Platform reviewed: PS3
It’s hard not to appreciate what developer The Farm 52 is trying to do with Deadfall Adventures: Heart of Atlantis. By mixing in regular old first-person shooter beats with Tomb Raider style puzzle solving, Deadfall Adventures would seem to carve out a niche for itself away from the other, more prolific face-shooters that crowd the market. Though the execution falls short of such lofty ambition for the most part, Deadfall Adventures: Heart of Atlantis still manages to entertain despite the weight of its imperfections.
Casting players as James Lee Quatermain; the great-grandson of legendary fictional adventurer Allan Quatermain, Deadfall Adventures thrusts players into a World War II era treasure hunt to retrieve the titular Heart of Atlantis. It’s an entertaining setup in principle; a globetrotting race against time to reach an ancient and powerful relic before those villainous Nazis, it handily evokes fond memories of the Indiana Jones movies upon initial impression. The problem though, is that an evidently restricted budget and lower degree of polish has resulted in the voice acting being hammier than a prize-winning pig farm and a protagonist who is less Indiana Jones and more Discount Drake. Oh, and he can’t swim either, so don’t try to do that unless you have a thing for insta-death game over screens.
If there’s one genre that developer The Farm 51 has an affinity for it’s the first-person shooter and in Deadfall Adventures, we get to see a fair bit of it. Firearms-based combat with the Nazi opposition is facilitated by a variety of period weaponry such as Thompson machine guns, Luger pistols and more, while the more supernatural enemies require a torchlight to be shone on them before they can be felled with conventional weapons.
For the most part, the act of bad guy face-blasting is an enjoyable one as each of the guns pop with suitable aplomb and your foes are challenging enough to never forget to use nearby cover so as to remain attached to their mortal coil. The monsters on the other hand, the various mummies, skeletons and so forth, have no such intelligence and instead just bum rush the player with a view to murder them at close range.
Where the combat undoes itself principally, is with the real lack of spectacle. Again, no doubt owing to the tight purse strings that the developer had, there just aren’t any real ‘event’ shootouts that are memorable. Instead, most gunfights tend to be waged in predictable fashion amongst familiar surroundings with the requisite amount of cover and explosive barrels nearby for the player to take advantage of. Nobody’s expecting Call of Duty style set-pieces that are so over the top that they cave in your chest cavity, but given the narrative material that the developer has at hand, it’s a shame to not see more done with it when the bullets start flying.
The boss fights meanwhile are a mixed bag. While some can be vanquished fairly easily by taking advantage of environmental weak spots (the mini-gun wielding super-Nazi stood atop a rickety, TNT-prone structure in the Arctic Cave mission comes to mind), others fall in line with the big bads seen in The Farm 52’s previous efforts such as Painkiller, in so far as they are little more than bullet sponges who take an extraordinary amount of tedious bullet abuse before they finally bite the dust. Again, given the material on hand, it feels like a missed opportunity that more wasn’t made of these encounters.
The purest example of Deadfall Adventures gunplay however, lay in the game’s survival mode which is unique to the PS3 version. In fact, the survival mode is something of an unexpected gem. Playable with other folks online, it throws waves of increasingly more difficult enemies (including bosses) at the player as they gun them down to stay alive using traps dotted around each level. It’s frantic stuff and coupled with ammo restock points, supply drops and some well-thought out map design, it’s ostensibly the surprise of the whole package.
Elsewhere, a competitive multiplayer mode rounds out the offering and while it takes place across many of the same maps (and thus, allows the application of the same traps and environmental features), it lacks the entertaining, pressure-cooker sensation that the survival mode brings in spades.
As mentioned earlier, Deadfall Adventures also has a fairly substantial puzzle solving component and it’s this really which makes it stand out from being just another shooter. Including everything from walking a set pathway on some tiles to avoid spikey death, to redirecting sunbeams from mirrors or trying to decipher a combination of ancient hieroglyphics, the puzzle solving aspect of Deadfall Adventures provides a nice change of pace from the baddie blasting that the rest of the game would have you do.
For those who might balk at the notion of using their grey matter in the game, fear not; the developer has included a handy in-built hint system in the form of Quatermain’s journal (similar in practice to Drake’s journal in Uncharted) which can be consulted should they find themselves stuck on a particularly fiendish conundrum. For those looking for a middle ground, the hints given in the journal aren’t always of the blindingly obvious kind. So when it comes to some of the later and more difficult puzzles, the pointers written in the journal end up being more like gentle nudges in a particular direction rather than wholesale solutions.
When you’re not shooting at grimacing faces or solving forehead vein tightening puzzles, Deadfall Adventures offers plenty of opportunity to wander off the beaten path in the form of hidden treasures that our hero can collect. More than just shiny trinkets, each piece of treasure corresponds to one of three skill trees that can either make you more effective with firearms, improve the glare of your light (also useful for combat) or augment your health and stamina levels, depending on how many treasures you find.
Luckily, rather than just being throwaway distractions jammed in obnoxious corners of the map, these treasures are very often hidden in areas which have brilliant little puzzles of their own and as such, there’s a real sense of satisfaction when you find each of them.
As established earlier, the sound design of the game is held up by some decently meaty gunfire effects but otherwise is let down by the sort of Z-list voice acting that makes you cringe so badly you run the risk of fracturing your spine.
Visually though, the game fares better but still has its fair share of drawbacks owing to the game’s lower tier production values. The framerate is all over the place for the most part and while the game never becomes unplayable, it can be frustratingly inconsistent at best in the game’s single-player campaign and sometimes eye-wrenchingly at worst in survival mode where, in the later waves, the screen is swarming with murderous foes.
That said, often, it’s quite easy to catch the game at a breathtaking moment in the game’s campaign; watching the sun peer over the pyramids as pockets of dust lightly swirl and barrels its way through an ancient Egyptian valley stands as one lovely visual among many. In fact, if anything the environmental detail in Deadfall Adventures is actually pretty accomplished; the lone kicker being that the texture quality doesn’t really hold up when you get close to certain detailed surfaces.
The character models on the other hand, don’t fare nearly as well. With faces that look like they would break if they attempted to articulate more than two emotions and bolstered by some fairly wonky looking animations, it’s fair to say that the wealth of Deadfall Adventures visual opulence lay with its scenery and not with its denizens.
In the end, the game displays so much promise in its notion of a narratively-epic, first-person shooter with puzzle elements that it’s impossible to not be wistful for more polish when its many imperfections and occasionally lacklustre execution blemish the package. Still, pierce the veil of the game’s ramshackle charm and an entertaining affair emerges that somehow, despite its assortment of undercooked parts, manages to somehow be more than the sum of them.