STAFF REVIEW of Deadfall Adventures (Xbox 360)

Thursday, December 12, 2013.
by Khari Taylor

Deadfall Adventures Box art In a particularly auspicious Fall/Holiday season that has just seen the release of two next-generation consoles, it’s only natural to expect that many current-gen titles still scheduled for release are bound to be lost in the shuffle this month. That said, if the title that you’re looking forward to playing happens to be The Farm 51’s Indiana Jones-inspired, first-person action-adventure Deadfall Adventures, chances are pretty good you could walk into your local game store blindfolded, point at any random title and choose a better game to spend your time with this Christmas season.

Deadfall Adventures wastes absolutely no time in making a poor first impression, greeting the player with a slow fly-over of one of its jungle environments as a backdrop to the menu screen. Blurry and suffering from pop-in, this Unreal Engine 3-rendered game more closely resembles something out of the original Xbox era, circa UE2, as it appears that Farm 51 has barely come to grips with UE3's capabilities. This becomes even clearer when players are first introduced to the game's principal characters, James Lee Quatermain (grandson of the mythical, legendary hunter Allan Quatermain - most memorably portrayed by Sean Connery in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen) and his employer, US agent Jennifer Goodwin. The facial expressions and animations of every character in the game are so awkward and robotic that the expression "uncanny valley" would be giving the game far too much credit. They're just straight "canned".

Poor sound design, atrocious sound effects and terrible voice acting fail to do the game any favours either. Quatermain's lazily delivered monologue at the very beginning of the game is half drowned-out by the game's soundtrack, and the opening exposition between Allan and Jennifer as they drive a jeep to an archaeological dig site is an irritating, un-skippable sequence made even more unpleasant by the vehicle's engine noise, a cacophonous, 5-second machine sample that sounds nothing like a jeep and loops endlessly until the characters finally disembark. Then there's Quatermain himself. Surly, childish and tonally ignorant to the context of just about any scene (e.g. screaming bloody murder at one second, then making lame, wise-cracking jokes the next), the so-called hero's voice perfectly matches the game's presentation in its immaturity. It's as if the developer brought the actor into the studio and asked him to record only one sentence of dialogue per day, without explaining the scene, in completely random order. Meanwhile, his female companion Goodwin, despite being a US agent, speaks with a high-pitched, fake-sounding British accent that's about as pleasant to listen to as fingernails on chalkboard. Not surprisingly, the weak voice acting of both characters makes them instantly unlikable, and sets the tone for the remainder of the game, all before the player is even allowed to experience one second of actual gameplay.

As implied earlier, Deadfall Adventures strives to equally blend the action of modern FPS games with the environmental puzzle solving of the Tomb Raider and Uncharted franchises. The balance of action to puzzles is about 40% shooting to 60% puzzling, but sadly, the shooting portions are such a slog that they'll feel like they take up much more of the overall game. Taking place in the same era as that of the Indiana Jones films, Quatermain will find himself battling an Unholy Trinity of Nazis, Russians and Mummies with a wide assortment of 1930's pistols and machine guns. While each weapon (mostly German) appears to have a different look and sound about them, weapons in each class (pistol, machine gun, shotgun, etc.) pretty much function the same. In addition to firearms, Quatermain also has access to grenades and dynamite (the latter being useful for blowing up the occasional obstacle blocking one's progress or solving a puzzle). Strangely however, Quatermain can only carry one type of explosive at a time. Grenades cannot act as a substitute for dynamite, so players will have to backtrack on occasion to find TNT if they've run out or swapped it for some grenades during battle, but in most cases TNT crates can be found close to the area where it needs to be employed. As a weapon, both grenades and dynamite are generally ineffective, as enemy soldiers will always run out of range as soon as one of your explosives land nearby. Sometimes they can be tricked by "cooking" your explosives a few seconds before release (hold down RB for a second or two), but the area of effect is so weak that players will find themselves relying mostly on their guns to wing enemies out of cover and then move in to finish the job.

Finally, Quatermain has an Alan Wake-style flashlight with a beam that can be turbo-boosted to temporarily blind human enemies or render mummies vulnerable to bullets. Players interested in experiencing more of Alan Wake's light-versus-dark gunplay should not get their hopes up however, as using the flashlight in Deadfall is just a necessary extra step in order to put down the undead; no added challenge or difficulty is added to engagements by doing so.

In fact, outside of dodging grenades or overwhelming the player in large numbers, the enemy A.I. in Deadfall is completely inept. Nazis and Russians always see the player coming from miles away, immediately dig in and start firing from cover, moving only when the player chooses to change position or tosses an explosive their way. Making matters worse, even when the player is safe behind cover, enemies will still fire their weapons at the player non-stop, aurally telegraphing their position to the player if s/he hasn't already seen them. Consequently, players need only follow the sound of gunfire (like breadcrumbs) as they advance to pick off enemies one by one.

