EarthFall (Xbox One Review)
Imitation is the highest form of flattery, but rarely does an imposter stand out. Be it Path of Exile imitating Diablo or Two Worlds aping The Elder Scrolls, it’s rare for us to remember the impostor over its inspiration. So, can Earthfall buck the trend with its frantic alien horde culling and topple Left 4 Dead?
The short answer is no. Earthfall tries its damndest to hit the same beats as its 10 year old forebearer, but nary a time does it ever do a decent job – even going as far to mimic its story setup. A group of four ragtag misfits need to escape an impending alien invasion, fighting their way through derelict neighbourhoods and underground industrial facilities. There’s a whiff of plot and character development whenever Maya, Danny, Roy and Jonas decide to blabber over one another, but none of it felt important and was difficult to piece together. It’s fast, loose, and in dire need of a solid foundation to justify your investment.
The senseless nature of Earthfall’s structure is particularly prevalent when progressing between levels. You’ll often find yourself dropped into a locale with little rhyme or reason as to why you’ve stopped at this precise position. As one level finishes amidst a high octane fight for survival, escaping with a sliver of your life, the next hastily places your team outside an abandoned data centre and with the objective of helping an unknown cause. It’s as if the levels were all created in isolation and then upon completion stitched together with a loose narrative and it feels very forced.
Even if you’re able to see by Earthfall’s lacking apocalyptic premise and focus on its gameplay, you’ll still be left wanting. While Left 4 Dead was a blockbuster hit a decade ago, it’s now a decade old. A lot has changed since in that time and Earthfall fails to address that. The gunplay is very loose and awkward, bullets rarely feel like they are connecting and the hitmarkers are all over the place. Holospark had years to learn from Left 4 Dead’s mistakes, yet Earthfall feels almost indistinguishable. It’s almost as if Earthfall is a bad reskin rather than its title.
The comparisons to Left 4 Dead feel almost inescapable, right down to the enemy types. There are poisonous sappers that amble towards you and explode, large tank like monsters called the beast, and a few others that feel oddly familiar. No matter what enemy had its eye on you, they were nearly unavoidable due to Earthfall’s spawning system. Aliens can pop up in an instant, without so much as a warning other than a guttural scream and draw whatever your team is doing to a halt. It’s frustrating and ultimately impacts on Earthfall’s moment to moment gameplay by creating situations that can feel unfair or miscalculated, like the occasions where they populate an incredibly narrow space and your team have no way of surviving – even on the easiest difficulty.
Just like the many, many escort missions in Earthfall, you’ll only ever succeed with a team. Buddying up with 2 or more players mitigates the monotonous grind of bullets into murky green flesh. Coop is a short lived brevity that brings with it a new serious of concerns. The online is in flux as players rubber banding around the map and lag spikes reach an all time high across the entire team. As the host you’re often able to bear witness to players firing backwards and forwards without much detriment to your experience, but it’s still playable – the same can’t be said for the rest of your party.
Earthfall does itself more damage than good trying to replicate the success of others. “While following in another’s footsteps, it’s impossible to carve your own path” is a piece of advice Earthfall desperately needed. There’s very little to say about Earthfall that isn’t a criticism of how it fails to live up to the expectations of the genre. It’s a third person party based shooter that painfully reminds players that other developers done it all so much better.