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  • Writer's pictureStephen Machuga

Early Access Review - Fallen Aces

Developer: Trey Powell, Jason Bond

Publisher: New Blood Interactive

Available on: PC

New Blood Interactive has built quite a reputation for themselves over the years of being the place you go to if you’re looking for some 90s first-person shooters, also lovingly referred to as “boomer shooters”, with Doom being the classic example. They have published a series of games over the years following this format, usually involving blood, demons, high-speed action, and thumping soundtracks, such as Dusk, Faith, Gloomwood, and even taking a stab at the classic Rise of the Triad remaster. So when I saw their booth at Penny Arcade Expo East in Boston this year promoting Fallen Aces, which is what appeared to be a first-person shooter with a cell-shaded cartoon look and focusing around gangsters punching and kicking each other in a fictional timeline, I was definitely intrigued. How was that going to possibly work in a Doom-style format? Well, I have to admit, they did a pretty good job of stepping outside their comfort zone and doing something a little different this time around.

Fallen Aces is an episodic first-person…puncher, set in a fictional post-war 1950s style Americana, where a superhero crimefighting unit called the “Aces” had their heyday of protecting the fictional town of Switchblade City, a town known for its crime. However, someone is murdering these beloved crime fighters one by one. The head of the Aces team, who used to go by Captain Spade, is now running for mayor, and during a speaking engagement, narrowly dodges an assassination attempt. You play the role of Michael Thane, hired on to track down one of the Aces and try to get to the bottom of who is murdering all of these heroes. Without spoiling anything, things quickly go sideways and you end up in the middle of a storm that is set to destroy Switchblade City.

So good news on the story: the pieces that it does set up and tell you are voiced very well and are told through the pages of a hand-drawn pulp comic from the 1950s, so it’s incredibly compelling stuff. The problem is that it leaves huge chunks out of the story it is telling you, as I’m guessing that major story bits are contained within collectibles found in the environment. And Fallen Aces is no basic corridor shooter: each of the five maps of the first chapter is massive and allows plenty of places to hide important information from you. Obviously, this is both a good and a bad thing if you’re using collectibles to tell your story for you.

But that said, having sprawling maps means that you have plenty of room to run around and look for weapons and items: Mike has a small inventory that allows him to pick up nail guns, frying pans, lead pipes, and any other random knick-knacks to bop gangsters in the head with. He only has three slots to carry things, and unfortunately, weapon ammunitions (spear guns, nails, bullets, and shotgun shells) each take up a separate inventory slot, making you really have to consider what you’re bringing along with you. Guns are extremely powerful in this game but rarely come with a lot of ammo, so if you’re looking to carry one, you’re generally losing one of your three slots to carrying extra ammo. And another odd quirky “why did they do that”, you can’t reload weapons until your weapon is completely out of ammo. You get a six-shot snub nose with four shots and have two extra bullets in your inventory, you can’t pull up your gun and put the two extra bullets in until you fire the four shots first. Strange. But Fallen Aces has a lot of oddities like that to make up for the fact you’re not playing Doom and running around with nineteen different firearms.

Again, with Fallen Aces being melee-focused, they took a book out of the Doom (remake 2016) playbook and incentivized you into using your fists vs. guns or just beating enemies to death with lead pipes or wooden boards. If you punch a goon into a stunned state, you can finish him off and take a chunk of your health back, which means many times during my playthrough, I was using basic melee goons like health packs. Another benefit of being close to your enemies in melee range is that they are not afraid to allow the goons to injure one another with attacks, meaning many times I would angle a goon in front of me to block incoming bullets or thrown items while I was trying to melee him into a stunned state. A nice touch to even the odds a bit.

Fallen Aces feels like it’s primed for speedrunning: while the maps are expansive and it gets easy to get lost or wander around looking for weapons caches and “secrets,” on the map, detective Mike Thane runs (and even sneaks) like the devil himself, sprinting at a speed that felt a bit silly at points. Once you know where you’re going on the map, you can sprint like a wild man through a level at warp speed, dodging past goons that are miles behind you throwing punches and swinging pipes at you. The first time I fired up Fallen Aces, it made quite a big deal about saving early and saving often, but it does NOT warn you that there’s no auto-save. So 20 minutes into my first playthrough and getting killed later, whoops: I got to start the chapter all over again. But again, as I said, because I knew where I was going, I was whipping through that opening area with blistering speed.

Another surprise about Fallen Aces is unlike most of New Blood’s inventory of games, the game rewards you for using stealth and knocking your enemies out versus killing them outright. If you’re able to sneak up behind an enemy and knock him out quietly, you’re can take their weapon, which can vary from knives, clubs, and even Tommy guns. But if you kill them, it breaks whatever weapon they were carrying. However, Fallen Aces giveth and Fallen Aces taketh away: Detective Mike can hide in the “shadows” but despite many spots on the map being nearly pitch black and where you would presume he could hide safely, he isn’t listed as “hidden”. Very, very strange.

More head-scratching gameplay mechanics: money? Within your first minutes of the game, you find a few bucks in coins which you can then use in a vending machine to pull some soda (health regen) or a pack of cigarettes (increases your accuracy…in a game all about punching people with fists most of the time). That literally goes out the window by the third map, where you’re collecting gems and rare artifacts worth hundreds of in-game dollars and never really see a vending machine again (although they do exist, I’m sure). So…

As you can see, Fallen Aces has some issues holding it back from being a real easy recommendation and makes it a “well, if you have an extra $12 and feel like changing things up a bit”. However, the pulp fiction noir comic book feel to it pushed me through some of the more mechanical issues with the game; I’m far more interested in learning more about the world they are building than picking apart the gameplay. I had fun and I was bent out of shape to get to the end of the game, a brisk 5-hour playthrough for the first chapter. They left it somewhat on a cliffhanger and made me want to see where they were going with the story. Your best bet is to wait until all three chapters are out, hopefully, they’ve thrown in a few hotfixes to some of the problems with the game, and you might have yourself a real banger. Might, being the operative word.

Fallen Aces is a Wait and See

as it develops in Early Access.

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