All That Glitters
DeadFall Adventures puts players in control of James Lee Quatermain, great-grandson of the legendary adventurer Allan Quatermain, made famous in 19th century author H.R. Haggard’s adventure novels that spawned the Lost World genre of literature, and heroes like the iconic whip-snapping adventurer Indiana Jones and Nathan Drake. The action begins when James, a jack of all trades, master of none (especially when it comes to holding onto cash) is visited in Cairo by his former colleague and US agent Jennifer Goodwin, who seeks his aid in escorting her through an ancient Egyptian temple complex that supposedly holds a mystical lost relic, the Heart of Atlantis. The Heart is rumored to possess unbelievable invigorating properties. After reluctantly accepting the fire-hared agent’s request the duo embark on an adventure that takes them not only beneath the shifting sands of the arid Sahara, but on a globe-spanning trek through the a frozen tomb beneath the harsh arctic frost, snowbound Nazi encampments, and to the very gates of Xibalaba itself in the heart of the sweltering South American rainforest.
While at first glance it might be easy to dismiss Deadfall Adventures as your typical FPS, the game offers a fantastic balance of exploration and puzzle solving to accompany the game’s gun play. That’s not to say you won’t be spending much time sending lead downrange at an assortment of baddies, as developer The Farm 51 has made sure to throw an entire 1930s kitchen sink’s worth of cronies your way. Over the game’s roughly ten hour campaign you’ll battle heavily-armed contingents of the Ahnenerbe, the Nazi department specialized in the occult, who also seek the Heart of Atlantis. As if the Nazis weren’t enough, Stalin also has his eyes on the artifact and you’ll have to get through your share of Soviet resistance, along with the ever-present supernatural horrors that occupy the ancient arenas you’ll be exploring throughout your adventure.
Thankfully, when push does come to shove, you’ll have access to a wide assortment of impressively modeled 1930s era weaponry. From Quatermain’s trademark revolvers to shotguns, submachine guns, and an assortment of rifles and explosives, all based on authentic designs and actual prototypes, you’re sure to find a weapon of choice when dealing with the opposition.
Unfortunately, while the scope of weapons is quite impressive, the enemies you’ll be dispatching aren’t the brightest bulbs in the box, typically hiding behind cover and popping out to take a few potshots until you plug them between their eyes with your boomstick of choice, much as we’ve been doing since Medal of Honor landed on the PlayStation in 1999. The game’s supernatural foes offer a bit more variety though, as they are impervious to physical damage until you break down their defenses with the punishing light of your trusty flashlight, a la Remedy’s Alan Wake, then you can dispatch them with a liberal hosing of hot lead. Even though the enemies aren’t exactly Mensa material, battling the large numbers of foes while dodging traps and using the ancient defenses of forgotten temples to your own advantage to shift the tide of a fight is always satisfying, even if it isn’t the most cerebral affair.
When you’re not fighting for your life in dank crypts or musty mausoleums you’ll spend plenty of time exploring for treasure in Deadfall’s expansive underground environs. While gathering the glistening booty is entirely optional, it pays to track down the shiny riches as they can be traded in at upgrade points scattered throughout the stages which allow you to customize your character’s abilities, which can greatly affect your combat readiness with buffs such as upgraded reload speed, reduced weapon spread, more powerful flashlight blasts, and upgraded stamina. Needless to say, you’ll be spending plenty of time using your trusty compass to uncover the riches scattered around the tombs and solving puzzles to disarm the traps that protect them.
In addition to disarming traps, you’ll also come upon numerous larger puzzles that you’ll have to solve to progress through the story. Thankfully, taking a page (pun intended) from Uncharted’s Nathan Drake, Quatermain has brought along his great-grandfather’s journal which is chock-full of clues to Deadfall’s larger brainteasers. While never too esoteric, these puzzles serve well to break up the action and add a level of immersion to the tomb raiding experience.
In terms of presentation, Deadfall Adventures is a bit of a mixed bag. While the lush jungles and monolithic ancient structures you’ll see during your tour of duty look fine and feature plenty of attractive little details, the character models themselves are a bit rough around the edges, especially for some of the enemy grunts. Though the mummies and other ancient baddies you’ll encounter seem to fare a bit better, with impressive showers of blinding particle effects raining from them as they react to the glow of your flashlight and intricate details in their animations. It’s also worth noting that the game suffers surprisingly little in the way of performance issues, even during the most frenetic set piece moments. Be it barreling down the rails of a collapsing underground cavern in a mine cart while exchanging fire with bolshevik goons or battling an army of undead swordsman, Deadfall Adventures deserves credit for being such an impressively smooth and stable experience.
On the audio front Deadfall Adventures is above average, featuring a pumping soundtrack that would make John Williams proud, driving the action onward during the game’s frenzied gunfights and filling you with dread and wonder during the more deliberate exploration segments of the game. Additionally, all of the game’s weapons pack an audible punch, and sound very distinct from one another. Even Quatermain’s footfalls change depending on the terrain you’re traversing, pulling you into the experience and giving your character a real sense of weight, rather than making you feel like a floating gun attached to a camera like many other FPS titles tend to do.
Unfortunately, the voice acting isn’t quite up to par with the rest of Deadfall’s audio, which is uneven at best. Quatermain’s character comes off as generally unlikeable for much of the adventure as he stiffly spouts half-baked one liners and flatly delivers his lines. The supporting cast handle their roles a bit better, but none of the voice talent really manages to steal the show, and you’ll likely grow tired of hearing Jennifer, the game’s femme fatale/damsel in distress, spouting the same handful of lines ad nauseam.
After you’ve finished the game’s solid ten hour campaign you can still dive into the Deadfall’s multiplayer modes to get your fix of treasure hording gunplay. The multiplayer mode supports up to 12 players and the game’s half a dozen game types tread the familiar deathmatch, team deathmatch, and capture the flag variants we’ve come to expect from the genre. However, the maps in Deadfall Adventures’ multiplayer mode feature plenty of the campaign’s signature tricks and traps for you to use on your adversaries. While the servers were barren at the time of this review we’ll be sure to update our impressions on Deadfall’s multiplayer gameplay after the game’s retail release to let you just how it stacks up.
Deadfall Adventures was a welcome surprise from the folks at The Farm 51. Both shooter and adventure fans alike should get plenty of enjoyment out of James Lee Quatermain’s debut adventure. While it isn’t quite a blockbuster, Deadfall Adventures is an exciting ride well worth the price of admission. It is a wonderfully paced game with a solid and exciting main campaign that features some a great balance between exploration and combat along with some exhilarating set piece moments that are bound to keep you glued to the game until the credits roll.
Final Verdict: 3.5/5
Available on: PC (reviewed) , Xbox 360, ; Publisher: Nordic Games; Developer: The Farm 51; Players: 1-12 (online); Release date: November 15th; ESRB: Mature; MSRP: $34.99:
Note: This review is based on pre-release code provided by Nordic Games. All impressions are taken from the PC version of the game.