EA SCOUT the last line of defense for buying on Steam's Early Access
by Sean Martin
previewed on PC
All Walls Must Fall
I’m a big fan of alternate histories; ever since I first read Watchmen and saw how it tackled the existence of a real life superhero. There are many game franchises that deal in alternate histories as well, and like Watchmen, their ability to convince us of their world lies in how they twist the cultural iconography we know so well. In the more recent Wolfenstein games we see examples of this; a swastika planted on the moon, a black and white photograph of an atomic blast over New York; they show us how easily our world can be changed. But when I think about the events that have defined history, I don’t think about the famous figures, I think about the failed architects; the people who conspired in darkened rooms (they must have existed at some point) and who tried to alter the course of things as we know them. I think about how close we came to a very different world.
All Walls Must Fall is a game that deals in such mythology. The year is 2089. The Berlin Wall never fell and the cold war has raged (well, cooled) for 150 years. You are Kai, time agent for the Faceless, sent back to prevent a rogue nuclear strike. You trawl the underbelly of future Berlin, and in the backrooms of shadowy nightclubs, you use whatever methods you can to break the conspiracy set to destroy everything. In this top-down tech noir tactics game, you guide Kai through each procedurally generated level, using diplomacy and combat to complete your objectives, and as Kai moves, the dark rhythm of Berlin's nightlife echoes his steps. At the beginning of each level, Kai is given a pool of currency which degrades as time goes on. This currency can be used to perform actions such as hacking doors or computers, or instead to use Kai’s time travel abilities, rewinding your opponents movements and dialogue or returning Kai to life. The less of this currency you use in level, the more you have to spend on new abilities or better weapons. These time travel abilities make both combat and dialogue a matter of trial and error, attempting and rewinding, and when you get to the end of a combat, it replays at full speed in a sequence reminiscent of Superhot (without the chanting).
All Walls Must Play Ball
At first I found All Walls Must Fall tonally confusing; it’s a game dealing with serious subject matter, but by all accounts it’s a bit silly at points. All you need to do is look at the dialogue; the jokey exchanges between Kai and his Faceless handler, the dialogue options for convincing doormen and guards you are supposed to be there. In one such exchange a guard told me “No access here. Turn around” to which I could reply “Obviously I am how else would I be?” and that piece of 17th century philosophy feels tantamount to saying “I know you are but what am I?” or literally screaming “I AM ACCESS” before blowing him away (which I summarily did). This is of course completely forgivable in an early access game. And it could be avoided altogether by my next point. All Walls Must Fall is crying out for a stealth system. Everytime you walk into a restricted area a guard will challenge you, sometimes from the far end of the room facing the opposite direction, which at one point caused me to think I was being confronted by a body in a floatation tank. This causes you to play the diplomacy mini-game (which you end up playing far too frequently). There is already a cover system in place, and a line of sight mechanic for cameras and drones, so I think it would be quite easy to introduce some stealth elements in restricted areas, while retaining the diplomacy game for doormen and barmen, rewarding you with info, or an objectives location.
All Walls Must Forestall Fall
This game has a great title; it not only trips off the tongue, but has many layered meanings. It reflects the struggle that Kai finds himself in, repeatedly bashing his head against an in-game wall (you see what I did there), trying to break the time-lock he’s trapped in. It’s also a hopeful statement about freedom; that no matter how seemingly unassailable, all oppression eventually topples in the end. My only problem with this title is that it doesn’t currently reflect the games narrative. You are a time agent trying to prevent a nuclear strike; this would effectively perpetuate the cold war for hundreds more years (and presumably east-German and satellite state oppression with it). Unless I’ve missed something, by all accounts you are holding up the wall. But maybe All Walls Must Fall is actually a statement of futility, reflecting what is always just out the reach. But the game isn’t finished yet, so maybe the final version will offer some kind of conclusion or choice as closure. But as a permadeath game, I’m liable to think it probably won’t. Either way, while the gameplay has some repetitive qualities at this stage, on the whole it is both smart and entertaining, shaping up to be something much better. I’d keep an eye out.
The game has potential, but we're not ready to jump in with both feet. If the game interests you, look, but don't touch - yet.