The sole redeeming feature of Deadfall Adventures is its approach to puzzles, which mercifully never demands that the player solve them in the middle of a gunfight. In general, puzzle areas are devoid of enemies or can be tackled once the area has been cleared. In most cases, a rare treasure needed for upgrading Quatermain's health, combat skills or flashlight power waits at the end of nearly every puzzle, and almost every brain-teaser offers something different than the last. Some treasures lie in plain sight and can be found simply by exploring a branching path or a hidden passage. Others can be uncovered by opening a crate, shooting a lever, or blowing up a weakened wall with dynamite. And of course, most are solved the fun but hard way, that is, manipulating buttons, switches or other objects in the environment by hand and then standing back to see what happens. Some puzzles must be solved in order for players to move to the next area or level, but for the most part, those related to upgrades are optional and can be skipped entirely if the player wishes.

That notwithstanding, a wonderfully unique twist that Deadfall puts into several of its progression puzzles is the opportunity to uncover a second puzzle within them. In other words, even when you've solved a puzzle and opened the door to the next area, you might still be able to fiddle with the same mechanisms to unlock another door and discover additional treasures that a less attentive adventurer may have skipped. The basic rule of thumb is, if you can still manipulate a switch or see a door identical to the one you've just opened not being activated, you've probably missed something and should experiment just a bit more.

Naturally, players aren't left completely on their own to solve the many puzzles of Deadfall, as there are two handy treasure-finding tools that are always at Quatermain's disposal. The first is Quatermain's broken compass, which he clearly pilfered from Captain Jack Sparrow of Pirates of the Caribbean fame. Useless for actual navigation, this compass's pointer spins endlessly in a counter-clockwise motion unless there is treasure nearby, in which case the True North-end of the pointer will orient itself towards the treasure's location and gradually change colour to the type of treasure it has found (White for "Light", Blue for "Life" and Gold for "Warrior") as the player gets closer. While not always the greatest treasure detector (it won’t tell the player if the treasure is above or below), whipping out the compass before leaving an area can be a valuable hint as to whether there are still hidden spoils to be found.

The second tool is a notebook left behind by James' grandfather Allan, which coincidentally contains notes, drawings and suggested solutions on every major puzzle that James will encounter. If this sounds an awful lot like Sir Francis Drake's notebook that the hero Nathan Drake carries with him in the Uncharted franchise, you'd be correct in assuming so, as it's a direct rip-off. Just like in Uncharted, the notes are often quite vague and Grandpa Allan’s handwriting is illegible, so players need not worry about "cheating" their way through points the hints are almost of no help at all.

So if the puzzles are challenging and enjoyable, then what's the problem? Well, the big problem is that a number of puzzles in Deadfall Adventures require 3D platforming. Even in the best of scenarios, injecting platforming into first-person shooters is an endeavor that often results in an exercise in frustration for the player, and should not be attempted by any developer unless the underlying mechanics, controls and feel of the gameplay are all solid. The Farm 51 has not only broken this rule without meeting any of the above requirements, but they have also burdened the players with one of the worst action-adventurers in videogame history, James Lee Quatermain. Putting it bluntly, Quatermain is a klutz of an explorer. He can't jump over obstacles that are over two-feet high. He can sprint, but he can't stop on a dime, so he'll overshoot a precise jump 95% of the time and fall to his death. His knife melee attacks are like sissy slaps, and when deprived of all his weapons he can't even throw a punch. Worst of all, HE CAN'T SWIM, so falling into any body of water will instantly kill him, even when a floating platform or actual land is sitting an inch from his face. Throw in Quatermain's habit of getting temporarily trapped on objects in the environment and the game’s abundance of invisible walls and you have a platforming nightmare made even worse by an illogical autosave/checkpoint system.

Instead of saving whenever a player discovers a new treasure or upgrades their skills at an altar (which would encourage players to explore and seek out more treasures), Deadfall only saves at the beginning of new areas or at the end of sequences that the developers have deemed important, meaning that an untimely slip or fall will result in players being bounced back to the previous checkpoint, with all previously unsaved treasures returned to their hiding spots and all unsaved upgrades removed. Hence players will have to go through all of those puzzles and platforming sequences again, or choose to skip them and lose those upgrades for good. It’s in this way that The Farm 51 have foolishly taken the only good thing about Deadfall Adventures, the puzzles, and made them just as unpleasant to struggle through as the rest of the game.

Surprisingly, Deadfall Adventures features both co-op and versus multiplayer modes via Xbox Live, but given all the above, it's almost a guarantee that if you buy this game, you'll be the only one playing it.

While Deadfall's crafty approach to environmental puzzles is admirable and should definitely be used in other games, it's still not worth the price of admission for this one, even as a budget title. If you happen to see this title on store shelves, please heed my advice; avert your eyes and walk on by.

1) Improve the checkpoint system, allow for manual saves and/or autosaves after each treasure is found or an upgrade is applied.
2) Better voice acting and direction. PLEASE.
4) This game borrows from and rips off so many other superior games, so why didn't it copy any of the gameplay mechanics that worked?
3) There is so much room for improvement, take this failure as a learning opportunity.

Overall: 4.7 / 10
Gameplay: 5.0 / 10
Visuals: 5.0 / 10
Sound: 4.0 / 10


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