Gaming, hell, popular culture in general, owes a huge debt to the works of the science fiction and adventure writers of the late 19th century. Although many know about the works of literary greats such as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, HP Lovecraft and Rudyard Kipling few know the name or works of H. Rider Haggard, who’s semi autobiographical novel ‘King Solomon’s Mine’ which followed the African adventures of Allan Quatermain, established the form, style and narrative tone of what would later be referred to as The Lost World genre, a term coined after Arthur Conan Doyle’s 1912 novel of the same name.
Whilst the popularity of Kipling and Doyle has remained consistent for just over a hundred years, Haggard’s work has fallen into relative obscurity, although an obvious inspiration for the likes of Indiana Jones and countless other rugged adventurers, Allan Quatermain’s remained out of the limelight. Last seen in a god awful portrayal of the character in a terrible film version of the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen of which Quatermain was a member. So when I found out that Nordic games and Farm 51 , the guys behind the marvellous Painkiller remake, were making a game set within Haggard’s original universe I was somewhat intrigued.
In Deadfall Adventures you play as James Lee Quatermain, the Grandson of Allan Quatermain. Following in the footsteps of his grandfather, James Lee is an adventurer for hire, living off his forebears past glories detailed in his journals which were published by his father Henry. Working as a kind of extreme tour guide, James Lee takes wealthy clients on similar adventures to those described within his grandfather’s journals. Although he’s happy to live off of his legacy he finds his grandfather’s tales of the super natural to be complete nonsense, like most of the rest of the world.
That is until he is hired by the US special service to help track down the fabled heart of Atlantis, a relic from the lost civilisation which grants the bearer untold power. As you would expect, in the mid 1930’s the Americans aren’t the only ones looking for the artefact and soon they’re battling both the Nazis and the Russians as they all search the globe for what they hope will make their country the dominant power.
Although incredibly sceptical at first, James Lee, along with British born, US special agent Jennifer Goodwin. and a German officer who betrays his comrades a little too quickly if you ask me, soon find that there’s more to Quatermain’s journals than they initially thought possible, as they battle supernatural forces and discover hidden tombs and temples that hide the secrets to a long forgotten and technologically advanced civilisation that once spanned the globe.
Players travel from the pyramids of Egypt to the frozen wastes of the Arctic and the jungles of South America across the course of the adventure and I have to say the environments are for the best part absolutely beautiful. Dusty tombs lit only with torches, shimmering ice fields and rich jungles are yours to explore, and for the best part destroy. It’s just a shame that the character models aren’t quite as beautifully rendered as the backdrops as they look a little out-of-place at times.
The Farm 51 show an incredible proficiency with the UE3 engine, creating a title on a modest budget that puts some other larger titles to shame that really pushes the 360 to its limits at times, this is noticeable when you’re in a temple full of pots with lush dynamic lighting and a bastard SS officer chucks a hand grenade at you. It’s at this point that the frame rates hits the floor, from a solid thirty fps to about ten. It’s a pain in the arse, but a rare(ish) occurrence and one that doesn’t affect the PC version at all.
On reflection the game’s opening, in which James Lee reads the opening from Haggard’s first Quatermain adventure – King Solomon’s mines, unintentionally serves as a somewhat accurate metaphor for the whole 8-10 hour experience as players are told “Let me start by offering my apologies for my blunt way of writing I can but say in excuse of it that I am more accustomed to handle a rifle than a pen.”
As such Deadfall Adventures gun-play is much better than its script, although the actual a typical lost world narrative is pretty good, the game’s voice acting and script leave a lot to be desired at times. Quatermain in particular is a particularly weak leading man, coming across as more a poor man’s Indiana Jones than the grandson of a legendary explorer. He makes odd quips, is noticeably and comically sexist to his female companion on several occasions (Don’t worry she gets her own back pretty quickly) and at times seems to be unsure of what genre of pulp novel he’s supposed to be staring in, sporadically flicking between sounding like a rugged adventurer and a jaded private eye. From Indy – Deckard in under a minute. But despite this, it mostly falls into the so bad it’s good category of entertainment like a decent low-budget B movie, if you don’t take it too seriously and just run with it you’ll have a great time.
