Bullets over Berghain
If All Walls Must Fall isn’t on your radar, it probably should be. Aside from the fact that it’s a tactical time-bending espionage game (how could you not love that), it’s also coming from great stock with Spec Ops: The Line alum making up the bulk of the small development team.
All Walls Must Fall’s set-up is an intriguing one. We play the role of a time-travelling secret agent tasked with preventing a catastrophe by infiltrating various Berlin nightclubs. The story is set against the backdrop of a dystopian future Berlin where the Cold War never ended, with the player acting on the orders of a mysterious individual (who speaks in ALL CAPS, so you know they’re serious).
With a strongly defined aesthetic (even in the pre-Alpha code I played), All Walls Must Fall makes a good first impression. Bluey greens are mixed with the orange hues of street lights, all punctuated by harsh, high contrast shadows. Where works like Hotline Miami used feedback and scanlines in it’s 80s inflected noir feel, All Walls Must Fall has a clinical sheen to it. Offset against the pseudo-realistic geometry and architecture are what you might describe as 2D character sprites. The contract between environment and inhabitant creates a sense of focus on the gameplay and clearly defines the grid-based movement and combat mechanics. Alongside the slick visuals is an equally stylish soundtrack which peaks and lulls based on your in-game actions.
On a mechanical level, All Walls Must Fall is difficult to compare to other titles in an overarching way. It evokes the tone and some gameplay elements from the original Syndicate games, while also mixing in time manipulation, ala Braid and the turn-based, gridded movement and environmental destruction of XCOM – I’d say that’s good company to be in. Another big focus of the game and how it feels to play it is the sense of rhythm. Each movement plays out as a synchronized bass drum and score penalties for pausing too long encourage you to stay in time with the beat, almost turning All Wall Must Fall into a rhythm game. Fittingly for a game set in Berlin nightclubs, you’re playing out like a techno track – a slow metronomic opening that gradually shows its hand as it unfurls.
Each level sees you tasked with a simple objective such as ‘Kill The Target’ or ‘Hack The Computers’. The way you go about doing these is up to you. You can sweet talk your way past the bouncer to gain access, hack a backdoor or simply rampage your way to where you need to be. When you enter a combat state (indicated by harsh orange highlights), each movement is met with a predicted outcome. For example, moving onto one particular part of the grid could be met with the warning ‘Outcome – Damage Incoming’, this turn-based predictive gameplay makes combat itself a puzzle. The puzzle is injected with more complexity by the player’s arsenal of time-bending abilities. You can ‘Undo’ actions (for a small points penalty) to re-organise your position. You could also use the ‘Rewind’ ability to reverse your enemies bullets back into their gun, allowing you to move an extra space where previously you were guaranteed to take damage or get a shot off before them. This system plays into the narrative which focuses around paradoxes, in one mission you’ll be killing a target, only to return later the same night and recruit them – the idea being that you must break an endless loop and reverse fate.
Clearly, it’s early days for All Walls Must Fall, but all the signs are very positive. Even with limited refinements and features, all the ingredients are here for a challenging puzzle/strategy game. As it currently stands, the developers; inbetweengames managed a modest Kickstarter goal of €15,000 in just five days. The soundtrack and visuals alone could be enough to build some serious momentum for the game, so it’s gratifying to report that from a gameplay perspective, there’s a great deal of promise here.
All Walls Must Fall is the game I never knew I wanted and now it’s one of my most anticipated for the year so far. With an Alpha launching in May for Kickstarter backers, expect to see much wider reaction and coverage for All Walls Must Fall this summer.