All Walls Must Fall's speedy hybrid turn-based firefights show promise in Early Access

All Walls Must Fall is a third-person tactical shooter based in an alternate timeline in which the Cold War never ended. It is set in the East Berlin gay club scene hours before an explosion triggers a nuclear holocaust. On the pulsating dance floors of procedurally generated establishments, mysterious organisations send time travelling agents to interrogate and assassinate key players in Berlin's final hours. You are one of these agents: a burly gent with a mechanical arm called Kai.

Kai is very confused about the whole thing. Who can blame him? Half the people he meets seem to recognise him, even though he has no memory of them. Some of them pass on messages from future Kai. The precise rules of time travel in All Walls Must Fall are deliberately vague. You have to pick your way through an unfocused arrangement of relationships and piece together the timeline in a moody, dreamlike take on futuristic Berliner nightlife ("everyone knows the best nightlife in Berlin is in the queer scene" says programmer Isaac Ashdown). The clubs are rendered in 3D and the clubbers are 2D cutouts that slide around dance floors. Kai is locked to the gridded floor plans, which you traverse beat-by-beat in sync with the thumping club soundtrack. Missions have you assassinating targets, disarming bombs under DJ booths, or questioning staff for intel on enemy agents.

Missions tend to end with a firefight in my experience, but there is a basic conversation system that you can use to avoid conflict. Ultimately the developers want almost all missions to have a non-lethal solution. You click on key NPCs to start a chat, then use your conversation choices to affect the NPC's fear, respect and flirtation bars. Max one of these out over the course of a few replies and they might let you into the club for free, or at least decide not to shoot you dead on the spot. 

Like much of the game in its current state, the conversation system has a stripped-down Early Access feel that doesn't stand up well to the game's repetitive structure. All Walls Must Fall intends that you repeat missions, and if you die you have to start again and move through the same chats. There are some nice touches, though. Casual references to off-planet conflicts create a sense of a wider universe beyond the clubs' ubiquitous green-grey walls.

When the flirting goes bad, the bouncers get mad.

When the flirting goes bad, the bouncers get mad. The game goes into combat mode when guns are drawn. In this state enemies only move when you take an action—by moving to an adjacent square, shooting or reloading. At this point the game starts to feel like a very pacey solo XCOM. To avoid taking a bullet you can park yourself behind medium or heavy cover, represented by XCOM-esque shield icons. You shoot back with a snap shot (left-click) that stuns, or an aimed shot (right-click) that does extra damage. Mercifully, the game tells you when Kai is about to take a hit, which gives you a chance to sidestep or use one of Kai's time travel skills to rewind, or teleport back to an earlier location. 

Killing enemies and discovering new rooms put extra points into the power bar that fuels your time travel abilities. It's a second health bar, functionally. Kai can only take three hits before he dies, but the ability to undo actions keeps him out of fire.

Combat shows potential at this early stage, even though it is too insubstantial to support the repetition the game's structure demands. If you put a doorway between you and the bouncers, you can gun them all down fairly safely (cover sometimes breaks) and they have no way to make you move—I killed a dozen guys in one fight doing this and only took a shot on the way into cover. It's a nice, fast take on turn-based combat, though, and ought to benefit hugely from the addition of new weapons and powers for both Kai and his enemies.

The game is a little too rough to recommend at the moment, but substantial updates are planned before launch with regular drops every four-to-six weeks. New enemies, missions, rooms, environments and all of West Berlin are due before launch, which will be in "at least 6-12 months" time. All Walls Must Fall is out now on Steam Early Access.