From rhythm, to roguelike, to tactics that defy genre
It’s a turn-based/action hybrid where time ticks away to the beat of electronic music. During each beat, you choose whether to move, fire your weapon, interact with mission objects, speak to NPCs, or hack your way through security. If you mess up, that’s fine – you can reverse time at the press of a button. Later, you can even unlock a couple more time traveling powers, where everything reverses except you, or where you reverse and the world stays the same.
Don’t let the time travel fool you, however, because the roguelike elements of All Walls add more than enough challenge. You can get hit a total of three times, and your health does not regenerate between levels or with the use of items (although, that might be a good mechanic to add, because perma-death after a long campaign can get annoying).
The campaign takes you through East Berlin, but the developers are rolling out monthly updates according to their Kickstarter stretch goals. In the long term, the plan is to add two more characters with their own chapters that will include West Berlin as well. This all seems respectably flexible, since there is actually an in-game feedback button prominently displayed. Crowdsourcing fixes in this way is just one more unique and admirable effort on the part of this tiny indie team.
So few options, so little time.
Having played the preview, I can tell you that All Walls is coming along nicely. The Early Access release is better looking and more fleshed-out as far as dialogue options and missions. However, there is still a distinct feeling of something missing.
Your time travel powers are hard to make use of – usually, reversing time in one way is as consequential as another, because you’re mainly using it to dodge bullets. It would be nice if there were missions where different tactics were needed, so that you could get the hang of these powers in context, but how that can be achieved in a roguelike is a difficult question to answer.
Weapons make up the remainder of your purchasable upgrades. You can unlock up to three slots to carry weapons, and this can give you some versatility in firefights (mainly to stave off reloading times). Hopefully, future updates will play around with more options on this front. Weapons and time travel are all well and good, but it is often more satisfying to take the peaceful route – you can hack drones to fight for you instead of against you [EN: Is that you, BioShock?], or convince guards not to fight you – and expanding these options would be a definite plus.
It would also be great to see chests to loot and people to talk to that aren’t part of the mission per se. As of now, the only things and people to interact with are part of mission objectives, so there is no mystery of a sweet item drop or an interesting diversion.
In the future, bears rule the world.
The dialogue trees in All Walls are kind of funny sometimes. They make a little more sense than in the preview version of the game, but there are still a couple of moments where you or the bouncer you’re talking to will say something that doesn’t really relate to the conversation.
That can be hand-waved with the fact that you’re time traveling and some things don’t make sense, but you might also notice that quite a lot of your conversations with other burly men are flirty. In fact, “flirty” is one of the three outcomes that can lead you to success in any conversation. Given this fact, you may come to the conclusion that in this Cold War future, beefy, violent men are the sexiest people around. And why not? It makes perfect sense.
Much of the story takes place through these dialogue trees, loosely framed by the overall plot in which you’ve traveled ten hours back in time to prevent a catastrophe. Your handler talks to you at the beginning of every mission, and there is an element of mystery to this individual, which is always appreciated in stories about time-traveling agents. You can only hope that the plot thickens as All Walls develops over the coming months.
That is the overall feeling of All Walls at this point. The concept is intriguing enough – there is a ton of potential for social commentary with this setting and these new mechanics – but other than some quotes by Nixon or Trump at the start of the campaign, this title has yet to take full advantage of its assets.
All Walls Must Fall is conceptually unlike any other game. The mechanics are a mix of elements, from rhythm, to roguelike, to tactics that defy genre. The futuristic, Cold War, alternate-history setting also serves as a rich backdrop to whet the appetite of your imagination. Unfortunately, you might be left hungry for a few more months as the developers continue to flesh out the experience.