Have you ever watched one of those alternate-reality Sci-Fi shows and wondered “What would the world be like if XYZ hadn’t played out the way it did?”. Countless sci-fi shows like Star Trek and The Man In The High Castle have all tinkered with the idea of World War II ending differently, but what about the Cold War? What if the ultimate stalemate between the most powerful superpowers in history had never ended?
In All Walls Must Fall, Inbetweengames have hypothesized this scenario by asking it from another angle; “What could have caused world progress to stall?”. In order to prolong the Cold War, something must have happened that would add even more of a stalemate than nuclear weapons.
Their answer: “What if time travel had been invented?”. Imagine if either superpower could simply travel back in time to halt any attack before it even started? Ballistic nuclear weapons would be rendered useless, since the other side would simply ensure they never left the ground.
One way to make a kick-ass sci-fi plot is to set up the ultimate system of checks and balances, then find ways to abuse or break it. Isaac Asimov did this to perfection with his Robots series. Inbetween games have asked “How could someone get the jump on a time-travelling adversary?”.
All Walls Must Fall investigates the immediate aftermath of a nuclear weapon being detonated in a future dystopian Berlin of 2089, still divided by the wall. What would the back-tracking and investigation look like to prevent it from happening?
Back to the past
The night before the event, A flash of lightning discharges across a deserted side street heralding the sudden appearance of a vehicle, screeching to a halt, Back-To-The-Future style. At the wheel, Kai, a cybernetically enhanced agent of a temporal agency, STASIS, has been sent ten hours back to track down those responsible and stop it before it ever happens.
Kai’s controller is a mysterious mask-wearing entity issuing him a series of missions across Berlin to track down information and follow the trail back to the perpetrators.
It’s night-time so almost all of the suspects and informants are in nightclubs, either as partygoers, or the owners, requiring Kai to track them down, and make his way past bouncers and security guards to find his targets. But sometimes getting in isn’t as hard as getting back out again..
Getting in is the easy bit…
It could be so tempting for InbetweenGames to have made Kai a suave and sophisticated time agent, a Jean-Claude van Damme look-alike, or trench-coat wearing spook like in Syndicate. But Kai’s no James Bond, he’s scarred, obese and dressed like a couch potato. His unvonventional look is completed with an open-steelwork prosthetic arm with built-in power-assisted fist, so sneaking in to the ambassador’s party wearing a nice suit isn’t going to happen here.
Getting into the building without tipping off the club’s security is the main objective at the start of every mission. If you’ve invested in silenced weaponry and don’t mind a little bloodshed, you might be lucky and just take the door guards out with a few quiet aimed shots. If not, you can try to sweet-talk your way in, or perhaps locate an alternate ingress point.
As with the building layouts, the guards and other employees are generated uniquely for each game. Engaging them in a conversation is a challenging and entertaining little mini-game. The game gives you a hint to their emotional susceptibility, but if you get it wrong and push the wrong emotional buttons, they can turn hostile in a moment. You’ve basically got three ways to win: Impress them, intimidate them, or turn them on. Sweet-talking (i.e. flirting) with a guard is such a hilarious thought, since Kai is such an obese mess of a cyborg. But I guess in the future, some people go for that kind of thing.
The interior designer does a good job of creating interesting environments with a different playthrough every time. For example, some areas are restricted, and if you fail a conversation there you might find yourself staring down the barrel of an automatic rifle, or a drone might open fire on you in the middle of the dance floor. It’s up to you to be aware of your surroundings at all times.
It’s bullet time
The clubs are filled with hundreds of partygoers dancing to thumping music on flashing dance floors, hanging around the bars, relaxing in private suites or wandering the hallways between the various rooms. Meanwhile behind guarded, hackable doors, Security guards hang out in back rooms controlling drones, in labs cooking up drugs, patrolling store rooms and guarding checkpoints.
If you do tip off the security, you’ll have agents and drones zeroing in on you fro, all sides and the game descends into a little of the old ultraviolence, combat happens in a series of turns on the game’s square grid. Kai can shoot, hack, run, reload or switch weapons during a turn. Shots take some time to cross the space, hovering in midair while you choose your action. The game even tells you where it’s about to become dangerous due to incoming fire and recocmmends shelter spots behind tables and boxes.
Being a temporal agent, of course, he does have a few tricks up his sleeve which can help tip things in his favour. At a simple level, Kai can rewind time back to an earlier point, and try again. As he earns more cash, he can buy upgrades allowing him to rewind the world without rewinding himself, among other interesting ways to complete his mission.
Kai’s pretty robust, but can only take three or four hits without succumbing, so playing the combat strategically really pays off. Assuming you manage to navigate Kai through the firefight, the game replays the entire gun battle back to you, showing how well your strategic planning worked, or how close you came to oblivion.
The only nit I’d like to pick with the combat is that because it’s an isometric game, the engine has to remove walls and consoles to let you see what’s going on. Because some walls can also be destroyed, it’s sometimes difficult to tell when you’re exposed, making it easier to make tactical errors, running into a hail of gunfire because you mistook a hole in the wall for the game’s visibility culling.
