Fallen Aces Review: Hardboiled to Perfection

It was a humid and muggy night. Muggy, just like the face I made at my landlord when I told them the elevator was sticking again on the third floor. I sipped my sixth coffee of the night while I rolled my fidget toy in my fingers. The draft was nearly done, when there was a knock at the door. Of course. Just like clockwork, I knew she’d come around just in time to distract me. Like a cat that wants attention before it bites you. I opened the door, and she gave me that hazy, smokey glance. 

“Hey, oomfie.”

Here’s Gooning at you, kid.

Fallen Aces is the long awaited first person brawler imsim (short for Immersive Sim, such as System Shock, Thief, Deus Ex, or even recent spiritual games like BioShock and Prey 2017) from New blood Interactive, developed by Trey Powell and Jason Bond. Releasing on Jun 14th in Early Access, Fallen Aces does so many things right, it almost puts the idea of Early Access to shame with how complete and full-bodied the game feels even in this state, promising far more content and story to unfold as the rest of the chapters roll out.  

I’ll keep it short: Fallen Aces is currently amazing, and will only get better as the rest of the chapters release. If you want to know specifically more why, keep reading, and if you’re on the fence, then hopefully I’ll get you off of it by the end of this article. Because the things New Blood Interactive do are worth the attention, and if you love old-fashioned first-person games or hardboiled noir genre pieces, you owe it to yourself to slap down 12 bucks and get your goon on. 

I Like My Games Like I Like My Coffee: Dark and Immersive

She pushed her way into the office like she owned the place. The pitter-patter of rain against my windows set the tone as she glided over to look at what I’d been working on. A review of a board game? The smirk on her face as she closed my laptop and then placed a box on-top of it made my heart drop. I’d spent a fortnight talking about hand management, and she sniffed at it.

“You’re gonna want to see this.”

Dick Tracy Mug
I knew from the moment I saw a Dick Tracy mug, I was in for a good time.

Fallen Aces is not a shooter in the sense that you might expect it to be given the pedigree of games that have obviously influenced it’s design. Wolfenstein 3D, Doom, and Duke Nukem will likely come to mind as some of your first thoughts when playing the game: The way the enemy and NPC sprites rotate like flat 2D drawings, the allure of hidden secrets and the tinkle of an item just out of reach that you know you must be able to find a way to. And to be fair to the developers, you DO get to shoot guns. And the shooting feels very good. 

But Fallen Aces is really an imsim. This is a game that wants to immerse you in theme and mood and roll the mechanics into it. Players take on the role of Michael “Mike” Thane, a down on his luck private eye who was once a successful boxer. Small clues from the apartment let us know Mike is not doing so great: the very first thing you do in the game is fall out of bed and hurt yourself in a drunken stupor. Rent is past due, the place is a dump, and the phone is ringing. And oh, yeah: the guy that’s the hope for Switchblade City’s redemption just got shot, Agents of the mysterious A.C.E.S. organization are missing, and somehow your involvement in all of this remains something of a mystery. 

And from there, the game throws you into the dark and gritty night of Switchblade City, as long as you can survive long enough to get out of your building. Chapter 1 of the game has Mike trying to survive as he begins the hunt for answers, taking you through 5 distinct stages that all have their slew of hidden secrets, combat puzzles, and myriads of ways to solve your problems, literally and figuratively. In the review here I’m only including screenshots from stage 1 for the sake of avoiding too many spoilers, but I will be clear and direct: there’s not a bad stage in them. I’ve already begun replaying the game to first track down any secrets I missed, and then I plan to again to try all sorts of runs. Stealth only, melee only, all sorts of things. 

Fallen Aces Chapter 1
All great hardboiled stories start like this.

That’s the magic of imsims: you get immersed in what the game offers, and the freedom to pursue your simulation is what sets these types of games apart from others. Which is a shame, because imsims have a pretty bad history of being successful games, and sometimes that range of freedom and lack of hand-holding turn people off. You’re not going to find a lot of yellow paint and big arrows going OVER HERE at you in Fallen Aces. To help mitigate that, though, the levels do follow a pretty clear direction and flow very well; I never felt like I would be lost playing this, even if I were not an old hand at these types of games. 

Fallen Aces also does such a great job with the immersion in it’s world that zipping around the stages and checking out every dark nook and cranny feels amazingly rewarding and fun. Thinking about if you can get somewhere will often reward you with a “yes”, and doing so often rewards you with further encouragement to keep doing that. There are at least two ways out of the building you start the game in, for example, and while every stage has a finite ‘ending’ point, how you get there is not set in stone. Experimentation and play is the root of the fun here, and Switchblade City’s gloomy, dark confines reward you for trying. 

