Earth’s Dawn (Xbox One Review)
Earth’s is facing it’s imminent doom yet again and it’s up to the remnants of what’s left if humanity to stop it! Plucked straight from the hat of “traditional doomsday tropes” OneorEight have played it safe with the story of Earth’s Dawn, but have been a tad less conservative with its combat. Going for a more stylised form of hack and slash that feels familiar to classic action side scrollers with a more cumbersome weight to it. And in Earth’s Dawn’s case, that’s not a good thing.
Aliens known only as “E.B.E.” have invaded Earth from beyond the stars. With malicious intent the E.B.E struck a critical blow on the human populations; wiping half of them out in a few days. But humanity struck back in the form of A.N.T.I. soldiers. Specially augmented bio-armor made from the materials of fallen E.B.E are surgically installed onto only the most adept and promising candidates. In turn, they gain increased strength, agility and can take a bit of a beating. Whilst all this is fascinating, it never really seems to have an impact on the characters you play and go up against. Characters are very bland, appearing flat with no personality. A silent protagonist with the charisma of a robot on anti-depressants. It’s not only your protagonist that fails to enthuse the audience, but the rest of Earth’s Dawn’s cast have paper thin personalities. Most just have a “get to the point” attitude that doesn’t help develop them as a character, instead acts as an informative answering machine. I guess it would take a particular kind of magic to bring to life 2D character stills in a language that is not your native tongue.
Given my recent love for Odin Sphere: Leifthrasir, I was over the moon when I seen the early trailers and previews for Earth’s Dawn. With the overly ambitious combat system allowing for ground to air combos and a plethora of super moves, I was stoked. However, the end result is a little different from what I was expecting. Combat moves and flows with relative ease, mash the attack button to perform a flurry of hits or change direction of it to perform a multitude of special attacks- you also have a firearm at your side to pick off opponents from afar. But as you slowly start to adjust to the ebb and flow of Earth’s Dawn’s combat mechanics, they start to work against you. For starters, trying to turn your A.N.T.I. super solider around during combat is infuriating when it should be so simple. Most games would allow some form of target locking to make character control easier, but trying to perform a simple 180 degree turn has you simply backstep or glide backwards, as if you are practicing the moonwalk rather than facing and attacking the alien abomination behind you.
My criticisms don’t stop there, your main character also has the ability to manoeuvre the battlefield with ease using their boost pack. A booster that can allow you to evade enemy attacks and even phase through them to get a nifty little backstab now and again. This booster pack comes with one disadvantage, it has a limited number of uses before it needs to recharge. Any game that requires that your character be debilitated by dodging is an instant no go for me – especially in a game with no block mechanic. This crutch to Earth’s Dawn’s game design instantly reminded me of Devil May Cry 3 and how you had to select between different fighting styles, you could either be relatively good sword swinger or you could have the ability to dodge but not both; and had a huge bearing on my enjoyment of the Earth’s Dawn.
Combat is satisfying when it works, but you instantly feel like you are being punished for mistakes that couldn’t be avoided otherwise. The inability to cancel attack animations by blocking or dashing results in a great difficulty when attacking. Instead I was left feeling forced to adjust my character so that she was a walking human cement punching bag. I would just wade in and hope for the best. You’re only saving grace outwith this is your Exceed Unit which acts as a quickfire ultimate move that boosts all your abilities -useful in nearly every scenario but takes time to charge.
In order to take back Earth from the clutches of the E.B.E you’re going to have to fight your way through a myriad of missions to level up your A.N.T.I. soldier. The main missions play out similar to one another, you fight through waves upon waves of enemies until you meet the “Baron Class” E.B.E. at the end of the level; and hopefully make short work of it. These bosses differ vastly from one another and are welcoming change from the repetitive enemies you’ll face during the Free Missions.
Free Missions act as bite sized side missions of sorts. You start the stage and have a specific objective of “Kill # of” or “Collect # of” type of thing. And you get judged on your performance too. It seems you’re judged on everything bar the time it took to complete the mission. Combos, items collected, and fuel (Exceed ability points) earned are all taken into account on whether or not you earn that high valued S rank or not. Unsurprisingly yes, this Japanese title does have a grading system in it and works just as it should. Awarding upgrades/materials and skill points for achieving high rankings, challenging players to try harder to attain more. Having spent enough time in Free Missions you’ll be forced to move onto a story mission or what Earth’s Dawn calls a “Counter Offensive” and what I like to call “Forcing an inconsequential narrative”. These Counter Offensives MUST be taken on at the climax of the in-game mission timer running out. Forcing a player into a mission they may not be ready for to have them wipe and have to try again. And here’s the kicker, you aren’t penalised for failing and can infinitely play Free Missions from then on afterwards until you are competent enough to take on the Counter Offensive. In the end, it’s an incredibly poorly thought out game mechanic that the developers have haphazardly force fed you.
Between missions you can take the time – and I can’t stress the “time” part enough- to customise and manufacture new weaponry and equipment. Weapons range from serrated blades and katanas, all the way to gigantic broadswords. You can even develop firearms like rifles and bows. Your setup depends on your fighting style. If you’re a damage dealer then you may want to go for the Katana, or even duel katanas, to dish out the hurt. However, if you’re more interested in stunning enemies and not at all fussed with how fast they hit the deck, then serrated blades and sniper rifles may be more your thing. Whatever it may be, there is a choice for everyone. Just be sure you know what you’re crafting, as you don’t want to waste valuable resources on a “cool” looking item and find out it’s only cosmetic…fucking berets.
Graphically, Earth’s Dawn isn’t bad, it’s a little rough round the edges but not bad. The environments don’t change too drastically as you’ll be situated in one area long enough for them to seem dull, but when they do change you appreciate it. Character animations tend to be a little jarring and unruly as if you’re controlling a papercut figurine with spindles on their joints to move their limbs. It’s something you don’t tend to notice at first but the more you focus, the more you know it’s there.
Given that Odin Sphere: Leifthrasir is a now dated 9 year old game it still handles smoother than Earth’s Dawn does in its current state. Not to mention the vibrant, sometimes over-saturated, visuals of Odin Sphere outmatch that of Earth’s Dawn’s brown landscapes and robotic characters. On the merit of saying that a 9 year old video game is leagues better than that of one that has just been released in 2016 I cannot in good conscience recommend Earth’s Dawn. It’s not an altogether bad game, I genuinely liked the crafting and upgrade mechanics Earth’s Dawn has in place, it’s just not enough for me to warrant it a purchase.