Next year marks the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. That which divided East and West Berlin, like a wound struck through the city. Constructed from barbed wire and concrete, but an ideological construct as much as a physical one. Hewn from fear and distrust. It’s an art gallery now. Stark gray blooming with vibrant murals and hopeful poetry. Berlin is unified, but proudly individual. And its clubs are like nowhere else in the world.
All Walls Must Fall is a dystopia born of a cold world paranoia. Here, the wall still stands, and while the clubs go all night, euphoria is replaced by a gritty amphetamine comedown stretched out across decades. Clubbers have long chased chemical transcendence from the weighty, corporeal self. Discarding, between the pills and the drops, any sense of time as a definite construct. In All Walls Must Fall, time loses its own ego. Skittering, and glitching like experimental techno across the fabric of reality.
There’s been an explosion at the TV Tower. A nuclear bomb has reduced city blocks to ash. You are Kai; A cyborg-appendaged bear of a man with a beard you could smuggle the firearm contents of Neo’s trench coat in. Using diplomacy, hacking, or gunplay, your aim is to navigate Berlin’s gay club scene and unravel the plot that set this night’s disastrous events into motion.
The problem? You’ve already failed. Time and time again, you’ve watched helplessly as the disaster engulfed the city. Fortunately, time was never much of a hurdle for a man that can manipulate its flow at will.
At the start of each mission, chosen from an overworld map, you’re given your objectives by a secretive masked entity, known only as ‘faceless’. Interrogate a DJ. Dig up intel. Put a rogue agent down for good. All Walls Must Fall teases variety, but in truth, the missions play out much the same. You make your way through the labyrinth layouts of immense industrial nightclubs until you track down your mark. You collect, charm, or kill it. Kai exfiltrates via his car. The framing of All Wall’s Must Fall‘s missions are like the lyrics to a techno song. It’s nice that they’re there, but it’s the rhythms of play that count.
You’ll start each run with a limited amount of Time Resource, or TR for short. TR ticks down constantly, but is regained when you enter new rooms, or after successful combat encounters. What happens when it runs out? Well, nothing. Providing you don’t make any serious mistakes, or die. Also, you’re definitely going to make mistakes and die. And that’s where Kai’s abilities come in.
Much like classic roguelikes, nothing in All Walls Must Fall moves until you do. These lengthy, meticulously planned and executed shootouts all take place in seconds. Every squeezed trigger and dash for cover is under your control, one grid square at a time. Early fights are easily won by simply finding some decent cover and occasionally rewinding time if you get surrounded. As the game progresses, you’ll enter conflicts with dozens of foes.
While the basic ‘Rewind’ ability shifts the entire gameworld through previous states, an ability called ‘trace back’ only rewinds Kai. By using it, enemies stay damaged. ‘Trace Back’ costs TR. You get TR back for finishing combat. As you may have realized, this means that you’re effectively invincible, as long you have enough TR to get you through the fight. It does take a few upgrades to get to this point, and it doesn’t completely remove strategy. Positioning still helps a great deal, as does prioritizing targets. Still, I found myself being able to strong-arm my way through later missions by spamming Trace Back repeatedly.
I’d love to go into specifics about the different enemy types. Truthfully though, I never needed to learn the specifics to find success. Opposing agents teleport across firefights, never stopping for more than a few beats at a time. Nemeses soak up bullets and smash through walls. My response was the same. Find cover. Keep firing. Reload when necessary. Trace back occasionally to recover damage.
And for a game concerned with time paradoxes, perhaps the greatest paradox here is that, despite how tactically shallow gunfights can be, they still engage so well. Somewhere between the procedural soundtrack, the neon dancefloors, and the pillars crumbling under bullet fire, there’s a real sensorial appeal to these encounters. It might even make more sense to think of All Walls Must Fall closer in terms to a haunting, cyberpunk rhythm game. Each decision plays into a weighty yet oddly balletic sense of motion. Each kill is another obstacle to perfect flow removed.
There’s two other elements to gameplay, aside from the fights: hacking and talking. You can hack security doors and weapons scanners, helping you move through the clubs stealthily. Attempting to sweet talk a bouncer, for example, takes you to a seperate screen, with four opponent % values and four options. Fill one of the bars by choosing the right options, and conversation succeeds. It’s a simple system that adds texture to the universe, and can be useful for gathering intel or occasionally gaining allies.
As a broader tactic for getting through missions though, it’s more trouble than it’s worth. Talk your way out of one combat encounter? Great. Talk your way past a second? Go you. Fail on a third? Now you’ve got three rooms of enemies to deal with. These conversations are frequently funny, and they convey Kai’s character well, but avoiding combat seems counterintuitive, anyway. Combat is at the centre of All Walls Must Fall, and at the risk of sounding reductive, to avoid it is effectively skipping out on content.
While the conversation system never feels like an especially inspired addition, and much of the dialogue is merely functional, I don’t feel the game fails as a narrative work. It’s successes are found not in the writing, but in the unity between music, tone, and sense of place.
To call something immersive suggests the breakdown of the boundaries between player and artificial reality, and that isn’t it here. All Walls Must Fall always feels artificial, but the flickering lights, dark techno and palpable unease demand a certain unreality to convey them. Nothing in the game is truly convincing. Not the copy pasted mannequins that continue to dance through gunfights. Not a soundtrack that always remains conspicuously non-diegetic. But it’s convincing enough to be jarring, uncanny almost. All Walls Must Fall feels distinctly off at times, and this diseased verisimilitude creates a unique atmosphere that wouldn’t be possible in a more polished product.
Worth Your Time?
Like a hedonistic club binge, All Walls Must Fall‘s strongest elements are mired in excess. In essence, the game is a single, intensely enjoyable combat loop, heightened by an almost transcendent synergy of audio and aesthetics. Everything outside of this loop lacks confidence or full realization. The hacking and conversation elements either need refining, or just trimming from the game entirely. The upgrades create an interesting sense of progression throughout missions, but are easily abused to take the bite out of combat. And yet, despite all this, All Wall’s Must Fall is still interesting and enjoyable enough to leave an impression, even if the comedown kicks in before the night has a chance to get going.
Available from: Steam