Once inside, the mission may be to talk to some bartenders, pick up a dead drop package, eliminate a suspect, steal something, or any number of other tasks. Completing the mission quickly and as efficiently as possible scores the highest ‘points’.
Points are converted into cash, allowing Kai to visit an arms dealer between missions to upgrade himself and his arsenal. He can also buy interesting temporal manipulation devices, and upgrade them.
The development team intended the game to feel a lot like the old game Syndicate. On this point, I have to give them full marks. I was immediately transported back to those wonderful days playing syndicate, especially when taking the long routes around buildings to avoid the patrolling guards.
Artwork and music
The game has a really satisfying “neo-communist architectural” feel coupled with excellently designed music, both in the clubs, in the surrounding streets. A lot of the building structures use a blue-grey, which is reminiscent of an older EGA colour palette, and the use of sprites help give it the retro/futuristic feel is a cyberpunk dystopian future. Inside the clubs, the decor is very futuristic with giant LCDs, walls of sound and DJ desks. Bars are filled with bottles, and punters prop them up wearing next-to-nothing.
The game feels very fluid. Moving, talking and fighting all seque into each other very well. Combat can be a little confusing at first, but once you’ve got the hang of the ‘safe zone’ and ‘danger tile’ indicators it becomes satisfying, and feels ‘fair’, although it can be a little frustrating at times when Kai’s under siege by a number of agents with automatic weapons requiring a lot of wasteful time-rewinding.
The only thing which I’d like to see is a wider variety of locations, although I’ve not managed to play through to the end (that old Rogue-like feature has held me back), so there may be more in later missions.
The menus are deliciously rendered, with fly-bys of walls and barbed-wire fences. The ‘store’ is actually the boot of the arms dealer’s car, and it’s perpetual night-time. The only non-game thing I’d like to see more of is the intro; it lasts only a few seconds and has almost no back-story. The game could probably benefit from more exposition here with Kai in the car, being given his orders. It could even include a little more info about where he got sent from.
In its default mode, the game is ‘rogue-like’ insofar as that when Kai’s health reaches zero, the game ends. If you took note of the Random Seed when the game started, you can attempt to replay the same scenario by creating a new game with the same seed. If not, you let the game roll the dice to create a new game. The RNG is well balanced, and unlike some procedurally generated games, each playthrough may be different, but the level of difficulty remains the same.
You move around the map as a series of steps on a grid. In-mission, the currency of temporal manipulation is the Action Point. Kai begins each mission with a fixed number, and it’s your job to ensure that he’s mobile and active to keep them topped up. Standing about or rewinding time uses them up. Once you run out you’re limited to linear time!
The exfiltration stage isn’t always as simple as you might think; you’re not the only temporal agent around, after all. If you make a big splash, other agents can be sent back to intercept you, and some of them have some very powerful temporal abilities!
The ‘permadeath’ feature has recently been made togglable. I’ll come out and say that I’m not a massive fan of ultra-murderous Rogue-likes, so I’ve enabled this feature in my most recent playthrough, turning the game into a much more palateable ‘rogue-lite’.
On the whole, the gameplay and controls are very fluid and, once you get the hang of the hotkeys, very satisfying. The only irritation is that when exfiltrating, Kai is usually ambushed anyway, so you may as well take the violent path on the way in, otherwise you’ll have twice as many people to fight on the way out.
I was a backer on Kickstarter and have watched the game mature from the first alpha release to its current polished state. The developers have been very approachable throughout and I’m pleased to see one or two of my suggestions made it into the game, but modified by the devs perfectly to fit into the game’s mechanics.
The backstory, setting and plot are very well devised, and matched by the excellent art style, music and gameplay. As far as achieving a Tech-noir feel, InbetweenGames has achieved their goal 100%.
The latest improvements in the dialog options make that minigame enjoyable and feel a lot less random. The softening of the rogue-like elements, the ability to get more health in the shop between missions means that the game is entertaining, challenging and fluid without feeling like you’re being punished for every little failure.
The thing which I find most impressive is that the game telegraphs everything that’s happening during combat, so if you mess up, it’s entirely on you: At no point can you blame the game for your screw-ups. It told you where the bullets and agents were, and even where they’d be if you moved, so if you get hit, it’s your faulty planning! That greatly reduces the annoyance when you lose health due to a bad decision.
The game is still in Early Access and the developers are hugely active on Twitter and the Steam discussion forums, listening and taking on board people’s ideas and feedback. In recent months new NPCs have been added, more mission types, the shop, and some game balancing features which really improve the experience, and make it feel a lot more like Syndicate.
At the moment All Walls Must Fall is £10.99 on Steam, or you can get it as a bundle for £11.98 including the excellent soundtrack. So far I’ve enjoyed about 20 hours of gameplay, and I’m not done, so I imagine that when the game is released the price will go up to match its completed status.
If you loved the original Syndicate, you’re into Cyberpunk tech-noir or you enjoy turn-based strategy which allows you freedom in how you solve the level, then All Walls Must Fall might just be for you.
You can find the game on Steam: