Earth’s Dawn is an RPG style side-scrolling action game, which takes elements of popular AAA titles and movies, merging them together to create a unique 2D indie experience.
When you first load the game, it’s unclear which direction it’s going to take, gameplay-wise. The cutscenes are in a Manga/painted style, complete with Japanese dialogue, and while there’s not much movement, there’s a lot of information.
Earth has been taken over by aliens, and as part of the resistance, soldiers have been enhanced by genetic materials recovered from the aliens – here called E.B.E.s – in order to gain physical skills and boost technology. The aliens are very much influenced by Manga – they are fleshy, colourful, ugly creatures, fighting more with brawn than weapons and other technologies, though they do exist. Earth’s soldiers – named A.N.T.I. – come fully loaded with Gears of War style armour suits (though the female suits are not practical. Not impressed. We have bodies that need protecting too, you know) and weapons like something from Final Fantasy. These are all upgraded as you level up, using gruesome body parts dropped by your fallen enemies.
There’s an element of customisation at the beginning, in which you can pick from a male or female body, and select from a variety of heads. There are stylistic items to collect and add to your avatar, such as glasses and hats, but there’s not much in the way of colour for your character. It’s a stylistic choice I feel. The levels are all set on Earth (specifically the US), and can be somewhat boring to look at after a while. The eye is drawn to the colourful enemies and their impact on the environment.
As you roll out into missions, you are followed by a small team of friends, who look as though they are simply there to keep you company. They don’t help in the fight, and tend to disappear. This is obviously to help you to see what action is happening on-screen, but I wonder what the point is. There’s no multiplayer as of yet, and whilst they contribute to the dialogue, it could have been done with a radio. It caused a little bit of confusion amongst us and our audience when we livestreamed. Maybe multiplayer could be a feature in time to come.
The hack and slash gameplay mechanics are fun and satisfying, especially when you choose the maniacal voice for your character. There are loads of moves and combos to gain and level up, and some can cause serious onscreen movement that runs smooth and silky. There are many combos of weapons you can choose from, so long as you level up the skills needed, such as dual wield one-handed weapons, and there is an in-depth weapon crafting system. There are tactics involved in your choice of weapons, and you need to balance your attacks between damaging health and breaking through enemy shields and amour.
Graphically, the game is solid. I love the cute looking avatars of the soldiers. They’re endearing and unique, and they remind me a little of other dungeon crawlers like Age of Zombies (who’s avatar went on to star in Jetpack Joyride). The art is nothing special, but the way it’s used works well. The levels pan nicely, and there isn’t too much going on that might distract you. The first level in New York looks great, but the subsequent level set in a power plant less so, with it’s endless corridors that all look the same, though it’s clear that time and effort has gone into the hand-painted elements.
The menu interface is complex looking, but easy to master. There’s a Metal Gear Solid look to it; cold blue and boxy. The world map and mission menus are reminiscent of games like XCOM, with sound design to match. In fact, it’s clear that many influences have been taken here, from Gears of War and XCOM to Bayonetta and Odin’s Sphere. It’s not a bad thing, because it’s done well, and the designers have taken elements that make sense for the restrictions they may have had in terms of resources. One or Eight is a small team based in Tokyo, and they clearly know what they like.
Sound design and music play specific parts, in a similar way to other RPGs. The boss music is frantic and unnerving, the menu music is slow-paced and calm, and there’s almost no music when travelling to the next part of the level. The music is really well done, and the main theme is catchy enough to sing along to for sure. Voice acting is well delivered, and all in Japanese. The game is called Earth Wars in Japan, and has been released in Europe and the Americas by Rising Star Games (Harvest Moon, No More Heroes), so no translations here, only subtitles, but it is convincing and dramatic.
Missions can be selected as you wish, though the main story is timed. For example, the menu gives you a countdown to the next main mission, and you use that time to go to other missions in order to level up and get items, as well as change your load out and apparel as you wish. Each mission has an objective, and these can get a little boring, especially as the variety of enemies compared to the amount of missions is quite small. However, you are ranked at the end of each one, which determines your score on the leaderboard, which is a good incentive as you receive new and improved skills for getting an S rank. You can go back and get better scores and more items any time you wish, so if you need to level up before the next main mission there is always somewhere to go. You can also change the difficulty of the missions in order to make it a little more fresh and interesting.
Some missions are timed, and that’s pretty self-explanatory. It’s up to you to determine the best way to save yourself time and get to the objective. Other missions are simply to clear the level of enemies and defeat the boss. You have a health bar and a number of lives in tougher and main story missions before they are failed. There isn’t a way to collect more lives, but health is recharged if you have the right skills. Be tactful in your levelling up. Free missions are short and sweet, so there’s a casual element to gameplay. If you’ve got an hour to spare to level up, you can. However, for the same reason, it can be addictive – before you know it, three hours have gone and you’ve missed dinner.
Overall, Earth’s Dawn is a solid dungeon crawler, which utilises some great elements from RPG and hack-and-slash, in order to deliver a satisfying playthrough – even with the repetition of some enemies and levels. However, it is what you make it, and there are plenty of opportunities to change up your experience. Definitely give it a go if you’re into these sorts of games. Though the $29.95/£25.99 price tag might factor in for you.