NEED TO KNOW
What is it? Turn-based tactics game about time travel.
Expect to pay £7.19/$10
Reviewed on Intel i5, 16gb RAM, Nvidia GTX 970
Link Official site
"You’re here to kill Dragan Müller." I kick down the door, hard. Two guys open fire, I take out one but a drone sneaks up behind me and shocks me. Undo. I hack the door, quietly. The bouncer asks me what I’m doing here. I tell him my name’s on the list. It isn’t, he draws a gun. Undo. I’m a military vet actually, see this cybernetic arm? I lost the original fighting for you, son. He lets me pass.
I open the first door, it’s full of guards. I fire off a few shots. One fires back, I freeze with the bullet in front of my face. Whatever I do I’m going to get hit.
Undo. No, wait, Rewind.
Everyone else moves backwards in time while I stay in the same place. The bullet inches back just far enough to let me move, find cover, and finish the fight. Dragan is on the dance floor, which heaves with shirtless men. I ask if he wants to dance.
Dance angrily. Undo.
I lure Dragan to another room and start a gunfight. Things are going well when I run out of ammo. I could reload, but that would take two turns, I’d probably get shot in the process. Undo. No, Trace Back.
The world around me stays the same while I move backwards. I moonwalk as the bullet I just put in Dragan’s chest leaps back out and is sucked up into my gun. I use that same bullet a second time to end it. Accept this timeline y/n?
This is All Walls Must Fall at its very best. It’s a time travelling cold war story that replaces the try, fail, reload loop of games like Deus Ex with a turn-based system where you can undo, rewind or trace back each step with precision. It’s a great high concept pitch, but unfortunately something has been lost in the execution.
The Rewind, Undo and Trace Back powers are great, but the problem comes with how to integrate them into a gunfight. Sadly, All Walls Must Fall only has one approach to combat, and it’s to throw lots and lots of enemies at you. There is some variation in enemy types, but they come in such huge numbers that there’s very little tactical decision making. Instead you are engaged in a frantic game of bullet hell whack a mole, alternating between dodging and shooting, only activating your time powers as an escape button.
There’s a similar experience at the level up screen. There are a whole host of guns and upgrades available but, on my first playthrough when I invested heavily in them, I got my ass kicked. The second time around I left the SMG’s and Shotguns at home and carried three default pistols with as many damage upgrades as possible, and found everything both easier and more fun. These frustrations are mitigated a little by the daily challenge feature, which forces you to use certain weapon and upgrade combos you would otherwise ignore, but in the core game you’ll likely go with what works.
Every level takes place inside a procedurally generated cyberpunk East German gay bar. Which, much like the elevator pitch for the game, sounds a lot better than it is. The realisation of this single location is fantastic, particularly the dense crowds on the dance floor, but the constant repetition of four of five room types rapidly runs into diminishing returns. It’s a shame, because the game is clearly very committed to the theme, with dialogue and character designs rooted in gay culture (one contact requires you to correctly interpret the handkerchief code in order to help you out). But by the time you’re shooting up your sixth identical club, you stop seeing the details and only notice guards and bullets. The story plays the repetition as a joke about time travel, but that doesn’t make it any more bearable.
It’s not really clear what the procedural generation is adding here. All that changes is the layout of the club, mission objectives are the same, although they might be offered in a different order and I don’t really have the urge to repeat it. Sometimes it can even be detrimental, as dead ends full of enemies and confusing layouts meant I spent most of my time trying to find the objective. This gets especially frustrating in later levels, where more enemies warp in the longer you spend on the mission. Often I would open a door, see some enemies guarding nothing, and simply undo and walk away.
Despite six months in Early Access, All Walls Must Fall still feels like it needs more time in the oven. Until then it will remain a terrific elevator pitch with a wonky execution.