Deadfall Adventures is the first in a planned series of action titles from publisher Nordic Games and developer The Farm 51. It follows the adventures of James Lee Quatermain, great-grandson of the world-famous adventurer Allan Quatermain. If you don’t know who that is, think Indiana Jones. Like Indy, James traverses the globe pilfering artifacts and dodging Nazi bullets – all while wearing a fedora and a smile. In this particular story, Quatermain is paired with Lara Croft Jennifer Goodwin, an archaeologist and government agent tasked with finding the ancient and powerful Heart of Atlantis before the Germans can claim it for their war machine. Their adventure takes them to exotic locales like the swirling sands of the Egyptian desert, the cold tundra of the Arctic, and the lush greenery of South American jungles as they find treasure, romance, and a whole lot of angry Europeans.
The first thing you’ll notice is how beautiful this game can be. The outdoor environments are highly detailed and immersive. The sun filters through the clouds and trees making shadows ebb and flow and particle physics make for realistic wind-swept sand, pushing the Unreal 3 engine to its limits. The indoor sections are noticeably not as good-looking and with a bit more polish could have escaped the cookie-cutter doldrums of corridor combat. Exploding barrels abound (because a video game just isn’t a video game without exploding barrels) and are fun to ignite beside an enemy, causing them to catch fire and flail around, but I couldn’t help but feel they are extraneous and just another check-mark on a list of “things that would be cool to put in a video game.” The other barrels, crates, vases, etc. do nothing. Shoot at them all you want, you won’t even see a bullet hole or scorch mark. And forget about the umpteen million ladders you’ll find, you can’t climb them. In fact, James can do little more than jump and it only becomes useful in certain areas. If you want to jump over a small wooden beam to get to a treasure, an invisible wall will prevent it and force you to find a way around. There are other environmental hazards like spear flinging walls and flame-thrower rigged pressure plates James can trigger to ensnare his enemies with. In a few levels James can shoot down overhead icicles onto the bad guys, crushing them and putting a smile on my face. I like this aspect of the game and wish the AI was up to the task of making it more diverse and applicable.
The FPS aspect of Deadfall is firmly cast in the traditional Quake style. Mostly flat land shooting coupled with the ability to crouch behind large objects. There is no Gears of War style cover system. No leaning, no shooting over the top, just stand-up and shoot the enemy. Luckily, these enemies are not the brightest and regularly engage you in the open without cover. It’s a shame that these low-level soldiers take a full clip of ammunition to kill though, as time and time again I found myself having to reload in order to only take down a few generic soldiers. I would think that five rounds to head, neck, and chest would do the trick but often the soldier will fall down for a few seconds and then get right back up – the sneaky bastards! Head-shots, if aimed dead center, will usually dispatch an enemy with one shot but the shooting/aiming mechanic is rife with inconsistency. This is a problem not just with the combat either as James has to routinely shoot at triggers to open doors or avoid hazards. I found it funny that the mechanic for obtaining priceless antiques was to shoot other priceless antiques – oh, those wacky archaeologists!
At times, your partner Jennifer joins with you in the fighting but stays back and does little to help, sometimes disappearing completely only to “pop-up” again at the next checkpoint. Your load-out is anemic and consists only of your main utility weapon, the dual pistols and a single free slot for any rifles that you find or liberate from enemies. The rifle selection is limited to a few machine guns and a sniper rifle and only one can be carried at a time, swapping them out as you find new ones. You have a knife for melee and a slot for dynamite/grenades. At one point in the game you are given a rocket launcher as a third option but only for that level and is taken away afterward.
The music, orchestral and well-done, swells during action scenes and does a good job of making you feel like you’re in a movie. The sound effects, however, miss the mark and are monotonous, unvaried and consist of little more than gun shots and soldiers dying. Knocking over a clay jar for example, sounds the same regardless of the size of it or the material it’s crashing into. The voice acting is the real criminal here, though. Jennifer often repeats the same two lines of dialogue ad nauseam – and what dialogue it is! What I can only guess was written by a fourteen year old, the script is a collection of every bad pun and clichéd line ever spoken in film and is delivered with the emotion and tenor of reading the ingredients off the back of a ketchup packet.
Puzzles are plentiful and can be solved with the help of clues written on a notepad left to you by your great-grandfather but are very much a feast or famine proposition. They either provide you the answer outright without you having to think or give no info at all leaving you to scour Youtube for an answer. One puzzle in particular (Without spoiling it) had no clues whatsoever as to what you are supposed to do and instead forced you to click buttons through trial and error until “something” appeared – this is not what many would consider a puzzle and is more akin to trying to find an episode of ALF among the 600 channels that populate my cable box. The game design is built around your character completing levels and finding artifacts to upgrade his abilities for the final showdown at the games conclusion. By collecting artifacts/treasures you exchange them for attribute upgrades. The upgrades are broken into three different aspect trees based on Health, Firing Rate, and Flashlight strength. Each attribute has two functions to enhance – amount and duration. Acquiring purple artifacts increases either your overall amount of health or the speed in which it regenerates. The same goes for your weapon (gold artifacts) allowing you to increase the firing and reload speeds. Translucent treasures benefit your flashlights strength and regeneration as well, which Quatermain uses to blind soldiers and damage zombies mummies.The upgrade system is mostly superfluous and severely limits your choices on what can be improved at any one time and seems to be another unnecessary tacked-on feature.
You can find all of the artifacts and finish the game in just under ten hours. Some have even done it in eight. So, it’s a short romp but fear not, multiplayer comes to the rescue and (theoretically) lengthens the experience. The usual modes are available but there seemed to be a lack of people to play with – even three days after release. The only other person in-game with me was AFK (no doubt waiting there for someone else to log on before getting bored and leaving to microwave a burrito, only to come back and notice someone else had been present).
Deadfall Adventures is not a bad game – it just isn’t a good game. Graphics aside, everything about it is uninspiring and sub-par. It feels like an action/adventure gumbo where the developers just threw in whatever content they liked from other more-successful games – an amalgamation of ideas done better elsewhere. The story and voice acting is so bad – it reminds me of a B-movie but without the charm. The main protagonist looks like Alan Wake in an Indiana Jones Halloween costume, sans whip and his partner is a clear rip off of Lara Croft (but not as cool and is unplayable). The Quatermain stories are a hundred years older than those of Indiana Jones but regardless of which came first, this chicken has laid an egg… and it ain’t worth buying.