It’s a rare game that manages to effectively squander a cool concept with substandard gameplay. Sure, Mass Effect: Andromeda took the magical and romantic idea of exploring and colonising a whole foreign galaxy and drove it straight into the ground with mediocre gameplay, but it’s concept was not that good to begin with -- what could have been a massive and adventurous expedition was instead shoehorned into half-baked AI/Reaper threats, nonsensical Geth lore, and numerous awful firefights.
All Walls Must Fall, however, has a bona fide cool concept™ behind it: In an alternate future where the Cold War never ended, a rogue nuclear attack sends the world into turmoil, and it’s up to you to travel to the past and stop the destruction of the human race. Eternal war, nuclear strikes, and time travel, all framed by techno music against a noir background -- that’s one hell of an elevator pitch. Unfortunately, the game fails to live up to it thanks to unengaging gameplay and weird controls, ultimately creating an uninteresting experience.
Set in Germany in November of 2089, All Walls Must Fall puts you in the time travelling boots of Kai, a brawny, bearded fellow with a mechanical arm. The current version gives access to the first third of the game, where every mission takes place in a procedurally generated gay dance club in East Berlin, in the hours before a nuclear explosion triggers open war. As Kai, you must interrogate enemy agents, disarm bombs, and take out targets, all in order to discover who caused the blast and save the world from destruction.
Most of that info comes from the product’s description on the Steam store, as the game itself is extremely iffy about details and plot. You are told the war never ended, that time travel is a thing, and you see the bomb exploding and taking out a whole deserted street during the night hours of Berlin, but nothing else is explained. You don’t know who your character is, what he does, or who he works for -- you barely know your mission, which is “do whatever you are told in this random location before escaping in your car”.
This method of exposition aims to keeps you in the dark as to what is actually going on, but it ends up backfiring. Most assassination targets (including the one in the tutorial) act like you’re friends and ask you not to kill them, somehow “mentally” draining your health instead of firing a weapon at you if you don’t kill them. That immediately indicates something is wrong and the plot is not what it purports to be, effectively removing a huge chunk of any dramatic tension and rendering the relevance of further happenings moot.
Being mysterious and obscure is hardly a fault, but the particular absence of details and utter lack of context makes All Walls Must Fall feel completely disjointed. There is no reason to care about Kai, his world, or his mission, as we have absolutely no idea what any of those are. Without emotional or intellectual investment in the plot or the game’s universe, the only thing left is gameplay… and unfortunately, that isn’t good nor diverse enough to keep one hooked.
The game uses a unique turn-based system that ties directly into the time travelling theme. On the bottom right of the screen, you get a little bar that can hold up to 500 “Time Resources”, used to activate time related abilities like undo the last few seconds, rewind your enemies moves, or reset your position to a turn before. You lose one point off this bar every idle second of gameplay, and actions drain it faster -- walking, for example, costs one point, while running takes five. If the bar depletes, you won’t be able to run or use your time abilities, but you can still walk and shoot normally.
Points are not hard to come by, being given to you every time you kill an enemy or enter a new room -- as you’re always at the cap or near it, they mostly serve as an artificial restraint to stop you from abusing your time bending powers. Those powers can be used at any time, though they are only really useful during the core gameplay loop of conversations and combat.
Conversations feel remarkably hit-and-miss, with a short range of answers that don’t always represents what can be said nor generate the expected effect. There is no way to gauge someone’s personality by looking at them, so the interactions quickly devolve into boring trial-and-error routines. You try negotiating with the guy, get a no, rewind time; try flirting with the guy, get a no, rewind time; try scaring the guy, get a no, rewind time -- at which point you just shoot the bastard in the head and be done with it.
Forgoing conversations entirely and going in guns blazing could be a viable option, but unfortunately, combat is equally unexciting. You get to position your character and take out enemies using either a snapshot that stuns foes or an aimed shot that deals extra damage, taking cover against objects with an XCOM-like shield icon.
The game warns you of incoming fire so you can get your character out of the way, but enemies often track your movement and fire as fast as you can move, leading to situations where you constantly keep moving turn after turn with no chance to fire back, as the game features no dodge mechanic. Since Kai can only take 3 hits and is apparently unable to heal between missions, your room for error gets exponentially smaller as the game progresses.
Though battles are paused and played in turns, a short “action replay” mechanic replays the firefight in real time after it finishes. During these sequences, the music swells and the action unfolds automatically on the screen, but the events and presentation of the battles are way too mundane to merit watching. It all ends up feeling unimpressive.
However, what really made the game unenjoyable was how stilted and crude the movement and gameplay is. Featuring a camera anchored to your character and static 2D sprites that possess minimal animation, the overall gameplay feels like something put together over a weekend. The camera is extremely sensitive to the point of disorientation and doesn't move nor zoom out enough to provide you with a meaningful tactical view of your surroundings. Movement consists of a horrible 2D sprite with no transitions that flows in a decidedly staccato-manner, feeling rather cheap and lacking that smoothness that makes tactical turn-based games so fun to watch.
Musically, All Walls Must Fall really hits the spot. Featuring a high quality techno soundtrack, the title opens with a catchy beat and proceeds to use it whenever possible. My only complaint is that the soundtrack played during turn-based sections is often generic, while the “action replay” sequences where the music blooms to life are few-and-far between, not to mention way too short. It ultimately limits the player’s exposition to the score and reduces the overall impact the game’s strongest point has on the experience.
Similarly, the title could use a lot of improvement graphically. While it features a distinctive artwork and the graphics aren’t bad, levels and combat are very hard to read -- the screen is often filled with visual noise that makes even the tiniest irrelevant detail noticeable, detracting from the ability to read the situation at a glance and leading to some uncomfortable gameplay moments. I would often have a hard time to find some enemies and would get shot from angles that previously had a solid object which was now destroyed by gunfire, not to mention being utterly unable to tell when an enemy had a line of fire or not. The overall lack of visibility meant my tactical awareness was constantly struggling with the presentation itself.
As a veteran of strategy games, All Walls Must Fall is disappointing. It has a great concept and interesting mechanics, but it squanders most of its potential via suboptimal execution. With obnoxious conversations, boring combat, and a deliberately unengaging and overtly reticent plot, this is one Early Access game you should observe very closely before taking the plunge.