It’s Never Over Easy to Be Hard Boiled

As she opened it up, I knew this dame was trouble. And too bad for me, I was never very good at staying out of it.

“…Is that mechanics for dodge strafing into an uppercut?”

Her eyes twinkled.

“Hell yeah, oomfie.”

Fallen Aces CQC
Mike, you need to learn the basics of CQC.

There’s quite a debate about whether “noir” is a genre or not. Certainly, there are expectations and assumptions when you use the word “noir”, especially “crime noir”: detectives, dames, smoking, and goons. Lots of goons in ascot hats talking about “dey mudda.” But the debate about noir as a genre often tends to mix-up that a lot of those expectations mingle with that of an actual genre: the hardboiled genre, featuring protagonists duking it out with mobsters and getting mixed up with sexy, sultry, dangerous women. 

It’s sort of shocking that hardboiled noir style games are not as common as one might think. L.A. Noire probably jumps to mind, as does Max Payne. Maybe even you think of Sam and Max, lampooning the genre a bit, or even TellTale’s Wolf Among Us, a valiant attempt at salvaging zionist Bill Willingham’s often terrible and overly edgy Fables comics into a CYOA mystery game in The Wolf Among Us. There is, of course, Grim Fandango, one of the greatest adventure games ever made, but even this list is fairly small; it is an underserved and neglected genre.  

Fallen Aces City
It doesn’t stay bright this long, pal.

Fallen Aces just happens to take advantage of that in making the game stand out so much. The immersive setting helps, but the mechanics of the game really play into the gritty nature of hardboiled stories: Mike’s best weapons, and the most fun to use consistently, are his fists. There’s an initial little hump to get over to figure out how the dash mechanic works, allowing Mike to duck and weave in and out of melee, but once that mechanic becomes natural, you’ll almost feel cheated by using weapons, throwables, and guns in combat, because punching a goon right in the jaw and sending him flying into a crumpled heap is so, so satisfying. Mike’s not superhuman, and even on normal difficulty you’ll find yourself in trouble if you rush into a group of enemies unprepared, so navigating the combat dance is tantamount to good strategy. Of course, you could also just toss a gas tank at a goon’s head, or find a tommy gun and light up the night, or help some goons sleep with the fishes. The choices are quite literally yours. 

You also get the use of gadgets of various types as the game progresses, which is an important way to introduce that while Fallen Aces is a hardboiled game, it is also in the vein of Dick Tracy, The Shadow, or Batman: The Animated Series. Zeppelins float through the dark, inky sky, and mysterious organizations orchestrate from the shadows. Comic books about masked heroes seem to draw into reality, and Mike’s path crosses the lines between average and unusual quickly. Your own choice in weapons is fairly pedestrian, but that doesn’t mean that the game does not use the fictional alternate world to its benefit, helping it also work to escape needing to center historical unpleasantries from the period, which was a hole that L.A. Noire fell into at times; historical accuracy without criticism or commentary doesn’t always do a lot of favors to genre pieces.

Genres With Dirty Faces

I stared at what was in the briefcase. She sat back against the filing cabinets, a smug sense of satisfaction playing across her lips. The dame had done it again. Just when I thought I had everything figure out, she dropped a new thing in my lap to fixate on. 


She slipped over to my like wisps of smoke floating through a room, placing a gloved finger on my lips, slipping a piece of paper into my shirt pocket. And just like that, the crazy broad walked out of the door with that classic sway, like a pendulum. 

I opened the note and smiled before smacking my head.

It read “Club 0451”.

Fallen Aces Pigeon
Just like in real life, you can just pick up a pigeon. (Don’t do that).

Growing up, I loved Dick Tracy, and I still have the book from before I was born that collected “classic” stories. Novels like The Maltese Falcon were some of my favorites, and the hardboiled detective and the femme fatale were often my go to for creative writing exercises. Batman, The Shadow, The Rocketeer even, pulpy fiction in those types of dark metropolitan worlds were my bread and butter. I still have a deep love for it today, but there’s a lot of dated material and a lot of mistakes being carried out in attempts to retread the classics, without really trying to inject some life into the mix. 

