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Review: After the Fall

We first got a glimpse of Quake total conversion After the Fall back in August 2018 when the game's designer Pip Nayler treated us to a very early preview. Since then, we've also been lucky enough to sample a playable demo of the game. Now though, After the Fall is ready to be released for the Dreamcast community to enjoy on their own Dreamcast consoles, and come the end of June 2020 (Friday 26th June to be precise) you'll be able to download After the Fall - for the price of absolutely nothing - and experience this romp through a dystopian future nightmare for yourselves. You can't say fairer than that - dystopia with an entrance price of free. Step right up, folks!


As we've been following the development of After the Fall for a while now, we thought it was only right that we cast a critical cycloptic eye over the final product and give you our verdict on whether you should download it, burn it and give it a go; or leave it well alone and go back to watching the endless repeats of Gordon Ramsey's Kitchen Nightmares you somehow have recorded on your digibox (or maybe that's just me).
First things first. As you will no doubt be able to tell simply by pointing your eyes at the screenshots hither and thither, After the Fall is a total conversion of Quake. The origins of this mod can be traced all the way back to the simpler times of 1997, when it was released for the IBM compatible Personal Computer device. A proof of concept port of After the Fall was started for Dreamcast some time later, but the port was left abandoned like a dog in a hot car. That's where Pip Nayler came in to rescue the abandoned Dreamcast version, like a good samaritan with a hammer and bowl of water. You know, to smash the window and give the hypothetical dog/Dreamcast port a drink of water. Not all heroes wear capes, folks. As he told us back in 2018:

"After The Fall is a total conversion of Quake that was originally released way back in 1997. It's been mentioned on Dreamcast message boards before, but nobody has ever really played it on the console as it doesn't fit in to the Dreamcast's RAM without modification. Also, the Quake community largely considers ATF fun, but hampered by bugs and some low quality artwork. My goal is to help the game gain some new recognition and give the Dreamcast community something new to play, whilst also also allowing me to get reacquainted with Quake modding.

"Lowering the texture resolution has allowed me to fit the game in to memory, and it is now playable from start to finish, but my aim is to build upon the original game and make it something really special for the community. As such, I'll be replacing some of the assets from the original game, bug fixing where possible, writing a new backstory for it, and creating some all new levels to help tell the story and make the game feel more connected."
- Pip Nayler, After the Fall Dreamcast developer

Since we played that initial build, Pip has ironed out over 100 bugs in the code, made a whole host of edits and revisions to the graphics, gameplay and the storyline, and now After the Fall is finally ready to see the light of day, over 20 years after it was originally conceived. The crucial question remains: Is it worth your time? Or has Pip Nayler wasted his precious life energy poring over a dud? I can't stretch that dog/car analogy out any further, so let's abandon that and delve in to After the Fall...

