Developed by The Farm 51, Deadfall Adventures is an original concept by a team that built its reputation with the PC exclusive series NecroVision. An understated cult hit, NecroVision and its subsequent prequel were considered innovators within the kill-all-or-be-killed template. This gave credence to Nordic Games’ decision to have the studio develop Painkiller: Hell & Damnation. Deadfall Adventures however, is an entirely different prospect. A different kind of single-player FPS game for a different kind of audience.
While the run-and-gun FPS is seen by many as an ancient relic – a design template from a bygone era – there are plenty who would argue that there is still room for such an experience. The recent Serious Sam revival would attest as much. However, that doesn’t mean that the occasional cerebral challenge is welcome also. This is where Deadfall Adventures comes into play. The game mixes puzzling with combat in a fashion that’s more appealing than it may sound.
Deadfall Adventures’ Dreadful Plot
The central conceit of the game is that, after a run in with some less then helpful Nazi’s, you must escape from a tomb in which the undead have arisen. Beyond this the player will travel to jungles, ruins, the Arctic and Guatemala, indiscriminately killing while hunting for treasure. The plot is delivered as if James Lee Quatermain, the protagonist of the piece, had written a book and is now reading it aloud. Chapters are punctuated with his narration. The core story revolves around Quatermain and his financier, Agent Jennifer Goodwin from some US government agency. The pair attempt to prevent some bad guys getting away with the treasure that they themselves want.
It’s not a particularly sophisticated plot; Deadfall Adventures isn’t trying to be BioShock. However the strength of the gameplay far outweighs the lack of investment in the story. Deadfall Adventures keenly combines combat and puzzle challenges in a well paced adventure that doesn’t suffer from the blanket structure design that many modern FPS titles seem to. Combat and puzzling aren’t necessarily exclusive, too. There are often times when the player will have to outmanoeuvre the enemies in order to solve a logic challenge. The balancing act between could so easily be overweighed on one side. Thankfully, throughout Deadfall Adventures dozen-or-so hours of gameplay, this is rarely the case.
The mental taxation in Deadfall Adventures comes in a variety of forms. From simply disabling traps in order to allow you to progress unscathed, to moving mirrors in a typical light beam puzzle. The most interesting aspect of the game is its treasure system. There are three types of treasure. Each relates to a specific set of character upgrades and also acting as the in-game collectables. Unlike most games however, Deadfall Adventures doesn’t hide all of its treasures in areas that demand you explore every corner. Instead, it places many of them in clear view. While finding them is easy, getting to them is the real challenge as each features a self-contained puzzle. The player can ignore them of course, and simply continue without them, but engaging in these puzzles is a great deal of fun for those so inclined.
The puzzle design becomes even more impressive when you reach climactic points in the game. Often, there are multiple possible solutions providing the player with different rewards, depending on the path they take. There is of course a number of helping hands for those who don’t wish to get stuck on a puzzle for too long. A compass that will guide you to treasures and a notebook that offers hints in-game. Moreover, the player can set the difficulty of both puzzles and combat separately when beginning the game. Sadly Deadfall Adventures offers no frame of reference for what a ‘normal’ difficulty puzzle might be (or the equivalent fight, for that matter) but at least the option is there for those finding the game too easy/challenging on one or both respects and don’t mind restarting their adventure from the beginning.
All Guns Blazing
The combat in Deadfall Adventures is also surprisingly inventive, though not quite to the same degree as the puzzles. The weaponry feels meaty and the impact of bullets is weighty. However the combat takes a on a life of its own when the environment comes into play. Players will often be able to cause a reaction within the levels to aid them. For example, knocking free a block of stone hanging from a crane with a well placed shot, or causing a ceiling to cave in with appropriate use of dynamite. It’s a very interesting, opportunistic style of gameplay that you’ll quickly develop a fondness for. Those seconds spent in cover waiting for your health to recharge are no longer idle time. Instead, you’ll be scanning the walls for an area where your crosshair may turn red, indicating that your bullets will initiative some kind of interaction.
The enemies themselves add plenty of variety also, with basic troops backed by armoured units and heavy gunners. And then the undead enemies who – in homage to Alan Wake – require a focused beam of light from your torch to make vulnerable. The boss fights however, are arguably a low light of the experience. They’re often unnecessary and unfairly balanced. This is only a small issue in what is otherwise highly entertaining campaign.
Multiplayer Misses the Target
Deadfall Adventures’ single-player action is supported by both competitive and co-operative multiplayer gameplay modes. Survival is a co-operative gameplay mode for up to four players on a variety of maps, with a selection of increasingly difficult settings. Playing through waves of enemies players will benefit from ammo drops appear mid-wave, and a vault with superior armaments open at specific intervals. It’s an enjoyable take on the now commonplace endurance mode. Sadly it’s highly unlikely that you’ll be able to experience this today.
In fact, it’s a shame Deadfall Adventures’ multiplayer modes are limited to online play. There was no foresight to include a split-screen option. The variation of traditional gameplay modes included is enjoyable, yet the game was never truly likely to build a steady online following. In fact, it could well be this issue that has lead The Farm 51 to concentrate solely on single-player outings in recent years. The fantastic Chernobylite has no multiplayer functionality at all, and does not suffer for it. This is arguably Deadfall Adventures’ biggest problem. While it’s an easy recommendation for it’s single-player gameplay, there is a lack of community that surrounded it. Convincing FPS fans to step away from Battlefield or Call of Duty was just as difficult nine years ago as it is today. But Deadfall Adventures certainly deserves more respect than it got. It’s worth picking up for it’s campaign even today.