US: 15 Nov 2013
Deadfall Adventures begins with a voice over in the past tense, a narration foreshadowing an unbelievable tale and an unlikely hero. It begins ina manner appropriately similar to the beginning of King Solomon’s Mines, in which Allan Quatermain apologizes to the reader for his blunt way of writing but that he is “more accustomed to handling a rifle than a pen.” The protagonist of Deadfall Adventures is James Lee Quatermain, the non-canonical great-grandson of adventurer Allan Quatermain. However, this is where the similarities between the two works end. Despite drawing from the source material of H. Rider Haggard’s Quatermain series, Deadfall Adventures misses the mark in ethos, theme, and plain spirit. It also draws from several gameplay mechanics reductively and implements them poorly.
The man and the myth of Allan Quatermain inspired many adventure characters, most notably Indiana Jones. Haggard originated the “lost world” adventure subgenre, publishing King Solomon’s Mines in 1885. Quatermain himself was an unlikely adventure hero. He is described as being short, not very developed in stature, and unattractive. While he is a product of Victorian society, he is also progressive for his time—though by today’s standards he would be considered paternalistic, a perpetrator of imperialism, and a bit racist. Still, he is humble, occasionally witty, and a self-admitted coward. These traits were apparently not passed down to his great-grandson.
James Quatermain is unduly cocksure and doesn’t appear to abide by any moral code. The voice actor speaks in his best cynical Indiana Jones imitation with no real authority, whereas Indiana Jones embodies a dualism of part college professor and part archeological badass. James Quatermain is as fallible as Indiana Jones, but the condition he finds himself in are different. Indiana Jones’ mistakes are made out of his curious nature and desire to explore. Quatermain’s foibles spring from hubris and short sightedness. Both Allan Quatermain and Indiana Jones are motivated by wanderlust, unearthing lost worlds, and a little added self-interest. While they both may be cynical about the worlds that they inhabit, likely due to being outsiders to a degree, they also have an altruistic need to help those unable to defend themselves. It is difficult to tell what motivates James Quatermain. He initially says it is money, and it will cost a lot of it to go in search of The Heart of Atlantis, an ancient artifact that could end the world. But later on he doesn’t show any concern at all. He doesn’t have a desire to help people, to explore, or to get his hands on the money. The only motivation given to James Quatermain is the motivation that the player provides. And with the end results of playing Deadfall Adventures, it is difficult to find any motivation to do so at all.
The story of Deadfall Adventures is partially lifted from Raiders of the Lost Ark. Nazis are after the Heart of Atlantis in the hope of using it somehow for world domination, Russian Communists are thrown in, just because, and it is up to James Quatermain and sidekick Jennifer Goodwin to stop them. Jennifer Goodwin can handle a gun, which is more than most AI companions, though she usually sits back until the smoke has cleared to come help. However, the story of Deadfall Adventures lacks any of what made Raiders of the Lost Ark special. There is no sense of wonder or the thrill of exploration. The game takes you from the Sahara, to the arctic, to an ancient Mayan village, searching for the three pieces of The Heart of Atlantis, but the connection feels forced and incongruous.
Also, don’t expect to find any commentary on imperialism because there is none. This alone isn’t a flaw, but Deadfall Adventures also fails as a thrilling shooter on its own. The game touts that it “is all about exploring and around every corner there might be hidden treasure or a useful hint.” Exploration in Deadfall Adventures amounts to shooting ancient vases and blowing up antiquated stone sculptures. While Allan Quatermain confesses his only art was that of marksmanship, it doesn’t make for good tomb raiding. Its obvious linearity works against its exploration boast. The player will never feel lost, as there is only a narrow path to travel with the occasional corner to peak around. There also isn’t any incentive to explore. Generic hidden treasures are scattered throughout the temples and villages. They offer the player the ability to increase their health, stamina, fire rate, or flashlight power. They are essentially needless, as the game isn’t too challenging, and they are unimaginative upgrades by any stretch.
Gameplay is split between running and gunning and puzzle solving. The shooting feels aimless. One barrage of Nazis, commies, or mummies hits you one after the other. The AI isn’t very intelligent. Often enemies get stuck behind walls or one another, proving to just be target practice. Guns are disposable and unmemorable. And there never feels to be a sense of danger. The onslaught of bloodshed also feels incongruous with the Allan Quatermain and Indiana Jones mythoi. While Quatermain and Jones engage in violence, it is always a last resort and in self-defense. The puzzles don’t fare much better. Most resort to moving mirrors to reflect light or turning stones to the right combination. Some make no sense whatsoever. A constellation puzzle—that I didn’t realize was a constellation—was solved by random button pressing.
In the most climactic scene, James Quatermain hops in a mine cart and engages in a chase lifted straight from Indiana Jones and The Temple of Doom. What should be an exhilarating ride is unexciting and ultimately too long. The player isn’t given any agency to control the cart. Again no danger is present and no thrill is felt in achieving such a feat. Many of the environmental effects work like this. A floor will cave in or Quatermain must slide down a ravine, but the player is given no control in these moments. The pattern becomes predictable. A shootout will be followed by a puzzle to solve to be followed by a cut scene. This repetition doesn’t lend itself to exploring the unknown. The Indiana Jones attraction at Disneyland provides a more immersive experience. I mean this in all seriousness. The Indiana Jones attraction works well with environmental design in and out of the ride.
It is disappointing that with such a rich history to draw from, Deadfall Adventures fails in delivering an exciting action experience or a world worth exploring. Struggling to live up to its two greatest influences, the Quatermain novels and Indiana Jones, it is eclipsed in their shadows, unable to carve out an identity of its own.
We all know how critical it is to keep independent voices alive and strong online. Please consider a donation to support our work as an independent publisher devoted to the arts and humanities. Your donation will help PopMatters stay viable through these changing and challenging times where advertising no longer covers our costs. We need your help to keep PopMatters publishing. Thank you.