On the other hand the rest of the cast don’t do a terrible job and it’s great to see German and Russian soldiers actually communicating with each other in their native tongues for once, instead of hearing hackneyed renditions of the accent in English, or guards only yelling odd stock phrases. It’s little touches like these that make the farfetched tale a little more believable and makes the world feel more alive.
Combat on the other hand feels a lot like old school shooters like Quake and Wolfenstein, arcadey and a lot of fun. Sure you can use iron sights but it’s much more fun diving head long into a fight with your dual pistols blazing.
Although to be honest, the enemy AI isn’t very intelligent. Nazi and Russian soldiers will either seek cover and pop up from time to time or stand in the open and fire at you until you gun them own, and the supernatural enemies such as mummies will literally charge you until you put them down with a combination of concentrated torchlight and gunfire in a system straight out of Alan Wake.
Your combat proficiency can be increased by finding treasures hidden throughout each level with your magic compass which points towards any nearby trinkets and glows as you get closer. If it spins there’s none to be found, but it’s worth keeping it out when you’re not in combat to make sure you don’t miss out on any of them.
When you’re not mowing down monsters or hunting for statues, you’ll be solving the games numerous puzzles, these come in one of three flavours, you either have to find an item and use it with something else like finding dynamite to unblock the entrance to a temple or using a crowbar to turn off a steam valve. Press multiple switches by shooting them in the distance or match up the correct combination of symbols in order to unlock doors or disable traps.
Most of the time the puzzles are pretty straight forward, although occasionally they can prove to be a little obtuse even on normal difficulty settings, becoming more trial and error than solve for X. But if you find that you’re having trouble in either combat or the riddles you can adjust the difficulty of both the puzzles and combat separately, so each of the game’s two main elements can be as challenging or straight forward as you want them to be.
Outside of the game’s single player adventure there’s also multiplayer to contend with complete with all the usual classes, levelling, perks and load outs you’d find in the likes of Call of Duty or Battlefield. It’s pretty basic although still a lot of fun; feeling more like Quake 3 in tempo than contemporary military shooters. Each of the game’s maps represent a different location that Quatermain and co visit during their adventures, and are just about the right size to keep battles nice and hectic. In a nice twist each contain numerous switches to shoot which set off traps to crush and impale your enemies. It doesn’t seem like much, but does help to mix things up and keeps players on their toes.
There’s also Survival which is a straight up horde/zombies mode in which up to four players fend off wave after wave of enemies in various temple complexes. It works pretty much as you would expect and is a lot of fun to boot thanks in part to those trap mechanics I previously told you about, and who doesn’t love mowing down mummies and Nazis. Although it isn’t anything mind-blowing but it’s a nice little addition for after the credits roll on the main campaign.
On the whole, Deadfall Adventures is a fantastic romp. As much as a love letter to the blockbuster adventures flicks of the 80s like Romancing the Stone and Indiana Jones as it is to the works of Kipling, Conan Doyle and Haggard.
It’s not perfect, and certainly not quite on a par with genre heavy weights like Tomb Raider or Uncharted, but at the same time it’s impossible not to fall for its charms. However as an FPS it’s a refreshing break from the endless battlefields and Hollywood bombast that currently dominates the modern shooter landscape providing a much lighter, cheerier and thoroughly entertaining alternative to all the doom and gloom of the likes of Battlefield and Call of Duty.
If you’re in the market for an FPS that’s a little different or want to find the next fun adventure after Uncharted or always wondered what a first person Uncharted would be like, or if, like me you are actually a fan of the adventures of Allan Quatermain. Deadfall Adventures may be the game for you.