Indiana Jones. From the battered fedora, the bullwhip and the fear of snakes to the irredeemable, limping Gestapo villains, Indy has found his way firmly into the public consciousness and has been ripped off inexhaustibly since Raiders of the Lost Ark.
But you can’t really blame anyone for that – Indy himself is little more than a studied amalgamation of all of the tropes of the two-fisted pulp adventure genre that died out before the vast majority of us were even born. So in this way he’s a gateway to a forgotten genre.
One of the classics upon which Indy owes more than a little credit was the adventurer of the unknown Alan Quartermain, H. Rider Haggard’s nineteenth-century adventurer famous for plumbing King Solomon’s Mines. Nordic Software pays tribute not only to the familiar tropes of Indiana Jones but more directly to Quartermain himself in their latest puzzler-and-shooter, Deadfall Adventures.
Pretty forgettable name. Frankly, any game that needs to let you know that there will be adventure involved right up there in the name gets my hackles up right away. But a quick read-up on the setting and character (you play James Quartermain, descendant of the famous adventurer himself, and travel the globe solving ancient puzzles and fighting long-forgotten undead warriors and black-hearted Nazis) had me slavering for more. Since development news for Team Bondi’s Whore of the Orient went quiet, and after the fervor around the excellent Tomb Raider died down, there’s not really been an awful lot around that tastes much like old-school 1930s-era Indiana Jones. And as there’s no Uncharted for the PC, Deadfall Adventures promised to scratch that pulpy itch. Which sounds quite nasty.
Sadly, the game is a painfully disappointing blot on the gaming landscape that is best forgotten.
Let’s leave for a moment the dated graphics and utterly woeful writing and voice-acting. Instead, let’s look at gameplay. Very early on in the first mission you’re told that Deaadfall Adventures is a game about EXPLORATION. You’ll be rewarded for tinkering with the environment, uncovering secret delights that lurk behind every dusty corner. Immediately after this proud announcement, you’re given the choice of three routes. Two of these are dead ends, filled with ladders (which you can’t climb), crates (which you can’t open or even mantle onto) and ancient markings on the walls (which you can’t read, and which play no part in the game). Neither of these two rooms have anything resembling secrets, hidden passages or treasure. Or, for that matter, anything but disappointment. As the game progresses, you’re on a linear path throughout, at some points instantly killed by a drop of about five feet into shallow water simply because the game doesn’t want you to go that way.
I know it’s metagaming a little, but when a game tells me “go forth, young adventurer, and explore!” I expect a little in the way of gratification: something I can find, or a little goodie to reinforce that Pavlovian exploration conditioning. I guess the creative department must have had the day off.
Actually, perhaps they had the whole development cycle off. The story plods along with the logic and maturity of a school project – the leading lady acts like she hates you (understandable, seeing as you never say or do anything to suggest you’re anything other than a complete waste of space) until the moment you make some kind of heavy-handed, sexist comment about her rear-end, at which point she swoons and (equally heavy-handedly) promises to do whatever you tell her. Until the cut-scene’s over, of course, then she’s back to her scripted sarcasm.
Fighting Nazis should never be boring, yet somehow it is. Gunfights are tedious and devoid of anything like threat or excitement, even on the hardest setting. For the most part you can safely wander around the map soaking up the odd hit without undue concern, taking in the scenery until you’re ready to fight back. The evil forces of the undead are, if anything, even less of a threat. During one puzzle sequence mummies flood in through secret doors to add a sense of urgency to the proceedings. I was able to concentrate on the puzzle and ignore the bumbling undead altogether.
There’s an experience point system. It steadily and boringly increases your health and stuff in completely unnecessary and unimaginative ways.
Now it’s time to talk about the voice acting. While it is without a doubt the worst voice acting in a game I’ve come across in the past five years (stealing the crown handily from Dawn of War), you can’t help but feel some sympathy for the actors, working with such utter dross as a script.
It’s such a missed opportunity. The setting and locations are fun, interesting and entirely within the scope of pulp adventure literature. Some of the puzzles (most of which revolve around stepping on some tiles and not on others, or avoiding otherwise Indiana Jones-style set pieces) are fun in a way, and the clever addition of your great-grandfather’s notebook as an in-game item that shows you absent-minded sketches of some of the tricks and traps offers a sort of hint system that preserves the suspension of disbelief in an appropriate way. And, I suppose the game is easy enough to rarely become frustrating (except during one particular boss fight where you can be shot and killed through walls). It’s not frustration that’ll get you, though. It’ll be the sheer ennui that sets in when you contemplate the pointlessness of continuing to play this lackluster, lazy and horribly overpriced mess.