After the Fall is set in the far future - 2139 to be precise - where humanity is confined to massive walled cities known as Sprawls. Life is tough but manageable in this imposing landscape of urban decay, but then an alien race known as the Collective turns up and makes everyone's life a little bit more difficult. By which I mean they take over the planet, enslave one half of humanity, kill the other half and just act like general douchebags. Great. 
Now you, in the role of a Clansman (probably not the best choice of name in today's...er...climate) - a sort of cop/militia type that previously upheld the law on behalf of the mega corporations that ran the show - are the last hope for humanity. With your trusty duffle bag of gigantic guns and not at all Judge Dredd-inspired spandex costume, you set off to rid the Sprawls of Collective scum with the ultimate aim of destroying their leader and freeing what's left of humanity. Presumably so they can go back to being miserable in the Sprawls...but hey. Better than being a slave, right?
As this is - again - a Quake total conversion, there are plenty of elements you'll be familiar with in After the Fall if you're au fait with id's seminal first person shooter. You start the game by choosing your difficulty level by means of a small hub world containing a series of teleporters. At this stage, I would urge new players to go with the easy difficulty initially - not because I think you're all rubbish at games (like me) - but because After the Fall is hard. Very hard. Indeed, it can be a little demoralising when you start the game only to be blasted to death or drown for the 12th time in only the second area of the first mission; but once you get over that minor hurdle there's a lot of fun to be had here. If at first you don't succeed, try, try, try, try and try again. And again. Um.
Before I go any further, let's discuss the controls. You can play After the Fall with a Dreamcast controller, and that's totally fine. It all works as you'd expect - look around with the analogue stick, strafe and move forward and backward with the face buttons, and fire and jump with the triggers. It's all perfectly functional, but to truly appreciate After the Fall (indeed any first person shooter on Dreamcast) you'd be advised to drag out your mouse and keyboard and hook them up. It's not vital that you have these peripherals in order to play After the Fall, but it will make things a damn sight easier when trying to line up shots and whatnot.
Once you do get to grips with the controls and the difficulty curve, After the Fall is essentially a highly enjoyable romp through some brilliantly designed levels that make full use of the Quake engine. True, it looks fairly dated by today's standards, but retro-themed shooters are all the rage these days, with modern systems enjoying stuff like Ion Fury, Project Warlock and the original Doom and DOOM 64. Why shouldn't the Dreamcast get a piece of the action with it's own retro-styled shooter?
It's quite nice in a way to see these crude representations of real-world objects and environments brought to life using the big, chunky assets of the Quake engine; especially as it all runs quite smoothly. I say 'quite' because there are rare moments when the framerate dips (in some of the larger open areas or when there are lots of enemies onscreen at once), and the low resolution visuals can make it quite difficult to discern enemies at a distance. What's here is quite nice though, and as a fan of this aesthetic, it's not something I'm going to knock After the Fall for - especially when you factor in the lovely real-time lighting, variety of level settings and those fabulous animated sky boxes.
Spanning five episodes, each with several missions within each, After the Fall has a fairly lengthy campaign, which starts on Earth battling through tenements and train stations but eventually sees you entering bases and off world installations. Enemy types vary by mission and while the AI is fairly rudimentary (they'll basically run at you firing when they see you), the fact that they give a nice audio cue that they've spotted you allows you to get ready for the ensuing firefight.
Speaking of firefights, you'll engage in these a lot. Conveniently then, weapon selection is good - included in the arsenal you get a pair of fists, a standard pistol, a double barrelled shotgun, a chaingun, rocket launcher, grenade launcher, and a sort of 'bouncing balls of death' type gun that's actually more dangerous to you than it is to the enemy...but it's nice to have the option. It's like one of those hard rubber bouncing balls - do you dare throw it at the wall in a confined space and risk losing an eye? This list of deathy things doesn't include everything the game has to offer, but we wouldn't want to be accused of giving up spoilers. Likewise, the sentient beings (probably with families) you'll be pumping lead into are nice and diverse, from enslaved humans of various variety, to mechanised robots and the Collective themselves; which almost have a Halo-esque Combine quality to them, such is the variety in their design.
There's subtle variation in the gameplay, with some interesting puzzles and a little bit of first person platforming thrown in too (it can be annoying, but never as annoying as those bits in Turok on the N64), but for the most part this is an out and out shooter. Collect keys, open doors, shoot stuff in the face, press buttons...rinse and repeat across the 13 or so missions. It's interesting to note that in the earlier builds, the storyline would be displayed in text form on the screen to give a bit of a narrative to the mindless blasting and button pressing, but these have been removed to make the game a bit more 'shootery,' according to Pip. Personally, I quite liked these snippets as it gave the game a little bit of extra character, but I can see why it was felt they should be removed if they didn't really seem to fit the style of game.
As with many games of this type, ammo and health packs are scattered throughout the stages and enemies are usually hidden around corners, up on ledges or behind closed doors. Plenty of tropes of the genre are employed in After the Fall too. See that health pack? If you pick it up a door is going to open and a baddie is going to pop out. See this environment suit? It means that very soon you're going to have to go for a swim in order to press a button to open a locked door. See this platform here? If you step on it, it's going to descend into a room full of nasties that want to devour your head (or just run at you and shoot you). I love this kind of setup and it's usually really obvious...but for me, that's part of the charm.
Ultimately, what we have here with After the Fall is a rather enjoyable first person shooter, that is well worth the asking price. It's hard to find fault with something when it is being given away for free, complete with printable covers, but in the cold hard light of full transparency it would be flippant not to point out some shortcomings. First - there are still a few bugs contained in the game, and it can be somewhat soul crushing when you get 20 minutes into a level only for the game to crash when you pick up a weapon.
Sound also is an area that leaves something to be desired - there's no music to speak of,  and the shouts of the enemies or whirring of machines is pretty much all you'll hear in terms of diegetic audio. This is made up for by the excellent weapon effects - the chain gun in particular is really well done - but I can't help but think a bit of ambient music could have helped somewhat. It may have been a question of engine or system limitations that have meant it wasn't possible to include music, but it's worth noting that After the Fall is a pretty quiet affair (again, apart from the gunshots and screams piercing the silence...which some people may prefer, truth be told).
Overall though, I can't bring myself to be too harsh on After the Fall. Least of all because it's a damn fine game once you get over the minor hurdles in the form of somewhat twitchy controls and steep learning curve. There's a lot of game here for the price (did I mention it's free?), and Pip Nayler should be applauded for the effort he has poured into this labour of love, which will also come with some lovely artwork files should you wish to put a copy of After the Fall in a proper case and pop it on your shelf. It's really great to see yet another new game on the Dreamcast in 2020 and there's no sign of things slowing down, either.
Finally, to answer the question posed at the start of this article: you should definitely stop watching those endless repeats of Gordon Ramsey's Kitchen Nightmares. Turn the TV off and remove yourself from the couch before become fused to it. Now, turn on your computer and go download After the Fall from Pip Nayler's website here (link will be live after the game is released on Friday 26th June 2020).
You can also follow the man himself on Twitter and ask him as many questions as you can think of - not just about After the Fall, but about anything you desire. He's a friendly chap is Pip and we're pretty confident he'll do his damnedest to answer even the most random of questions on any topic you can think of. Just don't ask him about REDACTED.

