Happy New Year’s, AIR readers! I didn’t want to send 2017 off without one more review, and technically it’s still December 31st here on the East Coast of the USA so I’m just squeaking by. Today I want to talk to you about Fallen: A2P Protocol for the ps4, released just two weeks ago (although a Steam/PC version predates it). With Fallen, indie developer Red Katana seeks to recreate the successes of turn-based strategy RPG titles, complete with limited movement, squad-based encounters and a fog of war that encourages map exploration and cautious progress with enemies waiting around every turn. So does it work? Mmmmmm, kind of. It’s a mixed bag of good and bad, but hear me out.
This may sound like a random title of comparison, but Fallen reminded me of a less-polished version of X-Com: Enemy Unknown on PS Vita. You know the drill, right? You have a designated number of action points (AP) per turn per character, and each action (moving, firing, looting, reloading) requires varying numbers of AP. You and your posse of fearless gunslingers explore smallish levels (of which you can only see parts) in search of mutants and butt-faces to shoot, stab, beat, poison, maim, explode and burn to death. Killing means leveling up, leveling up means new skills, new skills balance increased difficulty.
So let me front-load this review with my grievances so we can get them out of the way and end on a high note. We owe that much to Red Katana; they clearly worked hard on this title and that counts for something in my book.
First off, there is zero tutorial here. If I hadn’t looked at the controls in the Options menu before starting the game (a bad habit which has been with me since the mid-1990s), I don’t know that I could’ve completed a single turn of the first level of Fallen. Even then, I found myself struggling with some of the finer points of the controls until my second or third mission. Call it “less is more” or “trial by fire,” but it threw me. Second, there’s the language. If you know me personally, you know I curse like a goddamn sailor, but Fallen could make Samuel L. Jackson blush. A lot of lines (“Hold on just a fucking second.” “Who the fuck are you?”) didn’t need it, and diminished from the impact of the more called-for profanity. Finally, perhaps most frustratingly, Red Katana obviously worked to build a pretty decent array of equipment, gear, items, skills, challenges, characters, datalogs, enemies and so on into Fallen…and yet aside from differing base stats (of which there are just four categories), there were enough playable characters with near-identical skill trees that their only variety comes from spending their limited skill points in (slightly) different ways and arbitrarily swapping guns between them. It robs players of the subtle party balancing of Final Fantasy, Wasteland and even X-Com and makes the characters feel far more malleable.
On the other hand, if you can brush aside those problems in character development and dialogue, you’ll find a fun and challenging tactical strategy game underneath. You command a revolving party of badasses in a caravan across a junkyard wasteland akin to Mad Max or Cross-Out, equipped immediately with melee weapons, firearms and grenades to take out freaks and monsters as you work to settle a score against your main character’s brother, who literally sold him into slavery. You jump right into inflicting crazy status effect damage on baddies – I poisoned one jerk and got another bleeding in my first fight – and taking each enemy down is damn satisfying. As you get your sea legs you’ll soon be trading scraps in for better weapons and armor at outposts, which is handy if you aren’t confident with your ability to scavenge while out in the field. Upgrading your caravan for larger maximum storage, faster ground speed and better fracking capabilities was a pleasant surprise as well. The sameness in character development is counteracted by a variety in missions that’s clear from the beginning – escape here, kill everyone there, save this guy, search for clues in this place etc. – which is one of many factors that will end up holding your interest as you go. Finally, and this may sound like a cop out, Fallen has some element of charm to it that’s hard to describe. This is a developer stretching its wings, or landing in a bigger pond than it expected, and it shows, but in a good way. Red Katana just needs some refinement and fleshing out for their future works.
Bottom line, it’s absolutely more good than bad. In my time with the game, I was never bored or eager to be done with it. Maybe its cardinal sin is throwing all its issues at you at once, but once you get past them, it’s a solid tactical/strategy RPG and worth the ticket price. I’m calling Fallen: A2P Protocol a 6 out of 10.
AIR Entertainment was provided a review copy of this game by Red Katana.