Platforms: PC | PS3 | Xbox 360 (reviewed)
Developer: The Farm 51
Publisher: Nordic Games
Recently I've been playing a game that features frantic gunplay set in ancient temples full of secrets to discover. One moment I'm battling hordes of foes with my back to the wall, the next I'm exploring massive open levels in search of riches and hilarious Easter eggs. It's utterly fantastic, truly an FPS for the ages.
Of course, I'm talking about Serious Sam: The First Encounter, which I've been playing to remind myself that not all games are as awful as Deadfall Adventures.
The premise was sound. An Indiana Jones-inspired shooter that takes us around the world in a nonstop Nazi-killing treasure-looting adventure? Yes please. That's very much a thing we want, and The Farm 51 are a solid studio with FPS experience. So it pains me to report that Deadfall Adventures manages to seize total rout from the jaws of greatness.
A suitably silly story introduces James Lee Quatermain, a reluctant man of action following in his adventurer father's footsteps as he races to assemble an ancient artefact before the Nazis co-opt it for their nefarious purposes. It's stupid, ridiculous Boy's Own stuff, and that's absolutely fine. We're here for a rollicking blockbuster adventure from Egypt to the Arctic, not an intricate soul-searching narrative, so all Deadfall Adventurers had to do was deliver interesting and likeable characters.
Mission failed. Deadfall Adventures perpetrates shockingly stilted voice acting, painfully awful scripting and hateful attempts at banter that will leave you carving great gouges out of your palms with your fingernails. As a leading man, Quatermain is thoroughly unlikeable; sexist, vain, forgettable and disinterested, clearly as bored of the entire affair as his voice actor. Indiana Jones he ain't. Our hateful female lead can't decide whether to be a stereotypical damsel or equally stereotypical ice queen, so ultimately splits the difference by schizophrenically ricocheting between the two and nagging you constantly with the same voice samples every few seconds. She'd have the worst acting talent in the game (if not all 2013), were it not for a German companion who steals that dubious honour.
I felt the uncontrollable urge to steer Quatermain into the nearest crocodile pit every time anyone opened their mouth just to imagine the look on his face. Cutscenes scupper any remaining hope of relating to the characters, resembling nightmarish puppet shows; creepy twitching mannequins lolling around and convulsing uncontrollably like a scene from Silent Hill.
Gameplay-wise, Deadfall takes us through three globe-trotting locations, each of which offers a few lengthy levels interspersed with combat and a soupçon of exploration involving treasure, puzzles and traps. Sadly, neither side of its compartmentalised personality works particularly well.
As a first person shooter, you'd rightfully expect some first person shooting, and Deadfall clatters gracelessly through the motions. Encounters are stodgy and boring, boiling down to instantly-forgettable crapshoots against fragile drones who'll often sit motionless in cover and let you walk past. That said, they're a step up from useless lolloping mummies who you'll kill by... here it comes... shining a torch on them.
I really do mean all the motions. There's a quick time event or two. A mine cart ride that you can survive by putting the controller down and making a cup of tea. A hilarious attempt at a non-boss battle. Little stands out, nothing particularly sticks in my mind, save that all of the weapons feel tinny, weightless and unsatisfying to use. By far the most memorable part of the campaign is the abundant wealth of technical issues and glitches, some of which saw Quatermain inexplicably catapulted off hills, enemies hovering off the ground, bizarre clipping and wild frame rate inconsistencies (tested on Xbox 360).
The middle third of the campaign shows some ambition, involving a few set pieces that let you kill foes with falling icicles or unleashing rabid mummies onto unsuspecting Communists. It's a welcome change of pace, but to be perfectly honest, it's always easier to just shoot them and move on rather than messing about with scenery elements. Chances are you'll want to finish up as quickly as possible, since aiming feels janky and everything just feels slightly off.
So all hinges on the much-vaunted exploration, then, and I'm delighted to report that Deadfall Adventures does at least contain some satisfying puzzles. Every once in a while, your progress will be blocked by an assortment of mirrors, ancient combination locks and other archaic devices, which injects a welcome dose of brainpower into the proceedings. While not particularly taxing by adventure game standards, encountering these obstacles is a neat change of pace, and solving them is genuinely rewarding. A compass allows you to track optional treasures along your patch, letting you divert from the rails for a spot of tomb raiding.
But for every puzzle that works well, there are two that fall totally flat (oh joy, a 3x3 slide puzzle and a timed 'shoot this switch' section), or simply put an artefact in plain sight. You'll very rarely roam far from the beaten track in search of hidden secrets; most of the time, you'll feel restricted and hemmed-in. It's telling that a tooltip promising 'treasures hidden around every corner' flashes up in a room with four ladders you can't climb and a shin-high impassable wall. False advertising much?
Worst of all, Deadfall Adventures punishes exploration at every turn. Sometimes your support characters will nag and nag and nag at you to press on even though you're trying to suss out a solution... and more infuriatingly still, marvel at this astonishing breakdown of basic common sense:
Instant-death traps. No manual saves. Lengthy checkpoint spacing. Ta-dah!
Failing to avoid a trap and gain an optional treasure frequently sets you back several minutes, scuppering plenty of progress. Considering that the only reward for collecting treasures is a tiny boost to some thoroughly unimaginative core skills, it's all too tempting to just ignore the trinkets and keep exploration to a bare minimum. A game about exploration actively punishes exploration. How did The Farm 51 managed to botch this simple point so horrendously?
Deadfall Adventures features online multiplayer of both cooperative and competitive flavours. Survival mode is your traditional wave-based horde affair, which shoves the shonky shooting mechanics and limp gunplay into the limelight, and usually ends after accidentally killing yourself and your team when a poorly-aimed bullet hits a scenery trap. The competitive side of things proves to be surprisingly well-featured, with a robust progression system and functional 'kill frenzy' unlocks - but it feels redundant if not completely futile. No-one, and I mean no-one, will be playing this in a fortnight's time when so many superior games are available for the same price.
Ah, that price. What annoys me most of all is that Deadfall Adventures has the gall to demand around thirty of your hard-earned Pounds for its decidedly sub-par wares, when it could have worked as a downloadable game on PSN, XBLA and PC. Without multiplayer, The Farm 51 should have drilled down and made a much more focused and interesting game, a tightly-focused and muscular genre hybrid with no padding at an attractive price. At £10-15, containing the best puzzles and making more of the combat encounters, Deadfall adventures might have been worth a recommendation.
Could, should, might. Don't.
- Some satisfying and cerebral puzzles from time to time
- Well-featured multiplayer
- Decent raw quantity
- Limp and unsatisfying FPS combat
- Exploration is usually punished rather than encouraged
- Multiplayer won't retain its player base for long
- Nasty production values, painful voice acting, terrible writing and technical issues
- You worked hard for that £32.99
The Short Version: A handful of neat puzzles can't come close to making Deadfall Adventures worth £30-35. Its hopeless campaign, awful characters, frankly unnecessary multiplayer and horrible production values are a pitfall trap worth avoiding.