It’d be easy to dismiss Earthfall as nothing more than a Left 4 Dead clone, and you wouldn’t be wrong to do so. Despite riffing on well-known and beloved source material, Earthfall drags, with unremarkable missions and mediocre gunplay weighing down almost every action-packed setup. Any potential it shows is ultimately undercut by one thing or another, and your enthusiasm suffers along with it.
As one of a group of four players fighting back against an alien invasion, you will blast through gruesome swarms of enemies while completing simple objectives and hopefully make it to the next safehouse to catch your breath and resupply. You regularly encounter choke points during missions where your team gets surrounded by enemies, and Earthfall attempts to make these familiar moments interesting by giving you mobile barricades that can be used to create holding points. But frustratingly, it feels like there’s no rhyme or reason to these encounters as enemies just keep coming at you randomly, making it very difficult to strategize as you attempt to fortify your position.
There are rare moments when Earthfall settles into a groove, such as when you get the chance to blow up a group of enemies with a well-placed shot to a gas tank on the back of forklift. Most of the time, however, your encounters are far less impactful. Enemies are usually bullet sponges, especially some of the special varieties. And despite there being a variety of firearms, including shotguns and rifles, they generally sound flat–thin as a hand clap at the end of a long hallway.
The alien designs, particularly a lot of the drone enemy variants, look like rejected models from the film Pitch Black–large, muscular creatures with glowing heads. Some of the special types, despite being highly derivative, do look cool, however. There’s the Blackout, a floating octopus-like creature that can shield itself and swiftly dart about the map, and the Enrager, which looks like a giant levitating brain mass that emits a pulse which makes enemies more aggressive. The rest come off as either uninspired or just a bit silly looking, lacking the kind of fearsome quality that you’d expect from a race that’s forcefully taken over the planet.
If there’s any part of Earthfall that you can latch onto, it’s the schlocky story that puts your rag-tag group into a position where they are directly responsible for standing up against the invaders. It’s dumb fun in the way that any B-grade action film can be; you won’t care about what’s going on or which character is doing what. It’s mindless–if temporary–fun. Similarly, the level design helps this along by being interesting enough to want to explore. Each of the maps feel large, which is good given that there are only 10 of them. There isn’t enough there to warrant coming back and seeing the same things time and time again.
Unfortunately, Earthfall’s online experience can be summed up as non-existent on Xbox. Not even once was I put into a public game with another player, nor did anyone join my public lobbies over the entire 12 hours I spent playing it. When I finally did manage to invite one other random player to a game, the connection seemed fine except for one shaky moment that dropped both of us out to the title screen.
Earthfall follows a proven concept, but its delivery feels outdated, derivative, and woefully underdeveloped. The thought of a new game in the style of Left 4 Dead sounds great, but you would hope that whatever comes out surpasses its inspirations or at least matches it. Earthfall simply doesn’t have the content or concepts to make a case for itself in a world where the two Left 4 Dead games are still viable options, and far better ones at that.