Aliens, huh? They’re always coming down here, trying to take our stuff, probing things, getting their green blood everywhere, and generally making a nuisance of themselves. In the case of Earthfall’s brood, they’ve made a right old mess of North America, spewing out of a meteor shower in a quite unhelpful manner, which gives you and your trusty sidekicks the chance to forget Washington politics and unload every single bullet you can find at these unwanted invaders.
Holospark have readily professed to taking inspiration from old-school shooters like Left 4 Dead in an attempt to bring the horde shooter bang up to date. It seems as though that inspiration has gone a step too far by targeting last gen-level visuals. The warning klaxon was sounding as soon as the character select screen appeared, facing you with the choice of four deeply uninspiring characters with no context, special skills or reason for being there. Once you’re in-game you’ll discover that that was only the beginning.
Earthfall is spectacularly shonky on PlayStation 4, and you’ll have to cope with a frame rate that struggles to keep up, especially in any fly-bys, as well as plenty of pop-in while you explore more or less anywhere. Then there’s the animation, or lack thereof, with your poorly proportioned characters skating about the landscape while the alien hordes amble towards you. I actually assumed that the visuals had had a downgrade in order to allow for splitscreen play, but no such luck, as there’s just online play for up to four people, or singleplayer with bots.
There’s at least a decent range of alien foes to put down, even if they are overly familiar. From the regular grunts – they’re a bit slow and stupid like zombies, right? – through exploding Sappers which release poisonous gas, up to the immense Beast, whose imposing form is pretty much exactly the same as Left 4 Dead’s Tank, these typically aren’t anything you haven’t seen before. It’s not completely bereft of its own ideas mind you, with the partially shielded Blackout zipping about like some kind of levitating squid that fires electric bolts at you.
Once you’ve got over the low quality visuals, there is actually some fun to be had, though that statement needs covering head to toe in caveats. If you’ve got a group of four friends who’ve all invested in Earthfall for some reason then it’s occasionally got the gameplay chops to give you some cheap B-movie-esque thrills. Each of the chapters has enough different tasks to keep you engaged, and whether you’re holding out in an abandoned house or trying to repair a broken down old van it bounces you along at a good pace. That said, if you’ve seen it once, you’ve seen it all.
It manages to crib enough from the better examples of the genre like Left 4 Dead or Warhammer Vermintide II to get by, and as long as there’s a horde of aliens trying to chew your character up, there’s enough going on that you’ll likely forget about some of its flaws. It’s a further shame then that the world is built from cardboard box-looking buildings and low-res foliage, and something will undoubtedly catch your eye to throw you out of any type of immersion you might have found your way into.
No matter what, you’ll want to play with real people once you’ve had to put up with the AI teammates, as they’ll constantly get in the way, use up the med kits, and generally be a bit of a hindrance, even if they can actually shoot. You’ll need to watch out for friendly fire, as it’s constantly on and a great big warning sign flashes up every single time you accidentally hit an ally. Of course, the other character’s berate you for your poor aim, even if it’s their fault for walking in front of you.
One area where Earthfall actually manages to be relatively strong is in its sound design, with many of the aliens having unique calls, and whose guttural screams and cries do help to make them both more recognisable and more intimidating as a foe. However, the positional audio is decidedly lacklustre, so anyone hoping for any help from audio cues to figure out where to look can forget it.
The soundtrack is moderately enjoyable, with melancholic piano mixing well with some thematically powerful orchestration. It’s all let down though by poorly produced gun sounds, with many weapons, including your standard pistol, offering tin-pot gun cracks that carry next to no weight or sense of force.
There’s not a huge arsenal to choose from, and assault rifles are probably the catch-all solution here. I didn’t find ammo to be in too short supply, and your pistol has an infinite supply and isn’t as useless as you might expect, giving little reason to play around with the smattering of other options. You can also grab turrets and barricades to shore yourself up in buildings with, which is fun, but then it’s been fun since Gears of War 3 did it better. You’ll find in a number of situations that you can traipse about with an auto-turret for a long time if you’re smart about it, which makes everything much easier.
I’m all for taking the spirit of a beloved classic and bringing it up to date, but you have to be prepared to be judged utterly against that original game. Under the right circumstances Earthfall is capable of capturing the frantic teamwork of Left 4 Dead, but there’s too much wrong here to maintain it for long.
Version Tested: PS4 – also available on PC and Xbox One