Will you be checking out After the Fall? Have you already played it? Let us know your thoughts in the comments or on Twitter. Cheers!

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8 comments:

Unknown said...

And of course there is Nuquake engine and the new radquake engine it should run on.. Nuquake being 640x480 opengl 60fps radquake being 44khz sound 60fps 320x240 so you have options to make it look better or sound better.. both these engines support cdda stereo music

Tom Charnock said...

Pip did explain why did didn't use either of those, but I'm sure he'll explain in more detail why he didn't.

Unknown said...

Pip told me it runs fine on radquake i was in contact on the dctalk forum we talked back and forth. Any bugs or problems i was ready to fix at the time same with Nuquake with mrneo240

Both engines run the old pc version

Unknown said...

Like i said it will run on ether so it really does not matter what engine is chosen in the end.. People can run it on what they want..

Chris Else said...

Nice write up Tom, looking forward to giving this a go!

Pip Nayler said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Pip Nayler said...

@Chris Else

Thanks, Chris. I really hope that you'll enjoy it!

@Ian Micheal

I'm a big fan of everything that the community produces, and please don't let this release take away from the fact that I think both RADQuake and nuQuake are fantastic.

This release runs on Makaqu as I felt that it currently offers the most polished overall user experience. It runs at 320x240 with perfect sound and the engine does support CD audio, but I didn't include any music as there isn't any in the original mod, and as it would have affected performance.

I did request a couple of amendments for RADQuake but these weren't implemented. However, I'll contact you again privately as I would love to configure a version of the game for it, and I've even begun work on some original VMU icons.

The image quality and performance of nuQuake is incredible, but it currently suffers from some major sound issues, and there are still some rendering issues to resolve. I did highlight them on Dreamcast-Talk and reached out to mrneo240 directly, but I never heard back, and it seems like he might have moved on to other projects.

I'll try to contact him again and would appreciate it if you could tell him that there is still a lot of interest in nuQuake; it's an incredible development that would really raise the bar for independent 3d games on the system.

Like you said, as a Quake mod, people are free to try it with any version of the engine. My work on this release was focused mainly on the assets themselves, and there are a lot of subtle changes between this and the original release.

Unknown said...

No worries I will let him know :) just let know what you like i can do it for you :)