With its promise of side-scrolling action and RPG elements, Earth’s Dawn immediately sounded like something I would enjoy. It dropped during the height of AAA season for gaming, however, and checked in with an unusual price point ($29.99), potentially making it a hard sell at launch. Now that things have slowed is it worth circling back for? Let’s find out.
Earth’s Dawn is one of those games that initially feels overly simplistic but is actually hiding a layer or two of depth beneath the surface. You’ll carry weapons in both hands –initially a gun and sword — and each will be designated to a specific face button. Ammo isn’t all that plentiful, making firearms more effective to break an enemy’s guard than directly defeating them.
There is no blocking here, leaving jumping and a boost dash to comprise your defensive options. It may take a little while to get used to, but once you have a couple of missions under your belt it feels good and serves to keep up the pace during fights. You’ll eventually be equipped with an “Exceed Unit,” which can be activated for powerful moves that drain from a meter.
While combat does eventually take on a similar feel, due to large to the limited number of enemy types you’ll encounter, the game features an in-depth skill tree that allows you to customize your soldier’s attacks to a surprising degree. That versatility, along with the different weapon combos you can deploy with, help to keep things reasonably fresh.
Probably the most disappointing aspect of Earth’s Dawn is its presentation. Your character has an odd, surreal look, and the backgrounds are uninspired. Some of the bosses look interesting, but as already noted the run-of-the-mill enemies recycle liberally throughout. Rounding out a disappointing showing are some ugly cut-scene stills.
It doesn’t get appreciably better on the audio front, either. Voice acting is entirely in Japanese despite a cast of decidedly non-Asian looking characters and missions in places like Wisconsin. It’s all just sort of there without any excitement or, quite frankly, cohesion. In-game sound effects and music are fine.
Earth has been invaded by an alien race known as the E.B.E., and now, a decade-plus into that invasion, our scientists have figured out how to integrate their tech into our weapons and armor. This is proving to be a turning point as you, a member of an elite squad of soldiers designated A.N.T.I., are utilizing your newfound power to push the alien threat back.
It’s a completely adequate setup, though the aforementioned cut scenes never do anything to make you care about characters or the plot. The bottom line is aliens are trying to do bad things to our planet; do you really need more reason to kick the shit out of them? Me neither.
There are two types of missions in Earth’s Dawn: story and free. The former are the plot advancing mandatory levels you must complete in order to progress. They’re generally longer and tougher than what you’ll see in free missions, and it’s there you’ll encounter the boss fights, which present most of the game’s challenging moments.
After successfully completing a story mission a countdown will begin. During that time you’re able to select and complete any available free mission, each of which bleeds the clock. Once the timer hits zero the next story section will be triggered. If you fail one you’re able to go back and finish additional free missions until you feel like taking another crack at the story.
In addition to experience you’ll also unlock new skills and acquire the organic elements necessary to craft new weapons/armor or enhance what you’ve already built. It’s a good system that’s frequently offering new things to construct and creating a sense of perpetual progression.
That progression can be slow at times, and the game is designed for you to play free missions multiple times to acquire all the available boosts. That’s fine with the more interesting or shorter ones (some can last less than 15 seconds), but there were some I didn’t really want to run through again.
A grading system is also in place, both within the level for mandatory scripted fights and then at the conclusion based on how well you performed. It’s nothing you haven’t seen before and can feel a bit obtuse — like getting Bs and Cs in contained fights but scoring an S for the overall. Still, it adds some more incentive to replay missions.
For all of things Earth’s Dawn does well, there’s no escaping the fact that you’re constantly running through the same handful of similar areas fighting the same enemies over and over again with little variation to your tactics. Even though there are a ton of missions with different objectives, they’re not really that different.
Repetition isn’t the only sign of stretching the available content. There’s also difficulty spikes that feel squarely aimed at sending you back to the free missions for leveling up. It’s in those moments where you’ll wish the game had a few more ideas to throw at you.
Despite its repetitious nature, Earth’s Dawn is an enjoyable time for those hungry for some side-scrolling action with a side of surprisingly deep customization.