got right with co-op shooter gameplay, in that there aren’t a ton of distinguishing elements from this title to what inspired it. To some that may not necessarily be a bad thing as it’s been quite some time since Left 4 Dead 2 released — at this point almost ten years — but in other ways it feels like a missed opportunity for Earthfall to have made its own mark and bring some unique flair to the idea of a co-op survival shooter.
That being said, there are a few elements that Earthfall incorporates to keep the experience a little bit fresher beyond that. One of the most notable features is a variety of deployable equipment and gear that players can utilize to aid in their defenses against the waves of alien creatures. Throughout the environments, players can find and deploy gear such as barricade walls, sentry turrets, and other pieces of equipment that provide some strategy for players looking to bunker down while waves of alien hordes come by, which reminded me to some degree of the tower-defense-like elements that Gears of War‘s Horde Mode offered.
While it’s a small change compared to the overall gameplay that is still more or less Left 4 Dead-like, the deployable equipment added a finer degree of strategy than just holding out in a specific area against waves of alien hordes. In one instance during our demo, one player of our team was using a turret gun to mow down as many enemies as possible inside of a makeshift farmhouse bunker, while the rest of our team had to watch his back and sides to prevent him from getting ambushed by alien hordes.
It’s here that I think Earthfall can distinguish itself a bit by letting players take on specific roles in their party. Even though there isn’t a particular class system in place, it was interesting to see some players take on sort of “specialized” roles on the team even though all the characters have the same capabilities, such as building up defenses, healing teammates, or utilizing heavy weaponry to take out mass hordes of aliens.
Likewise, aside from the player characters and their abilities, the alien forces have their own tricks and specialized characters that can make them a force to be reckoned with. These unique alien types include enemies like the Whiplash, which is a fast-moving, horse-like creature with an appendage that can quickly grab a player and scamper away with them, leaving the rest of the team scrambling to get them back. The Thresher can dive and pin down onto team members and start ripping them to shreds quickly, while a third enemy type would explode and leave spots of acidic alien gunk in the environment that would be deadly to anyone that touched it.
From my time with Earthfall, it’s clear that the game is undoubtedly what some may consider “Left 4 Dead, but with aliens.” That’s not necessarily a bad thing: while the game itself lacks a bit of its own identity, technically speaking the game shines thanks to excellent graphical performance and shooting mechanics that feels far more in-line with what players might expect from modern day shooters. While I hope that Earthfall can expand on its ideas a bit more and craft its own unique take on co-op shooting, taking on hordes of aliens instead of zombies still feels just as satisfying and exhilarating.
Earthfall is currently available through Steam Early Access on PC, and will also be coming to PS4 and Xbox One this spring.