Deck13 has been on a pretty solid run over the past nine or so years, with the likes of The Surge, The Surge 2 and, to a slightly lesser extent, Lords Of The Fallen, seeing the German studio serve up some satisfyingly crunchy AA action of the Soulslike variety.

While 2014's Lords of the Fallen was a valiant effort, it had a few too many issues to really stand out from the crowd, but the futuristic limb-chopping of The Surge series saw the developer take things to the next level, with two sci-fi efforts that remain amongst our favourite entries in the Soulslike genre. They borrowed just enough from the Souls games whilst introducing a fantastic dismemberment mechanic and superbly grotty atmosphere that made for some genuinely unique and enjoyable action.

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With Atlas Fallen, we see the studio set its sights higher still, embracing a lush semi-open world setting with action that's more akin to the likes of God of War and THQ's excellent Darksiders. It's a big jump from the tight corridors and small skirmishes of their previous efforts, but the mixing of tight platforming, clever Metroidvania elements, fun exploration and ferocious battles here make for a very good time indeed. Deck13 has made an ambitious leap with this one, and it's mostly paid off. Mostly.

Atlas Fallen sees players create their own nameless protagonist, your classic video game nobody, who happens upon a magical gauntlet allowing them to wield the powers of a god. From here they must set out to unravel the mysteries at the heart of the game's narrative whilst taking down an enemy who's been milking the world of its resources and enslaving the populous to serve its own ends. It's a tale that just about keeps you interested, but really the story is easily the weakest aspect of Atlas Fallen. Much like The Surge games, it's best to focus most of your attention on the core gameplay, as clunky writing, rubbish NPC chatter and mostly terrible voice-acting make for highly skippable conversations and underwhelming plot revelations.

Luckily for us that core gameplay delivers though, with the precise and slow-moving engagements of the studio's past titles swapped out for fast-paced and satisfyingly chunky action that sees you wield a gauntlet which can be modded with an almost endless array of "Essence Stones". Essence stones give you all manner of customisable powers to take into battle against the game's tough wraith enemies, great big beasts who roam the land and skies and require plenty of strategy and sweaty air-dodging to take down.

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As you attack wraiths you'll fill a big blue momentum meter, slowly unlocking access to whatever essence stone skills you happen to have equipped at the time. Bigger skills require you to hold off and fill up more of your meter, and so battles have a delightful risk and reward feel to them. You're constantly required to conserve your health stocks for when you need them most too, and these also refill as you cause damage to foes, meaning that all roads lead to getting stuck in rather than hanging back.

Luckily, our nameless protagonist has also gained a "Sandskin" ability via their gauntlet that allows you to parry all enemy attacks. Hit the left shoulder button just as the red flash indicates an incoming assault and you'll avoid any damage whilst causing your enemy to freeze slightly. Parry enough hits in quick succession and your foe will become rooted to the spot for a few seconds, giving you time to get stuck in, refill your health and momentum and cause plenty of damage to boot. You can also pull both triggers as soon as you've filled one bar of your momentum meter to pull off a screen-shaking shatter attack which causes big time damage and is essential to winning against larger foes and a handful of challenging bosses. Again, hold off on pulling the triggers and let your meter fill to its max and your shatter attack will be even more powerful.

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With great big hurricanes to call in against the wraiths, instant freeze attacks, airborne assaults that smash down and cause area of effect damage and all manner of passive abilities that tweak various aspects of your offensive and defensive capabilities, there's a whole lot going on here. And that's before we add in the ability to target individual areas of a wraith's body for extra booty, just like in The Surge. Yep, instead of going straight for the critical kill point on a foe, you can choose to focus attacks on claws, legs and other appendages in order to knock off glowing spots that reward you with materials and even new essence stones to add to your collection.

It all makes for action that we reckon is the best Deck13 has come up with thus far. Combat in Atlas Fallen is deeply addictive, it's clever, challenging and robust enough that any sticking point can be overcome by jumping into your inventory and switching out your equipped essence stones, or swapping between your Dunecleaver, Sandwhip and Knuckledusters to find just the right balance for the challenge at hand. Pulling yourself to an enemy from range with your whip, air-dodging, picking your targets carefully, using smaller enemies to charge up your meter and then viciously assaulting the larger foes on the field of's very tasty stuff indeed.

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If we do have one small issue with the action, it's that we sometimes felt like locking on to smaller foes was a little tricky. You constantly need to switch your attention to lesser enemies to get your health and momentum back when facing a large foe, hence why bosses spawn so many of the little blighters, and sometimes flicking the left stick to swap between your locked targets just doesn't react quickly enough. It's not a huge issue, and it mostly comes as a result of fights being so busy with enemies that it's hard to cycle them all, but it's the one aspect of the excellent combat that lets things down and introduces a slightly clunky feel to proceedings at times.

Away from the game's combat, and whilst Atlas Fallen doesn't have a truly open world, the handful of areas that you do gain access to are big and busy enough that it rarely matters. These are thoroughly well-designed and often stunning-looking playgrounds, full of secrets to find, challenges to complete and engaging exploration and platforming in which to indulge. With your gauntlet giving you the power to raise entire platforms out of the ground - as well as treasure chests and anvils at which to rest and level up - there's always some new route or secret to find. Add in an air dodge that expands to give you lots of hang time and you've got a game that does a nice job in balancing its sweaty action with extended periods of just blasting around and exploring your environs at your leisure.

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Of course, one of the big talking points of Atlas Fallen's trailers was your protagonist's sexy sand-surfing ability, allowing you to glide gracefully across large swathes of land. However, this has actually ended up being our third real bugbear with the game. It just isn't fleshed out or incorporated into the action fully enough. Whilst gliding across open expanses it's fine, but we'd have loved to see sand-surfing fused with the combat more and maybe even opened up to allow for tricks and skills that incorporate moving from air to ground and back again in order to imbue traversal with a little more style and flair.

However, away from the lacklustre story, slightly clunky target-locking and under-utilised sand-surfing, what Deck13 has come up with here is a thoroughly charming and properly challenging action adventure that we've absolutely enjoyed our time with. There's some super solid combat and platforming at the heart of this one and we'd love to see a sequel that takes things a step further in terms of giving us a fully open world and incorporating sand-surfing more seamlessly into its combat.

It's also worth pointing out that this is a game that doesn't outstay its welcome if you're sticking to the critical path. There's very little bloat here beyond some bland side missions, and you can easily see the whole thing through in around about 20 hours. This is a figure which can roughly be doubled for those amongst you who like to hoover up every side activity and collectible, but it really does feel like a godsend in this era of enormously bloated AAA adventures to have something so manageable come along.

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Finally, and in terms of the game's performance, we played through the campaign on Series X in a mix of quality and performance modes, and whilst both are perfectly smooth, the boosted framerate of performance makes it an absolute no-brainer. The fast action just feels far better in this mode and in terms of visuals it's really hard to notice any huge difference between the two.


Atlas Fallen sees Deck13 make a mostly successful leap to a bright and bold semi-open world that's jam-packed full of excellent combat and some surprisingly slick platforming action. Yes the story is bland, the voice-acting is poor, there are some lock-on niggles and sand-surfing needs work, but ferocious battles, tons of swappable skills and well-designed Metroidvania and platforming elements more than make up for most of the failings here. This is the studio's best game to date for our money, and if you've played The Surge series you'll know that's saying something.