Deadfall Adventures

Steam's product description for Deadfall Adventures promises a first-person shooter infused with puzzle solving akin to an adventure game. A globe-trotting sojourn that's supposedly but not at all really inspired by Haggard's Quatermain anthology of novels, widely considered a pioneer of the “lost world” genre of literature that defines so much of our favourite games and films. The idea of mixing those play styles in a pulpy and exotic 1930s setting is tantalizing, echoing the classic Indiana Jones film trilogy in more ways than one. What's on offer here falls tragically short of that potential, sadly, a functional but thoroughly joyless adventure with little to impart to the player.

Deadfall's biggest issue is that it barely commits to any one thing it attempts, especially the pillars of exploration and puzzle-solving it touts. There are some treasures to find, but they lie in rooms and corridors just a few feet from the rigid critical path. It also doesn't take much more than shooting a switch or weak structural point to make these supposedly hidden idols fall into your lap, for the most part. The mandatory story puzzles don't fare much better. Most employ incredibly withered designs like moving across a floor while avoiding marked trapped tiles or reflecting lights off of a bunch of mirrors. They're unoriginal, but they're also just plain unsatisfying. That mirror puzzle doesn't even require you to set up a complex route of light; you use two or three at a time, permanently activating switches before starting over with another handful. The worst “puzzle” in the entire game takes place during a level set in the arctic, where an otherwise featureless path is littered with tripwire grenades that serve only to keep you from sprinting past the entire area.

Nothing in the game ever outright breaks, but it's offensive in its blandness.That's to say nothing of its actually offensive Nazis-after-ancient-artifacts-to-rule-the-world plot filled with ridiculous accents, barely intelligible sentence structure, atrocious acting and a general lack of lucid progression. Raiders of the Lost Ark is the obvious inspiration, but not even a fraction of that film's spirit is captured in Deadfall Adventures. Most of the time, I hadn't a clue what was going on, or why a certain betrayal happens toward the end of the campaign. Luckily, there's no platforming component to really make a mess of things.

Combat is roughly as humdrum as the puzzling, and chances are good that you'll be tapped out on the perfunctory shooting in short order. The basic movement and feel of the shooting is decent, but it lacks punch; there's no connection between your offence and an enemy's reaction. At first, I thought my tendency to eschew any cover and simply spray and pray my way through an area was an intentional part of Deadfall's old-school inspired design. It only took a few shootouts to realize that this may well not be the case. There usually aren't that many enemies at a given time, and most of them crouch behind the stack of clutter nearest them. On the default difficulty, their bullets seem to hardly ever hit you. That made me think that sprinting through an area in a super-aggressive way was being encouraged, but those Nazis sure seemed surprised each time I'd run up on them. I'd say half didn't even fire back, and almost all went down with one or two bullets. A few undead enemies ignore cover and shamble in close for some melee attacks. They're about as interesting as they sound, and having to burn them with a flashlight until glowing and exposed – a practice poorly and unashamedly cribbed from Alan Wake – feels utterly tacked on.

In the beginning, puzzles and shooting fragile Nazis balance each other out somewhat, affording you to at least experience two rough halves in alternating runs. Once you're halfway through the four or so hour single player, the puzzle element nearly vanishes. Not having an opportunity to give all that Nazi-blasting a rest makes things worse, and unfortunately, the game's second half is a mostly unrelenting and frictionless gunfight. A few endgame puzzles have a better grasp of making themselves practical to the semi-story going on around you, but at that point it's far too little, too late. I suspect most won't ever make it that far. If you finish the single player portion, a co-op survival mode and competitive deathmatch can be taken online. There was no opportunity to connect to a match before release, and while I imagine the gunplay would be more interesting against human opponents, I can't see it redeeming the lifelessly by-the-numbers feel of the rest of the package.

The best part of this game is the way it looks. It has some ugly character models and texture pop-in symptomatic of the Unreal Engine. Geometry and depth of field effects outdoors can look a little nasty. But for the most part you're looking at sharp, very well-lit tombs, caverns and installations. Hardly the most unique subject matter, but well-constructed. That's about the highest compliment I can pay Deadfall Adventures, and that's saddening to say. The concept of fusing classically-minded game designs together under a modern presentation is a great one, but the experience typifies all the worst parts of its inspiration. The puzzles barely register against the action or the plot, arbitrary gates to the next limp shooting gallery. The challenge and personality of old-school shooter or adventure classics is totally absent. It's one of the most creatively bankrupt games I've played this year. And you should not play it.