Adventure games are difficult to get wrong. You'd be hard pressed to find a gamer who didn't think that treasure, trinkets, and temples weren't fertile ground for decent gaming. But there's no guarantee that every adventure title can uncover the loot. Without effort, nuance, and thought they can be a dusty, turgid mess. Deadfall Adventures, by Farm 51, is exactly that.
Farm 51 have borrowed heavily from previous titles in the genre. They've taken large chunks of Indiana Jones, and thrown them together with a decent dollop of Uncharted, to bring you a cast of characters and a storyline that is nothing new. Instead, players are served up a sloppy recreation of the classic tropes we've come to love in the adventure genre and stories we've seen a thousand times before.
Deadfall Adventures is set sometime in the 1930s, you know this because there are lots of sharply dressed Germans keeping it all tight and white. You play as the indomitable James Quartermain, a clichéd adventuring jock from the U S of A that all the action happens around. He teams up with Jennifer Goodwin, a “fiesty” Brit who works with a secret society that is dedicated to uncovering hidden mysteries and treasures. These treasures are powerful, and they have attracted the attention of the nefarious Nazis, so it's a race between Quartermain and the Reich to make sure they do not fall into the Fuhrer's hands.
It's not a very clever storyline. Perhaps that's a consequence of its source material. The game is loosely based on the 19th century novels by the British adventure writer H.G. Haggard. His material influenced George Lucas and the Indy franchise, so it's a little unfair to call copycat. But that horse has bolted. Audiences don't need a re-imagined repeat of a genre that is very well tread.
The lack of creative storyline wouldn't be fatal if Deadfall could supplement a boring story with delivery that was top notch. Unfortunately, Farm 51 aren't able to pull this off either. The problems are immediately obvious. The voice acting is uniformly terrible, and there are School Journal plays that have been better written. Throughout the game, Quartermain seems to have no problem throwing off cheesy one liners that are often repeated out of context, or making crass and sexist jokes about the shape of Jeniffer's rump.
Perhaps Farm 51 were trying to inject a bit of bolshy humor into the title. But there is a very fine line between charmingly witty and repugnantly boorish. Having Quartermain being blown into the air by dynamite just so that he can "fall" into Jennifer's bosoms isn't clever or funny. It's puerile. And that was just ten minutes in.
Deadfall's writing overall, and especially the emotional dialogue between Jennifer and James, is stilted and barren. "Buddy" adventure games hinge on the emotional interplay that between their main leads. Each character is supposed to highlight the others faults, while subtly balancing them. Deadfall's characterization is as cardboard cutout as they come and doesn’t come close to this ideal. James Quartermain is no Nathan Drake, that's for damn sure.
None of the game's narrative problems and lack of ingenuity is resolved by the title's gameplay mechanic or technical prowess. Despite claiming to be a title that incentivizes free roaming and exploration, at its core Deadfall is a linear first person shooter with the odd simplistic puzzle thrown to remind everyone that the game is, after all, supposed to be about traps and treasure. There is a side RPG mechanic, that lets you improve Quartermain's skills and abilities by collecting small treasures hidden throughout the levels, but it's not integral to your play through and does little to drive the experience forward.
The main mechanic is rote and formulaic. Quartermain and Jennifer race from narrow path to narrow path, blowing away hordes of Nazis. Periodically, Quartermain solves an easy puzzle, while everyone else looks on. The experience doesn't change much with each level, and Farm 51 has adopted the lazy technique of having each enemy take a hundred hits before they'd go down.
That's particularly frustrating as it highlights the fact that Deadfall is really just a run of the mill shooter. If Farm 51 were serious about its moments of adventure there wouldn't have been the need to pad out the game with mindless Nazi mowing. Add to the mix AI that is poorly coded and a combat system whose only variety comes with the new weapons you can pick up, and you've got a core experience that feels horribly dated.
Deadfall Adventures had promise. All adventure games do. Gamers, particular PC gamers, have missed out on the joys of looting hidden temples and discovering hidden treasure that movie audiences and console players have had years to enjoy.
Deadfall Adventures does little to right this wrong. Its gameplay is tedious and lacks imagination. Its narrative experience is immature and poorly executed. When it comes to good adventure titles, gamers are spoilt for choice. Deadfall Adventures is just spoilt.