Ironically, imsims are a similar genre I grew up with loving at the same time that I developed a love for shooters. Having access to a computer from an early age in the period in which computer gaming really started to take off gave me the ability to enjoy classics like Doom and Wolfenstein 3D (albeit with my mother worriedly concerned they were too violent), which then helped fuel a love of immersive games like System Shock and Deus Ex when they released, as well as Thief. I found these games fascinating because they never seemed to appear on any other platform but PC for quite a long time. And perhaps like hardboiled/noir stories, imsims were cult projects, popular with small but not wide groups of players.

Fallen Aces Rat
Uhm… Cheesed to meet you?

I’m not going so far as to say that Fallen Aces is solving the either genre’s problems. What I am saying is that Fallen Aces is made by people who love the aesthetic and narrative genre and have an understanding of how to translate that into the gameplay genre in a way that marries the two in the best possible way. The exploratory and slightly cartoonish world of Fallen Aces helps it to tell a story, and leaning into the aesthetics and colors brings the world to life as well as making the game swallow you up. 

The voice acting goes a long way to helping also; the cast does a fantastic job of bringing the right vibe to the game. River Kanoff’s work on Mike evokes both hardboiled detectives and snarky Duke Nukem, and special gratitude has to be paid to Gianni Matragrano for voicing the the hordes of goons you fight in the world; the various dialogues and quips from them are what give Fallen Aces that goofy but not overly silly vibe the game needs. I often found myself taking my time when I saw groups of enemies  in the event they had little dialogues, and I was often rewarded with something entertaining to listen to that also fleshed out the world or gave me a hint about a secret or objective in the game. 

Early Access: An Opinion

This was actually my second run at the first stage to get every possible secret. I’m still wondering if there’s more that aren’t noted, so I’m going back, again.

A bit of a side-track before wrapping up: Early Access on Steam is a fairly divisive topic, and for good reason. Many games released in Early Access still charge full price and then either don’t deliver or excuse massive changes as being caused by the unfinished development of the game not turning out as “expected”. In a lot of cases, I hesitate often to recommend Early Access games myself, regardless of publisher. The idea that you are paying for a game you may never see the rest of for an undetermined amount of time is not appealing. And to be clear, New Blood Interactive are one of my favorite publishers. If you let me talk to you about Ultrakill, it is liable to be all I am going to talk to you about for an entire day. Faith is one of my favorite horror games of the last decade, and Gloomwood is another imsim that rules exceptionally hard. That doesn’t change my opinion that I often do not like to recommend Early Access. So why am I doing so for Fallen Aces? Because I think the game you get right now for the price they’re asking (12.99 when not on discount) is an astounding value for a polished and fun game. The first main chapter comprises of 5 stages and I’ve spent over double that many hours with the game and expect to keep doing so. There are many 40, 50, or 70 dollar games that I don’t think I could do that with, nor that would keep my attention the way that Fallen Aces has, meaning that even if delays stopped the next chapter from coming out for quite a while, I’ve still gotten far above my “worth” in investing in the game, with the promise I’ll get more later. So if the Early Access tag makes you wary, you aren’t wrong for waiting, but I think it’s worth trying it out if you find the game exciting. 

Aces and Eights Out of Tens

I close my laptop and stare at the clock: 6 am, my old friend. I take another look at the note. After waiting a moment, I pull out my phone, and punch in the combination.

“Hey oomfie. Done already then? See you soon queen,” I hear with that teasing lilt. 

Crazy broad, that Marcille. But sleep can wait, and I could use an eighth cup of coffee.

Fallen Aces Exit Text
A bit of fun nostalgia: quit menus that call you out for quitting the game.

In it’s current state, Fallen Aces is an amazing time. It’s one of the most fun games I’ve played in quite a while, and I’ve spent most of my free time since it released playing through it, and knew immediately I’d need to review it. It isn’t perfect, mostly by the fact that the entire game is not out right now, but that’s a small thing to knock the game for in terms of quality. I’m looking forward to seeing where the rest of the story goes and what sorts of characters pop up in the remaining chapters of the story, and I can’t wait to see what new levels and puzzles I’m offered to play with in the ensuing chapters. Something else I really enjoyed was that level length felt just right, even in the larger ones. I never felt like I was slogging through a level for the sake of padding; my playtime on many levels was mostly from my own experimentation and pacing, rather than the game feeling like it needed me to just “play” empty areas. 

Fallen Aces is a really easy recommend if you like atmospheric action games and enjoy the vibe and setting the game presents. If you’re not a huge fan of first person games, I don’t think that there’s much here that is going to change that, but if you have any fond memories of FPS games and imsims, you’ll find Fallen Aces is a must add to your library. 

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