I have loved cyberpunk for quite some time, and never shy away from a chance to delve into a dark, gritty, and neon-colored future. Hell, I made sure to put on the Vangelis soundtrack to Blade Runner as background music while writing this review. So, when word came to us that inbetweengames decided to mash together cyberpunk noir aesthetics with an isometric strategy game, I knew I had to jump on it. So, I fired up my Steam client, and this what I found…
All Walls Must Fall, is a delightfully dark adventure set in Berlin in an alternate-future of 2089. This version of Berlin never saw an end to the Cold War, and instead became a dirty, cold, and Utilitarian cityscape. The game opens with a nuclear explosion devastating both sides of the city, before immediately jumping back ten hours into the past. As an agent of STASIS, you are set the task to discover who was behind the bombing and stop it in the hours before it happens. Controlling STASIS Agent Kai, your first mission is to infiltrate a night club (one of many) and assassinate Dragan Mueller, who is suspected of involvement in the nuclear bombing. When that doesn’t stop the event from happing in the future, though, Kai must work to unravel a deeper conspiracy in a dangerous city where he may not be able to rely on anyone but himself.
When our fearless leader, Peter, first explained the concept of All Walls Must Fall to me, he described it as “X-COM meets Braid.” That description is quite apt. All Walls Must Fall offers simple controls and the basic concept of turn-based action. It then adds in the ability to manipulate time as a way to extend upon the strategy. Missions can easily be passed without combat (unless it is inescapable) and even without playing with time, but they can both be used to enhance the play style as well.
As you progress through the game, you can purchase new time skills, weapon slots, and actual weapons from a vendor between missions. Every new skill is mapped to a new button on the keyboard after they are purchased, and weapons can be cycled through on the HUD during missions.
Once in a mission, Kai has a set number of Actions points to spend. He spends one for every step that he takes, as well as a set amount for every other action he takes. Examples may include bashing in doors or hacking consoles.Kai gains action points every time he completes a combat encounter, discovers a new room on the map, or successfully moves the plot forward through “social stealth” actions. Social stealth is a system in which you are able to use conversations with NPCs to your benefit. Each person you interact with has their emotions sitting on a balance of Fear, Flirtation, and Respect. Steer a conversation and fill one of those 3 aspects to 100% and that NPC will end up doing what you want. Be careful, though, fail and it could just turn into a shootout.
When Kai is in combat, you can move to take cover from enemy attacks, or attack with your own weapon. Each on takes one turn to do, and your HUD will warn you if an action may result in taking damage. It’s best to heed that warning, since Kai can only take 3 hits before he’s down. Luckily, if you mess up, you can always rewind a turn in order to try again. Just don’t get too cocky. The game has a Permahurt function, so you will have any damage you take for the rest of the game. You can also toggle on a Permadeath setting, so that if Kai dies you lose your saved game. Just in case you’re a real masochist…or a Souls fan, as we call ’em.
All Walls Must Fall is a stylish and unique take on the isometric strategy game. Outside of the neon soaked, high contrast, cell-shaded look, the game is heavily steeped in the techno music that pulses through its soundtrack. In fact, the music is almost the lifeblood of the game itself. Every missions is set in a procedurally generated nightclub that you must make your way through.
This creates a seamless blend of diegetic and non-diegetic music as every step and action Kai takes is represented by generating an electric drum beat that adds into the music that already plays throughout.
The dancers that populate each night club are the only things in the game that truly move in a fluid animation, while everything else is stilted and choppy. If I truly wanted to put a deep dive into the concept, I could claim the fluidity of the dancing club patrons is attributed to their wanton choice to ignore the police state around them for more immediate pleasures like music and dance, where as those that work to change the future see every little piece that goes into build that future. That may just be me being cute, though.
It has been a while since I have really partaken in either the cyberpunk or tactics game genres. In that absence I forgot just how heavy and slow burning they can both be. That certainly hindered my opinion as I first started playing All Walls Must Fall. It felt slow, disjointed, and poorly explained. I didn’t know what I was doing, how, or why. However, for the sake of my review I plugged onward to get a better sense of the game. I am glad that I did. I implore anyone that is interested to dedicate some time to truly getting into the nitty-gritty of this game, as it has plenty to offer. No good mystery plays out quickly, and this game is no different. It is a thought provoking comment on past, current, and future political climates, a uniquely beautiful presentation, and refuses to hold your hand as you push to master its strategy.
Can you save Berlin before time runs out? All Walls Must Fall is now available for Early Access play on Steam. Still not convinced? Then be sure to check out the trailer below.