Valve's Left 4 Dead franchise is often brought up when discussing the pinnacle of squad-based horde shooters, and for good reason. Their quality, polish, and mechanics have led to the series having a sizable player base even a decade post-release. Though games like Zombie Army Trilogy and Killing Floor 2 have made attempts, and while Vermintide 2 has done admirably, nothing else on the market has quite managed to capture the imagination like Left 4 Dead.
Earthfall, a new co-op horde mode shooter currently in Early Access on PC, has now stepped up to the plate. And with its dynamic spawning system, excellent enemy variety, finely-tuned difficulty, and creepy alien aesthetic, it just might be the first game to live up to and even surpass Left 4 Dead's legacy.
A dynamic challenge
Earthfall's gameplay is undoubtedly the best thing about it. Similar to Left 4 Dead, you're one player in a squad of four that must survive amidst an ongoing alien invasion. Using tools found in the world or produced via 3D printers, you have to work together to take down numerous different enemy types before you're overwhelmed.
There's plenty of alien classes you'll be coming across. The Whiplash, the love child of a giraffe and a venus fly trap, rushes in and grabs a teammate with its mouth before sprinting away, trying to isolate them. Sappers, a creature comprised of bulbous sacs, leaps into the middle of your squad and explodes, blasting everyone with noxious gas. There's even a squid-shaped alien called the Blackout, which can teleport around you and launch energy projectiles.
Using your environment and teamwork to take down each of these threats on the field is a thrilling experience, and its made all the more fun with the extensive weapon variety in the game's sandbox. Over 20 unique weapons exist in the game, which means it's unlikely you'll get bored of shredding these extraterrestrials to pieces. In addition to handheld weapons, you can also find barricade walls, automated turrets, and grenades that give you different ways to thin out the horde.
The icing on the cake, though, is the dynamic spawning. Like Left 4 Dead, Earthfall uses a reactionary system that spawns enemies based on how your squad is performing. what weapons you have, where you are, and several other factors. This type of system finely-tunes the experience so that the difficulty is not-too-easy but not-too-hard. It also ensures that every time you play a level, the gameplay will be different.
Atmosphere done right
As excellent as the core gameplay is, Earthfall wouldn't be as awesome as it is if it didn't have the superb presentation it does now. Visually, the game is stunning; its version of post-apocalyptic America is borderline photo-realistic, with rich colors and amazing texture work. The designs of the aliens ooze creativity and originality, and the sounds they make are unnerving and terrifying.
Everything is wonderfully wrapped together by the tense and unsettling score, which makes you feel like you're in the middle of a horror film. Whether you're cautiously walking through a ghost town or desperately firing into a mass of enemies, Earthfall has the perfect soundtrack to go along with it.
What do you think of Earthfall? Will you be picking it up when it comes out? Let me know.
Earthfall is currently available on Steam via Early Access for $14.99, and will be fully releasing for $29.99 on both Steam and Xbox One later this spring.
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