Travel in time to a still-divided Berlin with All Walls Must Fall.
Here at Thumbsticks we have been closely following the development of All Walls Must Fall, a tech-noir tactics game from a team of devs who had previously worked on Spec Ops: The Line. Originally funded on Kickstarter the game is currently in Early Access, giving people a chance to play the game in its alpha state whilst Inbetweengames continue to tinker and improve.
If you were worried abut an Early Access release, All Walls Must Fall is perfectly functional. Of course, the game will continue to improve via updates that will continue until at least January 2018, but right now the core game is all there and there is a sense of a complete playthrough provided.
You can attempt missions in All Walls Must Fall in pretty much whatever order you see fit, and completing one unlocks others. Given the game revolves around time travel, and therefore protagonist Kai theoretically could have already done the later mission already, this choppy cut fits well within the plot. If at times you find the plot a little confusing, so does the protagonist; Kai’s handler brushes off these issues as a consequence of time travel. [AKA ‘wibbly wobbly timey wimey stuff’ – Doctor Who Ed.]
Combat is based on fairly standard isometric tactical. The game features a timer, which pauses while you plug in your commands, then runs down again while your actions play out. Time travel mechanics are also unlocked that give Kai basic control over time within in a mission, which adds a new dimension. The range of time-based mechanics available to Kai expand on this classic formula, including;
- Undo (undoes the previous action in its entirety);
- Rewind (rewinds everything else except Kai);
- Trace Back (which rewinds Kai but leaves everything else alone).
The latter takes longer to adjust to but becomes crucial to completing the later missions, as it can enable some riskier actions that you can subsequently regain health from. Be wary when planning actions, though: the timer might be paused when not moving, but by default action points deplete, meaning if you’re not careful you might suddenly find you don’t have enough for that crucial Trace Back or undo.
If you’re thinking it’s somewhere between Braid and X-Com or Syndicate, you wouldn’t be far wrong.
Another optional element of All Walls Must Fall is permadeath. At first, this seems like an unnecessary and artificial means of increasing the difficulty, but as the game progresses it does start to make sense: the plot seems to imply that every time a mission is attempted is just one possibility. Given the different approaches that can be utilised in a mission, this infinite possibilities logic makes sense, though with permadeath turned off the game is certainly more forgiving (and starting from scratch can be painful).
On the subject of death: shooting is not everything in All Walls Must Fall, and talking can act as a powerful tool. Some missions depend on it, whilst in others, it enables alternative approaches, and the dialogue options appear to have come a long way since the initial closed alpha. During dialogue, there are three different columns that are influenced by the text selected. This informs how to approach the conversation in order to get some form of positive outcome. Often this works naturally, but with some of the guards you can spam the same technique ad infinitum to always achieve the same results.
The missions vary despite all taking place at different – albeit identical-looking – clubs across East Berlin. These clubs are quite often a front for some nefarious act, and Kai is tasked will dealing with them. The actions from the player are often the same, but the interweaving of shooting and dialogue work well, and exploring the surprisingly complex buildings filled with innocent civilians adds to the challenge, especially when the time comes to exfiltrate.
Given the game is set almost exclusively in nightclubs, the soundtrack is also a stand out feature. The pulsing music adds to the atmosphere as well as dynamically adjusting as Kai advances within a mission. It recalls the intensity that music brought to Hotline Miami, and like Hotline Miami the music is key to crafting the aesthetic of the game as a whole.
The Early Access version of the game includes all of East Berlin which comprises Act 1 of potentially three acts. A complete playthrough (with permadeath off but the timer on) took around four hours (including numerous retries), although the game, almost mockingly, registered the playthrough as only 33 minutes of continuous playtime. As mentioned earlier, this does work as a complete experience with the end leading up to what feels more like a sequel rather than the next part.
Act 2 will feature a different protagonist named Alev, who will be operating within West Berlin and have access to different time manipulating powers, including Freeze (time is frozen for everything else) and Split (Alev creates a copy that duplicates her actions). Having access to different actions will help separate Act 2 from Act 1, and should prevent the game from feeling repetitive and providing new potential strategies and experiences.
That being said, we have no idea when Act 2 of All Walls Will Fall will be released – most likely when the game eventually leaves Early Access and is given a release proper – but based on what we’ve played so far? We’re looking forward to it.