I’ve always wondered about the lack of games based on the works of English writer, H. Rider Haggards. King Solomon’s Mines is a classic novel in the Lost World genre, making Allan Quatermain the proto-Indiana Jones, without nasty licensing issues to worry about. I remember seeing the film adaptation when I was a kid, long before I was aware of that other famous archaeologist. That might explain why I have a soft spot for this particular franchise. Well, it seemed like someone had finally listened to my prayers: I first heard of Deadfall Adventures at Gamescom. It was being presented by its publisher, Nordic Games, and developed by The Farm 51, who previously brought us frantic first person shooters Necrovision and Painkiller HD. There was just one problem with the game – this particular Quatermain is not the genuine deal.
Deadfall Adventures doesn’t follow Allan Quatermain during Victorian times, but rather his great-grandson James Lee Quatermain in the early 1940s. This, of course, can only mean one thing: Nazis. I understand that Nazis and, to some extent, Russians are easy stock villains to implement into your game without offending anyone or putting forth too much effort. Speaking as a German myself, we actually were the bad guys back then. We also have the most terrible of accents when speaking English, so that’s always a bonus for comedic value. But does it always have to be Nazis and their interest in the occult? Oh well, not much you can do about that. James Lee Quatermain, then, is nothing at all like his great-grandfather. He’s a snarky, cynical gambler, benefitting from his famous relative’s reputation. In it for the money, he’s our typical anti-hero, who just happened to be around when agent-turned-scientist, Jennifer Blake, needed help to search for an ancient artifact deep within an Egyptian ruin. And thus the adventure begins…
The writing is a mixed bag. It seems they couldn’t decide on whether Quatermain was going to be a greedy jerk with no redeeming qualities, or the rogue with a heart of gold. Character development seems to swing between those two options without ever deciding on one. The same goes for Jennifer Blake, who is either the tough professional archaeologist or the flirtatious potential love interest. Dialogue constantly veers between all of those directions, and consequently, it’s hard to get a real feel for the characters. The plot is likewise perfunctory and only serves to drive the action forward. Of course not every game needs a strong story; I would claim that an awful lot of first person shooters put the action first and the writing far behind. So how does that part of the game hold up?
With two shooters under their belt, you would think The Farm 51 should know what they are doing by now. It’s quite disappointing that the firefights lack some sense of urgency and impact as they oftentimes feel a bit plodding. This can be attributed to two reasons. First, there’s the enemy AI, which can be a bit flakey sometimes. Soldiers looking in the other direction while being shot at didn’t happen too often, but it was noticeable. And I won the final boss fight because I shot my adversary from an angle he apparently couldn’t handle. He just stood there, looking at me, when all he should have done was take one step forward to get a free shot.
Apart from that, enemies seem to prefer popping up from cover again and again, instead of advancing on your position. Granted, a lot of games do this FPS version of Whac-A-Mole, but here’s where the second problem comes into play: all of your guns have rather long reloading times. Your standard revolver, which never runs out of ammo, is the worst offender. And there is no way to skip the reload animation. You cannot switch weapons while still reloading, so you need to patiently wait while that animation is finished before you can do anything else. Oh, but that’s not all. Your two revolvers pack eight bullets each. Fire just one bullet, reload, and you’ll get the full reload animation for both guns nevertheless.
It’s grating and it seriously hurts the flow of combat when you have to duck behind cover ever so often and wait until you’re done reloading. Of course, you can just chuck your current weapon away and grab the nearest one dropped by an enemy, but this pro-active approach is risky, at least in the normal and hard difficulties. Deadfall Adventures could also be described as a corridor shooter at times, because most of the shooting in fact takes place in corridors. There are a few wide open spaces with ample cover, but the overall feeling is one of linearity.
And then there’s the questionable inclusion of supernatural foes you have to fend off with your flashlight. Does that sound familiar? It should, because that’s how the Alan Wake handled combat encounters. I can imagine that these supernatural elements are not to everyone’s liking. They do however, offer some much-needed variation to shooting bad people with funny accents. At the end of the day, the shooting is okay, but you won’t be buying this game for its satisfying firefights and it could have been so much better, were it not for the flaws I mentioned.
Thankfully, there are the puzzles, which add some variety and save the game from being yet another shooter. Even though most of them just involve pulling levers in the right order or searching your surroundings for hints on how to proceed, they help to bring across that adventure movie feeling. Furthermore, thorough exploration is rewarded with treasures that you can spend to upgrade your combat skills. This has you truly appreciating the levels and, if you’re willing to suspend your disbelief for a while, it feels like proper spelunking. However, one has to wonder how all of those artifacts remained hidden all this time, when even a fifth-grader could have figured out how to get to them without being crushed by death traps.
If all else fails, you can whip out your trusty notepad which magically has all solutions to each puzzle! The amount of information you’ll get from the notepad depends on the difficulty you’re playing. There are three difficulties that you can adjust to your liking for both combat and puzzles. I was playing on normal, and the notepad usually provided all the help I needed to overcome any given obstruction in a matter of seconds. Some sections had me stumped for a little while because I was over-thinking. Remember, the easiest solution is the one that usually works. The combat to puzzle ratio is about 50/50, or perhaps 60/40 in slight favor of shooting. The variety introduced by puzzles and exploration is just what the game needed to turn it from something I couldn’t really recommend into a game that might be of interest to a lot of players.
Which leads us to the game’s setting. You’ll be visiting three different areas and spend a considerable amount of time in each one. I couldn’t help but think that one more location and less time spent overall in each place would have made quite the difference. Curiously, I encountered the best level design, and accordingly had the most fun, in the last third of levels.
It certainly helped that this part of the game, which takes place in a derelict Mayan town, looks great. Make no mistake, this is no Bulletstorm, which had the most amazing and ridiculous set pieces ever devised for a video game. Yet some of the things you see on your journey, and some of the larger puzzles, are really impressive and provide the game with a tangible sense of place. The game runs on the Unreal Engine, which has been around for a few years now and is starting to show its age. Character models don’t look to great and animations are sometimes jerky, but the environmental art is fine, especially for a game that obviously didn’t have a triple-A budget.
There is also an extensive multiplayer part with a wealth of game modes to choose from. All in all, there are 11 different ways to shoot random internet people, and progress is rewarded with (purely cosmetic) persistent unlocks and a place on the leaderboards. A co-op “survival” mode, which pits groups of up to 4 players against endless waves of undead creatures, rounds out the experience. Since multiplayer wasn’t really ever advertised before release, this is quite a surprise that should serve as ample compensation for the rather short single player campaign. I’d love to tell you more about my multiplayer experience, but the sad truth is that I didn’t manage to play even one single match due to a lack of players (and bots, for that matter). After all, there were less than 10 names on the worldwide leaderboards before release. We will however try to get a feel for this substantial part of the game after release day and update this review accordingly.
Conclusion – Is It Worth The Money?
Make no mistake: it’s not that I didn’t enjoy Deadfall Adventures. It’s an all-around average game, which could have made better use of the Quatermain setting, and dragged down by some design issues. The mixture of shooting and puzzling are certainly pleasant, but are they enough to justify the $39.99 price tag? If you’re looking for a satisfying single player FPS, there might be better games out there. Would-be explorers better wait for a price drop or a hefty discount before embarking on this particular adventure.