Unlike Shackleton, who set off into the arctic armed with nothing more than some tweed and a moustache, fictional adventurers have to contend with significantly more lava and giant rolling boulders than their real-life counterparts.
It’s a sad fact in gaming these days we are less likely to shoot down ravenous bears with a bolt-action rifle than shoot old ladies with an auto-focus camera. James Lee Quartermaine, however, is an adventurer straight from the pages of fiction.
His world, Deadfall Adventures, is a homage to the real nineteenth-century novels of Allan Quartermaine and the pulp action-adventure stories found in the twentieth-century magazines. It’s a classic tale, where a reluctant hero finds himself embroiled in a quest to track down an ancient artefact of terrible power – in this case the Heart of Atlantis – to prevent it from falling into the wrong hands.
Players find themselves transported from the trap-filled catacombs of Egyptian tombs to the snowy wastelands of the arctic, before crashing into the Guatemalan jungle during the game’s eleven hour campaign.
Visually, Deadfall is beautiful. The levels are more like vast arenas, beautifully designed with hidden treasures scattered in locations that the game actively encourages players to seek out. The spirit of adventure is palpable with the soundtrack swapping between the adventurous swell of a John Williams-esque score and the exotic twang of an Egyptian melody when creeping round dark corners.
When Nazis (of course there are Nazis) appear, the tension is irrefutably cinematic and when Mummies (of course there are Mummies) wrench themselves from their sarcophagi, players would be forgiven for playing from behind the cover of their sofas.
On the surface then, Deadfall gets a lot right. The Nazis play perfectly into the traditional lost world tone, with much “zees ees zee end for you Meester Quartermaine!” and occult lunacy, but overall the dialogue is clumsy with the occasional gem of a pithy one-liner as rare as the treasure we’re trying to find. Quartermaine’s relationship with British agent sidekick Jennifer is particularly strained. She exists only to fire the occasional half-hearted shot at homicidal, machine-gun-toting maniacs, get kidnapped or to exchange convoluted banter with Quartermaine.
The tone of their conversations is teeth-grindingly painful, established early on when a stick of dynamite sends Quartermaine flying, landing between Jennifer’s legs who quips “Comfy, Quartermaine?” The more dodgy lines could have been carried off by more accomplished vocal actors, but their amateurish deliverance strips the characters of any likeability. Instead of being drawn into this lost world of pulp fiction imaginings, we get rom-com clichés and eyewateringly insulting gags like “You had me at ‘well-shaped ass'”. It’s like taking Raiders of the Lost Ark and replacing half the lines with scenes from “When Harry Met Sally”.
Combat is more suited to the point-and-click method of PC gaming than on the console. The crosshair is far too sensitive, making lining up a shot akin to threading a needle. Strangely, it’s also designed so that pressing left trigger to aim is a toggle rather than a snap on and off, resulting in Quartermaine’s gun pitching around the screen as the extreme recoil forces players to painstakingly reposition the camera after each shot. The AI drafted in to help you is also clearly on minimum wage, because they won’t do much apart from hide behind some scenery and occasionally find the time to lob a grenade in the mummy-trying-to-chew-your-face-off’s general direction.
The puzzle sections could have been a real triumph for Deadfall, but the game’s reliance on overly familiar tropes makes them more of a nuisance than intriguing enigmas. Mirrors must be moved, keys picked out of rubble and switches stepped on, but “Press A to pick up Puzzle Piece” prompts are hardly brainteasers.
It seems that, ultimately, despite its best efforts to stand up with the lost world greats, like the pulp magazines that it emulates, Deadfall Adventures is sadly rather disposable.
(First published in Gamereactor 15/11/2013)