Review: All Walls Must Fall19 Mar 2018 0
Review: All Walls Must Fall
Released 23 Feb 2018
Techno bass is thumping in my ears as I crouch behind a marble pillar that is illuminated from above and below by the lights of the dance floor. Sweaty bodies pour in a human stream toward the exits in a collective panic as another white-hot projectile screeches over my shoulder. I had come here to talk to someone - just talk, I swear! - but things have gone very wrong. Again.
Fortunately, I am an experienced time-traveller named Kai, and this is All Walls Must Fall. I’ve got options. I can rewind the world around me to a point where I hadn’t tripped the alarm. Or I could phase back to the dark hallway I’d been in before I’d trundled out onto the dance floor.
This time, though, I opt for the old fashioned approach and return fire.
All Walls Must Fall is a turn-based tactics game that cites XCOM and Syndicate as inspirations, but which reminds me more of Klei’s fantastic Invisible, Inc. with its emphasis on hacking, sneaking, and time management. The setting is a cyberpunk version of Berlin, 2089, in an alternate reality where the Cold War never ended, and the wall still stands - for now. As Kai, your job is to investigate and prevent a cataclysmic nuclear strike on a TV tower that’s happening in ten hours by scouring Berlin’s gay nightclub scene for spies, drug dealers, and double agents who can help you find out who’s responsible for the bombing and hopefully head it off at the pass.
Each club is procedurally constructed from prefabricated elements - glowing dance floors, bustling bars, plush side rooms and suites. Outside of combat, you can move around semi-freely, but every step you take pulls points from your primary resource: time.
Using time effectively in turn-based battles is All Walls Must Fall’s main hook. Similar to the original XCOM, each action you perform has an associated time cost (appropriately, it’s measured in beats). An aimed shot takes twice as long as a “tap,” for instance, and reloading takes a full beat.
Things get interesting when Kai starts pulling out his complement of temporal abilities. These range from a basic “undo” function to abilities like “rewind” and “trace” that allow him to effectively phase through surveillance cones or heal himself back up to the point he was at moments before getting hit. While tutorials give you the basics on how to use these, I still feel as though I haven’t fully grasped their potential in combat.
Once a combat encounter is finished, you hit spacebar to commit and “drop it,” in the game’s parlance. You’ll see the whole encounter rewind through a trippy VHS filter, and then play out in semi-realtime, the camera dropping down into the isometric scenes for quick, action movie-style cuts. It’s here where All Walls Must Fall’s juxtaposition of styles becomes more obvious and jarring - Kai and everyone else in the game are rendered in 2D, almost like cardboard stand-ups, while the environments are stylized and polygonal, reminiscent of Superhot.
It mostly works. Rendering characters in 2D lets the game put hundreds of clubgoers on dancefloors and around bars, and the pulsing masses of bodies surrounding the action gives the game an authentic sense of place. Bullets tear through storage containers and alcohol bottles, dancers swarm the exits, and everything looks very, very cool. Battles you’ve agonized over turn out to have taken place over the course of several seconds, with Kai popping out from behind a doorframe to level two enemy agents before dashing to cover behind a nearby pillar, or warping back to a previous position to take out a rushing enemy from behind. It’s all over in a violent, choreographed flash.
What helps this along is the wealth of tactical options you have. The temporal powers I mentioned above add a lot of novelty to the turn-based fights, but there are plenty of conventional tools at your disposal as well. Outside missions, you can outfit Kai with several upgradeable weapons like SMGs and shotguns, and his dash ability lets you literally dance between rounds of incoming gunfire. Enemies eventually start using time tricks on you, too - phantoms will dissolve into mist before your eyes, while others can teleport away from danger at will.
All this is if you opt for combat at all. While certain fights are unavoidable, many you can bypass simply by being charming. All Walls Must Fall is an unabashedly flirty game, and there are plenty of burly door guards and bouncers who’d much rather have a friendly (or more?) chat than get into a gunfight. You can intimidate, impress, or charm your way into many NPCs’ good books through conversation, and in some cases, they’ll wind up helping you out when if the lead starts flying anyway.
However, you’ll only ever be in control of Kai, and that’s one of the factors that limits All Walls Must Fall a bit. Without other party members, you don’t have options to set up the kind of tactical traps and combos that make XCOM 2 and Invisible, Inc. such compelling experiences. During fights, you’ll often be limited to searching for a “safe” square (the game alerts you if a move you’re about to make will result in taking damage) by clicking every spot in the immediate area, and action can at times be difficult to read. The theme, while exciting, stays very one-note throughout each campaign (and, fair warning, there's quite a bit of nudity - although this can be disabled).
There are also some technical issues to note. The game crashed on me whenever I tried playing it on my desktop PC, which has a two-monitor setup. It ran well on my laptop on low settings but boosting the graphics options up at all would reduce the framerate to a chug. This isn’t a huge issue for a turn-based tactics game, but it does hurt the overall feel, and it gives a bit of an undercooked impression.
These faults notwithstanding, I’ve enjoyed my time with All Walls Must Fall. The procedural levels make the campaign very replayable, and later missions can get properly difficult. Add in a Daily Challenge mode and the ability to replay completed missions to 'optimize' your path, and you’ve got a tactics game that gives you a lot of reasons to keep coming back to it.
And while escaping to your waiting taxi is always accompanied by an involuntary sigh of relief, my favorite part of the game is still watching the brutal, complex routines I’ve been painstakingly scripting play out before me on the bustling dance floors of a cyberpunk, neon-noir vision of Berlin. All Walls Must Fall may use a lot of familiar ideas, but it pulls them together - almost seamlessly - into a tight and compelling package that is definitely worth the trip.