All Walls Must Fall is a Tech-Noir Tactics game which sounds pretty freaking sweet. You hear a combination of words like that and you think Shadowrun, Frozen Synapse, and Invisible Inc., all incredibly good games operating around a similar theme but each with a unique style. With such highly regarded titles to live up to, the question is, does it?
Frankly, no. Despite having all the trappings of a great game, All Walls Must Fall falls far short of its much-esteemed peers. You would think a “Tech-Noir Tactics” game focused around time travel with a killer soundtrack would be a winner on all fronts, but it’s not, not even close. The Time Travel mechanics are integral to the gameplay and trust me you’re going to need to get used to them. It’s a good thing the game is all about doing the same thing over and over and over and over again to prevent the big bad happening because that’s exactly what you end up doing time and again. You find yourself restarting a mission for the 50th time because you said the wrong dialogue option and got into a fight, or you stumbled into a Drone or Bouncer’s line of sight because you couldn’t see the marked region thanks to all the bloody dancers blocking the floor.
Annoyingly rewinding time costs precious “Time Resource” that you can earn by exploring the level or completing objectives, but as there is only a finite amount on each level you have to use it sparingly. It’s much easier to just go ahead and restart the level as the only penalty is ironically using up more of your ACTUAL time you could be spending doing something else, like mowing the lawn or watching paint dry. Too harsh? Give it time.
Any tactics game worth its salt features solid gameplay where you stand as much chance of winning as the computer does, but where your mistakes can and are brutally punished, just look at the XCOM series. The XCOM titles have some of the least forgiving gameplay in the genre yet they’re fantastically well built and balanced. You mess up and you’re going to feel it but the roll-of-the-dice can go both ways and the enemy can miss a high risk/high reward shot leaving them wide open.
All Walls Must Fall is brutal and punishing but for all the wrong reasons and I found it so much better and easier to just avoid the combat altogether. You’re always outnumbered and the longer a mission/combat engagement goes on the more enemies that spawn and the harder they are to kill, while you remain woefully underpowered, dying in one or two shots.
I say it’s easier to avoid combat completely but that plays it pretty fast and loose with the term “easier”. Often you have to pass a speech challenge that involves using a combination of 4 phrases to interact with whoever is blocking your path or has the information you need. There’s a couple of problems with this. For starters, the dialogue options don’t always, or ever seem to, make sense or fit each other coherently. Even if you don’t end up restarting a level or encounter repeatedly you’ll still encounter the same boring and nonsensical dialogue options that are either overtly hostile or what is supposedly “flirty”.
There are three ways to pass a dialogue, Flirty, Respectfully, or Scary and none of the options really make sense or can be attributed to any one of them. Mostly you’re trading hostile remarks revolving around “Fuck off” until eventually, you either fail and it devolves into a gunfight (and a level restart from me) or you somehow manage to pass and move on to do whatever. As I’ve said the speech options don’t often seem to make sense contextually and neither do the other person’s reactions. Sure in real life you never know how someone is going to react when you speak to them, but telling them to fuck off is never normally met with them opening up and telling you their problems…
All Walls Must Fall does do one thing pretty well and that is the soundtrack. Each track is actually pretty good but they really not good enough to hang its hat on. They’re good but they’re not THAT good. The gameplay is sloppy both in and out of combat not to mention when interacting with other characters and the story is really quite forgettable, especially when compared to the epic writing behind the Shadowrun games. It’s a shame, it really is. As I said, when I heard “Tech-Noir Tactics”, I immediately thought of Shadowrun, Frozen Synapse, and Invisible Inc., 3 excellent games with nothing but fond memories… but All Walls Must Fall just doesn’t come close to replicating them.
After endlessly restarting levels or rewinding time to try and progress you find yourself taking 2 steps forward and 13 back to avoid getting shot, stabbed, or blown up in an attack you couldn’t possibly foresee. Not to mention rehashing the same location over and over again, there’s only so many times you can walk through a “procedurally generated” nightclub utilizing the same 6 tile sets before you’ve seen it all.
And “Tech-Noir”? Just go ahead and call yourself cyberpunk, we all know you want to, but maybe out of respect, you decided not to sully the good name. Probably the only good call this game makes.