The pre-release hype around All Walls Must Fall centred around its original tech-noir art style and its clear LGBT+ focus. You star as a gay secret agent who can travel through time and must use your unique set of skills to infiltrate a series of procedurally generated gay clubs to unearth and thwart a conspiracy that threatens to result in nuclear war. The stakes are set extremely high and you must master your time manipulation skills to succeed. Given the worryingly topical nature of the storyline, I set out to flirt, fight, and hack my way through Berlin’s gay bar scene.
The first thing to hit you when beginning All Walls Must Fall is how wonderful everything looks and feels. Equal parts Blade Runner and Matrix, the Berlin of 2089 is a neon and techno-infused world that belies the alternative history setting of a unending Cold War. Everything is set against thumping bass and both movement and combat are carried out to the beat in simultaneous turn-based action.
This mechanic may sound like a sci-fi Crypt of the Necrodancer, but in reality the time manipulation tends to work against any real feel of rhythm action. This gap between the beat and character actions really affected my enjoyment. It could well be that I never really ‘got’ the overly complex controls but the result was a disappointing middle ground between Necrodancer’s rhythmic combat and the turn-based delights of XCOM. There is an awful lot of depth in the tactics here, but I didn’t ever really feel in control.
My struggles to get to grips with the tactical controls were not helped by the procedurally generated clubs. Whilst this effectively means that there are millions of alternative layouts, the end result feels surprisingly samey as there is little in the way of variety. With all missions taking place in clubs constructed from the same building blocks, there is a lack of any sense of progression through the game.
I actually found myself thinking that the whole concept would have been more effective as a tabletop game. The short playtime for each campaign (around 1-2 hours) would also be perfect for a physical game. As a single player digital experience, however, it feels a little incomplete.
Gameplay alternates between character dialogue and combat. Initiating conversation opens up a flirting mini-game that is initially charming, but soon becomes repetitive and overly reliant on luck. The options available at each step are randomly generated and there is little way of knowing which will be successful. Failure at any of these conversations means a fight which can only be concluded when all your opponents are killed. In the early stages this combat is fairly satisfying but once teleporting enemies are introduced you find yourself rewinding and repeating far too often. The tech-noir setting means that drones and hackable terminals are also present and you can hack the drones to fight on your side which helps enormously, but even here everything feels just outside your control.
The music is entirely appropriate for the club settings and is uniformly excellent. I never tired of the techno beats and could easily imagine the soundtrack playing out in a real life club. Given the future setting of the game, though, I would have liked some more genre breaking tunes mixed in. The club goers in the game are clearly enjoying themselves and are presented in a variety of states of dress (and undress), but once again, there is only a small selection of character models and so clubs lack a real sense of character.
The entire cast are gay men, guards are there to be seduced, intimidated or deceived whilst the player character is a bear (in the gay slang sense as opposed to the pooing in the woods sense) in possession of a glorious beard. This aspect of the game has surely attracted significant attention for its bold and original deviation from the more usually super-hetero world of gaming. In practice, the repetitive mechanics and identikit environments soon made this aspect somewhat incidental. I applaud inbetweengames for their originality, however, and increased diversity in gaming characters and settings can only be a good thing for the future of our favourite medium.
Unfortunately, I didn’t really enjoy my time with All Walls Must Fall. The fantastic setting, thumping soundtrack and original take on seduction mini-games are not matched by its gameplay mechanics. Everything felt too chaotic and the environments too lacking in variety to maintain my interest. There is probably a solid strategy experience to be found here, but it needs a much clearer focus. The procedurally generated levels just felt out of place to me, lacking the careful design of many other strategy titles. A tabletop version of this setting has the potential to be awesome, but in this medium, All Walls Must Fall just didn’t float my boat.