Falling Skies: The Game Review
Reviewed on Sony PlayStation 3Also available on Microsoft Xbox 360, Nintendo Wii-U and PC
It’s not uncommon these days for a television series to get a video game adaptation, and it’s not uncommon for that adaptation to be subpar. Falling Skies: The Game, based on the American science-fiction show, is unsurprisingly faithful in following that trend. It’s an unenjoyable, bland experience which rips off XCOM: Enemy Unknown in almost every way – but still manages to seem ten years out of date. An impressively poor effort, it has few redeeming qualities and even fewer reasons for anyone to want to play it.
As with the television series, Falling Skies: The Game is set in the aftermath of an alien invasion of Earth. These aliens, known as the Espheni, have conquered the planet and eradicated most of the human population. Our heroes are a group of survivors who have formed a resistance movement to fight the Espheni and liberate Earth from their rule.
Fans of the show who already know this will be hoping for more narrative from Falling Skies: The Game, but will find themselves immensely disappointed. It has hardly anything to do with its source material, and only the occasional mission every few hours will remind you that there’s a story at all. A major character will pop up and say a few perfunctory lines of dialogue to move things along, but you’ll never learn anything about who they really are. They seem more like cardboard cut-outs than people, and you’ll be hard-pushed in the extreme to take any interest in them.
Between these story events, the game has you carry out a host of meaningless missions – usually to collect food or ammunition, or eliminate a group of Espheni forces. You command a squad of four to six people on a grid-based map, and take it in turns with your foes to carry out two actions with each person. You can move them, order them to take cover behind objects, shoot enemies, or use special abilities they’ve gained from levelling up.
If you’ve played XCOM: Enemy Unknown and this is starting to sound familiar, there’s a good reason: Falling Skies: The Game is practically identical to it. The mission gameplay is almost exactly the same in every way, right down to the shield icon showing where you can take cover. It makes no pretences about being a clone and it’s debatable whether that’s a good thing or not. On the one hand, its similarities to XCOM are the best thing about it; on the other, it does everything so much worse that it inevitably comes off second-best in the comparison.
Falling Skies: The Game suffers from several problems with its gameplay. For one thing, enemies remain hidden by fog of war and – particularly annoying when you’re supposed to be wiping them out – will wait to be discovered before they attack. The cursor which tells you where you’re moving your units can easily get lost. Many of the levels are too cluttered and this makes it difficult to see what’s going on, particularly given the awkward camera. It plays competently enough, but everything it does feels like three steps backwards from XCOM: Enemy Unknown.
The similarities don’t end there, either. Between missions you are returned to your base, where you can carry out research for new equipment and weapons, recruit new soldiers, and customise your squad. Once again, however, it’s all just a stripped-down version of what XCOM offers. For example, customising your squad members’ appearances just changes the colour of their clothes, skin and hair. There’s no way to grow and build your base in a meaningful way; there is only the illusion of choice.
Given that it has been two years since Enemy Unknown was released, you might at least expect that Falling Skies: The Game can trump it on visuals. You would be sorely mistaken. This is a game which would not have looked out of place on the PlayStation 2 – and, indeed, looks worse than a great many PlayStation 2 games. Characters are blocky and plastic, and they move unrealistically. There’s very little texture and the colours are universally dull, dominated by greys and dark greens. Levels tend to take place in such boring environments as warehouses or docks, or (if you’re really lucky) the occasional forest.
Nor does the sound make up for this, being equally as bad. The music is largely forgettable, but can drive you mad at times. When in the base, you’re forced to listen to the same four bars – sixteen notes total, a simple tune on the piano – played over and over again. And over. And over. And over and over, until you are sick to death of it and are desperate for a new mission just to make it stop. The voice acting, in the meantime, ranges from the adequate for main characters to atrocious for squad members. Most annoying of all is the one who pronounces “en route” as “enn rout-ay”, and shouts it out every time she moves – but this is far from being the only case of irritating dialogue. There are too many to list them all here, though.
Falling Skies: The Game does, at least, play as it is supposed to; there don’t appear to be any glitches, and you’ll probably enjoy the first few missions. After that, however, it rapidly wears thin. The graphics and sound are truly awful, the gameplay is unoriginal, and there’s no real story to speak of. If you’re not a fan of the television show on which it’s based, you’re better off playing XCOM: Enemy Unknown instead. And if you are a fan of the television show? You’re still better off playing XCOM: Enemy Unknown instead. Falling Skies: The Game adds nothing to the franchise from which it was spawned, and also falls short of the game from which it was cloned. As a result, it backs itself into a corner; it has no reason to exist, and provides no reason to make anyone play it.