Sometimes you really don’t need to think too hard about a game’s pitch. Earthfall, if you want to get right to the heart of the matter, is a co-op shooter in the vein of Left 4 Dead but built for gamers in 2018 – and it’s coming to PC and console on 13th July. However, there’s a little bit more to it than that, with developers Holospark reconsidering the template that L4D set out, seeing what worked and what didn’t and looking to introduce some of their own ideas. Also, you’re fighting aliens, not zombies.
Earth is under attack as a meteor strike brings with it aliens that now rampage across the planet, and pockets of resistance spring up to resist them through the Pacific Northwest of America. It’s here that you find one of the first real things that Holospark want to emphasise, and that’s the story. Instead of simply trying to survive and reach the next rumoured safe harbour for survivors, the two campaigns in the game at launch have a series of events unfolding that see humanity actively trying to fight back, such as launching an early warning system for future attacks, which then comes into play later in the game. As further campaigns are added to the game, they’ll bring new stories to evolve the game world and reveal more secrets surrounding what’s going on.
Fighting through the levels, you’ll be coming face to face with the alien threat, with most of them being the basic drones, though these come in a few different variations. They’re easily dispatched, but the specials and bosses are much, much more challenging. Naturally, there are some Left 4 Dead analogues here, such as one that will leap onto you or the tank-like Beast that simply soaks up damage and charges toward you, but there’s also some much more interesting specials to fight.
Blackout is a particularly interesting one as it surrounds itself with rotating shields that you need to either shoot between or shoot enough that they disappear. It damages you by turning into a ball of energy and zipping around the area, and it’s at this point that it also regenerates its shields, meaning you need to really focus fire and take it down when you can.
There’s plenty of variety to the different weapons on offer. There’s the typical shotguns, assault rifles and SMGs with pistols (which you can dual wield) or melee weapons like a shovel as a secondary, but there’s also more exotic weapons. A minigun or a flame thrower is perfect for getting that Aliens vibe as you gun down an onrushing horde of aliens, but I found the Valkyrie and its slower moving alien energy projectiles to be a lot of fun as well. You’ve only got a limited amount of ammo for the Valkyrie, but it does a lot of damage.
At times there’s an emphasis on defending your position and not just dashing to the next objective, and you’re helped here by the relatively regular rooms filled with gear and fresh weapons. Both automated and player-controlled turrets exist that can easily be dropped to cover an area, while there’s some natty metal mesh doors that will open up and let humans pass through, but block aliens until they can bash them down. One great little tweak here is how you can place these things anywhere you want, but they’ll snap to a doorway as well, which is particularly useful for the turrets.
They’re trying to be quite inventive with the level design, blending different styles of play and objective together. One level, they describe to me, has more of a hub and spoke layout as you keep coming back to a central area to try and defend, while others are more of the A-B linear design. Either way there’s certain rooms that provide great opportunities to just stock up, with a health dispenser on the wall and a 3D printer that can quite quickly spit out a new gun for you with no limits.
Of course, when the alien dung hits the fan, the game turns to absolute chaos. Throw a Beast into the middle of any situation and you’ll be on the back foot trying to deal with it and whatever smaller aliens are attacking you, and that’s where the game’s co-op shooting really comes into play, as you have to communicate, try to draw it away, revive one another, and so on. These more powerful creatures do have certain weak spots and, if you look closely, you’ll see them deteriorate as they take more damage. It’s relatively subtle if you don’t know what you’re looking for, but ought to help avoid the bullet sponge nature that bosses can often have in shooters.
While the game will release in July, that’s far from the end of what Holospark have in mind for it. For a relatively small team, these are foundations on which they can grow, whether it’s looking at adding a versus mode, bringing new campaigns to the table, or adding some straight up horde mode levels to play. If they have it their way, you’ll be fighting aliens for a long time to come.