All Walls Must Fall is an isometric tech-noir tactics game by inbetweengames that involves time travel, action, and an interesting plot, all set in a very, very gay East Berlin 2089 where the Cold War never ended. I assume I now have your attention. A disclaimer before we begin: I’m not much of a tactics player, so after I gave the game a good crack I unleashed it on my boyfriend, who is very experienced with tactics games, to make sure I wasn’t nitpicking anything that was typical of the genre that I wasn’t used to.
All Walls Must Fall begins with a nuclear strike on the east side of the Berlin Wall. For 150 years, both sides of the wall had used time manipulation technology to observe and counter each other’s every move, yet neither side appears to be aware of who was responsible for the strike. As the state of affairs grew more fragile, both sides of the war scrambled to send agents back in time to find out who orchestrated the attack and how to prevent it.
When you enter your first mission, you (an unseen handler) are introduced to Kai, a big bear of a a secret agent with a metal arm. Mission Control explains that in each mission you will be taken back in time, something Kai is used to doing, to gather information about the attack in the lead-up to the strike and hopefully prevent it from ever happening. I’m honestly not sure why they needed to have the player character as a handler, since the only relevance it ever has is Mission Control explaining that you’re responsible for telling your agent, Kai, where to go. Throughout the game you jump and loop through a single night in the city of Berlin to solve the case of the mysterious nuclear strike.
During missions you are allotted time resources, which you can lose and gain depending on your actions. You move Kai around the map with your mouse and/or WASD, and spin the camera with E and R. You can left click on squares close to or far away from Kai to tell him where to go, square-by-square, or during combat mode you can use the right click to dash, which eats time resources but allows you to avoid gunfire and other obstacles.
Time resource is also eaten by doing things like hacking drone terminals and weapons scanners. Discovering new rooms in buildings, successfully interrogating foes, and finding mission-critical items provides Kai with more time resource to use. Kai’s movements, and his walk cycle (or lack thereof, as he moves in the same few frames from square to square), look a little clunky compared to all of the faceless NPCs milling around and dancing. However, given that it’s a indie tactics game and not a big name adventure or action game, I feel the lack of smoothness can be forgiven.
Sometimes coming into contact with foes will begin an interrogation minigame where you have to select the right responses to allow you to pass through a blocked area, gain information or gain items crucial to the mission. You can win in a number of ways, whether it be by scaring them into giving you what you want, flirting with them, or having them respect you enough to let you go ahead. Because my tactics game skills aren’t fantastic, subsequent playthroughs of early missions relied much more on talking my way through encounters where possible and hacking unfriendly drones and weapon scanners to allow passage.
My boyfriend, on the other hand, took a more gung-ho approach and often ended up in combat mode. Combat mode freezes time and allows you to plan your actions, move-for-move, while the enemy does the same. There are a small variety of interesting enemies such as spectres, drones and general guards with guns (of which there can be many all at once). During battle you carefully choose to hide behind cover, choose routes that won’t result in Kai being hurt, and make careful use of your time reloading and waiting behind cover. At the end of combat you can “drop” the battle and watch as the whole thing plays out in a fantastic little video, which can make you feel like a real badass.
When I played through the first three missions of All Walls Must Fall, I was tasked with defusing bombs, finding dead drops in ash trays, and eliminating or sweet-talking guys in a club so they couldn’t escape. When I went to compare notes with the boyfriend, he reported stealing holographic statues and collecting feathers…what? On a briefly-shown screen as the game as loading up, inbetweengames report that All Walls Must Fall contains procedural generation. I wasn’t surprised, especially once I played through the first few missions. The buildings you infiltrate during missions all seem to be set on the same, identical street, and contain the same throng of club rats dancing to the same oontz oontz beats in mostly identical rooms. I figured the procedural generation would purely be limited, as it usually is in indie games, to the layout of the buildings.
As it turns out, when you load up a new campaign from the main menu, you will be randomly thrown into one of a few different campaigns which eventually intersect as you progress. Easy missions in my campaign turned out to be very hard missions later on in my boyfriend’s campaign. I was really impressed with this level of detail being thrown into such a small game; it definitely lends itself to much better replayability than previously expected.
At the end of each mission, you’re given a score which is paid out in credits (money) based on how many people you killed, how long the mission took and your remaining time resource. You are then transported to a shop where you can make upgrades to yourself and your weapon. This is another example of where replayability is maximised in All Walls Must Fall, as there are myriad options for customization.
I prioritized sweet-talking and getting positive reactions to my interrogation responses, as well as upgrading my body armor as far as possible. You could also buy any number of weapons, dual-wield guns, choose to go without and simply use your metal fist, or even add on strange augmentations like pheromones. The upgrade options feel really robust for a game of this size, and I really enjoyed puzzling out what would be useful for the next mission.
For all its good points, however, All Walls Must Fall has a few flaws that ultimately come down to needing a cut and polish. Put bluntly, the music and locales for each mission are just really, really boring. I understand that it was by design that this version of Berlin is very gay and almost completely made up of techno gay bars while also being very oppressed on the outside due to being in the midst of a war. However, every single building you infiltrate looks exactly the same, and a lot of the character models look identical to one another when you’re interrogating them.
A fresh coat of paint on some of the walls and a few extra character portraits wouldn’t go amiss in making the game just a bit prettier. In spite of this, the style of the character art is perfect for the concept and time period. As I said earlier when talking about movement around the field, Kai would look and feel so much more natural if he actually appeared as though he was walking. I understand that having a weird half-movement is better than just having him slide, completely still, from square-to-square, but it does still feel awkward.
I didn’t get this far in, but my boyfriend also commented that the option to interrogate and talk your way through problems becomes less and less of an option as the storyline progresses, so one may get caught out by that down the line if they decided to go with the same approach I did. In speaking of the storyline, while I didn’t see it all the way through to the end, I found it very interesting. It’s incredibly clear that a lot of thought was put into the setting and setting up intrigue in some parts.
While there is something lacking in some of the visuals and movement, All Walls Must Fall is quite an appealing title with incredibly satisfying battle and customization systems. It does feel a little like there’s something missing that would give it that little extra kick from “good” to “great” indie game. All Walls Must Fall is a fairly accessible tactics game with an interesting concept, and with a proper polish it could really shine. At the price it’s being offered for on Steam ($9.99 with a current, at the time of writing, discount to $6.99), I would recommend it to any tactics game players looking for a fun and appropriately challenging timesink.
This review is based on a retail copy of the game provided by the publisher.