You might imagine that being easy to describe is a handy attribute for a videogame to have – at least as far as reviewers of said game are concerned. But if a game is too easy to describe, that should ring alarm bells, since it suggests that the game is derivative. Sadly, that’s the case for Earthfall, which is basically Left 4 Dead, except with aliens substituted for the latter game’s zombies.
Like Left 4 Dead, Earthfall is a four-player co-operative sandbox-style survival-shooter, carved into uncheckpointed chapters in which you must perform various tasks and survive waves of incoming enemies. You can play it solo, accompanied by three AI-controlled bots, or with random people or your mates online. At least slow matching is never a problem: if Earthfall can’t find any co-operative humans for your party, it will drop AI bots into the game in their stead.
Earthfall has a story of sorts, although it’s never properly delivered to you in the form of anything approaching a cut-scene. It’s set in an unspecified time in the nearish future. A global meteor strike has delivered an ever-increasing population of aliens — in various shapes and sizes — onto Earth, and after some sort of accompanying EMP strike, they have pretty much taken over. You are one of a small band of survivors in the US’s Pacific Northwest.
So far, so generic. It turns out that Earthfall has one big idea: 3D printers that can generate guns when you switch them on. So you find one of those in pretty much every chapter of the game – and switching it on is bound to cause an influx of aliens. But the problem is that you don’t really need to: there are little stashes of guns, along with ammo, medkits, grenades, turrets, mines and the like all over Earthfall’s maps, and the 3D printers simply generate the same guns that you find lying around as a matter of course. So its big idea is a damp squib.
If you can get over Earthfall’s shameless lack of originality, it is, at least, a perfectly decent game to play. Its most important gameplay elements have been well executed: it looks pretty good (the one area in which it is markedly superior to Left 4 Dead), and its first-person shooting engine is nicely fettled. You can carry one heavyweight gun (there are assault rifles, shotguns and combat rifles), and either a handgun or a melee weapon. Plus you occasionally find the likes of chainguns or flamethrowers, which you can wield as an additional weapon until they run out of ammo.
Earthfall has one big idea: 3D printers.
Even the aliens have echoes of Left 4 Dead – there’s one type which is essentially a giant green blob on legs, which explodes leaving a toxic green gas cloud. Others will grab you and carry you away, leaving you dependent on your squad-mates to shoot them, while another will pin you down, again necessitating assistance. And there are some boss-type aliens which are huge bullet-sponges, one of which fires electrical blasts, has a shield and periodically teleports. Like the big, aggressive Beast aliens (also bullet-sponges), they take ages to overcome unless you have grenades, which are usually in short supply.
With aliens that act in very different ways, co-operation and tactics are pretty important: as well as handy turrets, you also find fold-out shields which can be assembled into walls and used to plug doorways. It pays to make maximum use of such objects – but only if you are playing with human squad-mates.
That’s because the AI which controls your squad-mates in solo mode can cope with shooting the base-level aliens which merely run at you, and reviving you and healing you if you go down, but not with anything more sophisticated. They won’t for example, concentrate on filling the mini-bosses full of lead, so if you fail to take one of those out, the chances are that your AI squad-mates will also succumb and you’ll have to restart the chapter. Which is annoying, to say the least, if you’ve just spent the best part of half an hour negotiating it.
At least Earthfall doesn’t have the temerity to charge you £50, but even at £24.99, it doesn’t feel particularly good value for money. It can be great fun to play if you used to play a lot of Left 4 Dead and can be bothered to assemble a group of three other mates to play it on a regular basis – which is quite an effort in itself if you have a job and any sort of a life.
But otherwise, you’d be well advised to steer well clear. Given that games like the recent State of Decay 2 have managed to find a new spin on the hoary old zombie-survival genre, Earthfall’s blatant unoriginality – even if it sees itself as some sort of homage to Left 4 Dead – and unimpressive AI renders it one of the least essential videogame purchases this year.