All we had to do was find the nearest Resistance Cache House. The low sun drifting majestically through suburbia masked the unadulterated chaos that was about to transpire. Myself along with fellow writer, Joseph Bradford, and our other two friends, Pete and Ralph, were tasked with finding the nearest Resistance Cache House. This is Earthfall, a new co-op shooter that’s on Steam’s Early Access.
The game had even marked it on our HUD so we could see it. Equipped with naught but a pistol, we set forth. And almost immediately, the panic that is so iconic of our tawdry little crew took over and showed no signs of letting up.
Aliens jumped out from behind derelict cars and houses, herding us together. I shot wildly, panicking and straying from my friends. This was chaos.
Ralph, the only one of us who had any experience in this game, immediately took control and barked out orders for us to get into an open garage. In a blind panic, I ran into the unreasonably well-stocked garage and put up barriers in a vain attempt to shield us from the impending onslaught.
This proved useless as seconds later, a Sapper barged in. In my panic, I shot it, releasing the toxic gas contained in its sac. As its toxins poisoned my friends, I abandoned them and ran.
Thus marked my opening minutes in Earthfall, a four-player co-op shooter from Seattle-based developer, Holospark, currently in Steam Early Access. The easiest way to describe this game would be this: it’s basically Left 4 Dead 3. And I mean that in the most complimentary way possible.
First things first, the game is in Early Access. Insert obligatory “the game isn’t finished yet so excuse any bugs” statement here.
But despite this, and after having played a few hours of this game, I was shocked at how well this ran. Mind you, I am running this on an i7 8700k overclocked to 5 GHz, paired with an overclocked GTX 1080 Ti, and 16 GB DDR4 system RAM, but the fact remains that this game is still solid.
Hitting 60fps in 4K with all graphics maxed, sans Shadows, is a breeze, and hitting similar framerates at more reasonable resolutions like 1080p and 1440p should be easily accomplished with more modest hardware. I expect this performance will only improve as the game gets closer to launch.
Server stability held up nicely. Not once did I encounter any hitches or dropped matches. It also helps that this game is running on Unreal Engine 4. Now, PUBG also runs on UE4 and is by no means a stable optimized game, but in my experience, most UE4 games I’ve played run beautifully on PC. Earthfall is no different.
Stability aside, the Left 4 Dead similarities extend to the visual design as well. It’s not a stunning looking game like other first person shooters like Battlefield 1, but it’s not ugly either. It looks a lot like Left 4 Dead 2, albeit more colorful, vibrant, and with modern graphical flourishes one would expect from a game to be released in 2018. Mind you, this isn’t a complaint.
The art style chosen here really suits the nature of the game, and honestly does a great job juxtaposing the bright vibrant happy colors with the hordes of aliens trying to kill you. Whether this design choice was deliberate or not, I don’t know. But it bears mention all the same.
The gameplay itself is very much harkens back to Left 4 Dead, in that you and three of your friends are tasked with completing some objective, ultimately ending in you and your crew escaping. These friend-slots are filled by AI if your companions can’t join you.
You play as one of four characters. These four characters aren’t like heroes in Overwatch in that they don’t possess any bespoke skills unique to each character. Instead, the main differentiator is their personalities, from Jonas’ stoner vibe to Maya’s general annoyance with her crewmates, again, not unlike Left 4 Dead’s distinct characters.
You and your compatriots are pursued by aliens, Earthfall’s version of Left 4 Dead’s Infected (are you sensing a pattern here?) There are the regular grunt aliens who are fine one-on-one, but can quickly overwhelm you in a horde. In addition to these grunts, there are specialized “hero” aliens, again, not unlike Left 4 Dead’s Hunter, Witch, etc.
The Sapper rushes you, causing you to panic. However, upon killing it, it releases the toxic gas contained in its unholy sac which is deadly to you and your team. The Whiplash, on the other hand, seemingly always grabbed Bradford and dragged him to the dark corners of the map for some nefarious purpose. I always made sure to wait just a second longer before going to rescue him.
However, you’re not powerless. The game arms you with weapons at each cache location, along with equipment like barriers to barricade you and your team from the aliens (though these can be broken by some hero alien types), to turrets to help you fortify your defenses.
You also get access to 3D printers to print weapons, and healing stations to fully heal you. Not once in my gameplay did I find the game to be grossly imbalanced in this regard. Yes, the enemies could overwhelm you, but the game always gave us the tools necessary to defend ourselves and complete the objective. It was our incompetence that caused our failure, not necessarily the game design.
We played three different objectives across three different maps during our time with the game. We utterly failed the first objective, succumbing to our panic. As we were waiting for a security system to activate, the alien horde descended, overcoming our paltry attempt to fend them off.
Things didn’t end well.
We actually succeeded on the second objective set during a night map, no less. This time, it all took place in a single junkyard and car shop garage. We were tasked to find various components to fix a van so we could escape. Shockingly, we conjured up something resembling teamwork and managed to succeed in our efforts.
The third objective saw us inside a data storage facility, trying to turn various generators back on to get the power going. The enclosed nature of the map combined with our general panic and ineptitude proved too much. We once again failed.
However, throughout all of this, we were laughing. We were having fun. We were genuinely having a good time.
If there’s one thing I want to see categorically changed, however, it’s this. At the time of this writing, it appears that there is no player collision. Meaning, I can basically walk through my friends and not bump into them like you can in most other games.
This caused some serious bouts of friendly-fire, catalyzed by panic because we kept walking backwards through each other, trying to fend off the aliens in front of us. As we did so, our bullets would inevitably hit each other as we crossed through each other, causing our health to go down and left us in a collectively worse state than we were moments before. It was not ideal.
And honestly, when that’s my biggest gripe about this game so far, Earthfall is shaping up nicely. It’s a charming little game that wears its Left 4 Dead inspiration on its sleeve. Holospark could have done this poorly. Earthfall could easily be perceived as a shameless knockoff. But it isn’t.
It’s a game that does stand on its own two feet. Just because it’s clearly inspired by Left 4 Dead doesn’t make the game any less tense or fun. The hero alien varieties are no less foreboding. The descending horde is no less terrifying. The panic is no less palpable. The chaos is no less tumultuous.
It’s the Left 4 Dead 3 we all wanted but never got. I’m really looking forward to see the game fleshed out more as it nears final release. This one is worth following.
Full disclosure: Codes provided by PR for purposes of this impressions piece.