The Farm 51 has spared no expense when picking out influences for Deadfall Adventures. Indiana Jones provides the well-oiled temples and the Nazi reticule fodder, Call Of Duty brings the period guns and firstperson perspective, while Uncharted hoists along the glittering artefacts and brash one-liners. Unfortunately, the developer evidently had rather less expense to spare in realising this swelteringly ambitious hotchpotch of a vision, which has all of the texture-flickering, dialogue-dropping and inane puzzle-solving awkwardness of a decade-old budget release.
You play as James Lee Quatermain, descendant of the adventurer Allan Quatermain, who agrees to help a detective agency (which is funded by the government to thank its founder for designing the Panama Canal, of all things) to find an ancient artefact before it falls into Nazi hands. The artefact has, in the best tradition of Boy’s Own adventure tales, been broken up, its various parts hidden in ancient temples across the world where they are protected by inexplicably well-maintained traps and shuffling mummies. The story – based on a series of novels by HR Haggard – is a misery of clichés, but it’s a premise that at least provides the justification for a sightseeing tour that takes the player from the heat of Eygpt to the chill of the Arctic.
Quatermain’s dialogue clearly aim for Nathan Drake-esque snappy quips, but his writers lack Naughty Dog’s talents. The protagonist comes off as boorish and impudent when playing for sarcastic laughs, and just plain awkward when lunging for profundity (“That snowstorm,” he intones, “was trying hard to get me an audience with the man upstairs.”) Quatermain is also a sexist twerp, thoroughly unlikable despite his writers’ attempt at a charming sort of uncouth Americanness.
Mechanically, Deadfall Adventures is a curious mix of corridor shooter and Uncharted-style puzzle solving. Clues to these puzzles, which invariably involve twisting some long-forgotten dial or yanking some arcane lever until the ancient blocks slide into place, are provided by a notepad left to Quatermain by an ancestor which he can hold up to the screen even while squeezing off pistol rounds. Firstperson perspective does not best serve temple puzzle solving, however, and our hero’s inability to climb or sidle along ledges means that Deadfall’s conundrums lack the ingenuity of even the earliest Tomb Raider’s spatial riddles.
In combat the period weapons lack the bite of authenticity (or, perhaps more accurately, what we have come to expect as the mark of authenticity via Hollywood) found in World War II shooters. There’s no aim assist to subtly smooth the hysterical rat-a-tat-tat of ranged battle, while in close quarters your character merely swipes a limp knife at his foe while they topple. Some invention is introduced, mercifully, via your torch, which can be shone into Nazi eyes to blind them while firing, though its use against mummies – which are immune to bullets until enshrouded in torchlight – is cribbed from Alan Wake.
During loading screens one of the game’s directional pieces of text claims that Deadfall Adventures is a game about exploration, of finding treasure off the beaten track. It’s a claim countered at every turn in the game itself, where your path is usually laid out in long corridors bordered by invisible walls. In a borrowing of one of Uncharted’s most riling design traits you’ll occasionally be reset onto the correct path if you venture into territory where the designers don’t want you or, in Deadfall’s case, to where the budget didn’t quite extend.
The treasures you do manage to find while exploring fall into one of three categories, dubbed Paths, which help you unlock performance-enhancing abilities or upgrades. Path Of Life treasures improve your health and stamina; Light ones upgrade your flashlight, while Path Of Warrior does likewise for your arsenal. Tying character upgrades to collectibles is an interesting decision, placing a greater importance on a player’s thoroughness. But with only the occasional treasure map to help direct your search (and a confusingly presented one at that) there’s a nagging sense that you’re missing important pickups at every turn. At least Uncharted’s glimmering trinkets could be ignored by players seeking only a trip along the critical path.
The cinematic videogame thriller depends on budget and craft. Remove these ingredients and the thinness of the underlying design is shown up. The Farm 51 has neither the money nor the talent to compete on this well-furrowed ground. Deadfall Adventures is a poor man’s imitation, a thoroughly bad videogame and one which, most frustratingly, is bad in uninteresting ways.
Deadfall Adventures releases on November 15 for 360 and PC. 360 version tested.