The Fall is a Kickstarter funded, episodic (it has been announced as a trilogy), sci-fi puzzle game set in a bleak, Limbo styled world (with definite hints of Flashback thrown in for good measure) where players control the AI unit, ARID, as she attempts to save the human pilot within the combat suit that she now governs. Developer, Over the Moon, have crafted a deliberate throwback to the point and click adventures of old, but being the first in a three part story, does the game do enough to get gamers to fall for its charms? Well, despite some glaring issues, somehow it does, though perhaps only just…
Well, from the outset, The Fall certainly seems like a good buy, coming in at just £7.99 per episode, and wielding an austere science fiction story that makes its player question, above all else, what constitutes life, much like Alex Garland’s recent cinematic exploration of the topic, Ex Machina. Yet over the course of the two or three hours of gameplay that you’ll get out of it (though there is definitely scope for multiple playthroughs), its charms will wither, at least partially, leaving the experience as a whole feeling somewhat underwhelming thanks in no small part to fiddly controls, an awful combat system and more.
However, having said that, it is certainly worth bearing in mind that this is an indie title, developed by a very small team of dedicated personnel, yet the first aspect of the game that most will find to be substandard is the visual aesthetic. Looking slightly akin to Play Dead’s Limbo, the first area in particular utilises a stark black and white colour palette to induce an alien and hostile feeling environment, yet aside from its hazy backdrop, the art style crumbles under closer inspection to reveal some quite primitive models, and shoddy animations, yet somehow, on the whole, it never feels entirely ugly, it just lacks the cohesive, all-encompassing quality of art design that the likes of Limbo, Braid and the Monkey Island games have in abundance. And in truth, this is a good barometer for the rest of The Fall, it’s just a bit inconsistent to make a truly stand out title, but that’s not to say that it isn’t without its charms.
Of course, whilst The Fall may look somewhat like a platform-puzzle game, it is in actuality a nod to the classic point and click adventures of old, seeing players scour its levels searching for objects that they can interact with and items that can be collected to provide solutions elsewhere. Some of the puzzles, most of them really, are fairly straightforward, whilst others are far more obtuse, which is an issue that I have always had with the point and click genre, there should always be clear logic in play, yet this is seldom the case. Thankfully, this episode is short, so the time that you’ll spend wandering aimlessly will be relatively diminutive itself, and you most certainly will return for at least one more playthrough, a speed run to pick up some of those achievements/trophies that you will have missed out on, which is a definite positive for the game.
This opening episode begins with an uncontrolled descent that leads Colonel Josephs and his Mk. 7 combat suit onto this forsaken planet in the first place, and ARID to assume complete control over the combat suit. The narrative raises questions about obedience and how far we are willing to go to save those that we care about, a subject introduced almost immediately as the AI finds that the core suit systems that it needs to survive the hostile environment are offline, and the only way to circumnavigate the need for human authorisation to activate them, is to deliberately put the suit’s human occupant in harm’s way. This act itself is entirely contradictory to her prime directives, yet ultimately, proves to be the only way to enact them. Yet contradiction is most certainly the name of the game, for whilst ARID may be able to work around the rigidity of her own design, it is impossible for the player to do the same with the game, there is – as with essentially all puzzle based games – one solution to every problem, there is no flexibility, and no way to personalise the experience, though in all honesty, I can’t say that I expected otherwise.
Across the expanse of this first episode, players are asked to make choices, sacrifices to set in stone ARID’s transformation towards true intelligence, whilst simultaneously – and perhaps even contrarily - adhering to her strictly programmed code of conduct. Ultimately though, as each and every other form of AI within the game constantly berate her and define her as faulty, we discover the full extent of the false data upon which she has been acting which ensures that ARID’s journey is far from over. Personally, I was neither keen on the dialogue or the voice acting, yet clearly the team at Over the Moon are confident in their abilities to convey a worthwhile story, we’ll just need to wait and see how the next two episodes pan out, because for all of its faults, I’m still looking forward to seeing this tale concluded, to see what becomes of the intrepid AI as she quests for the basic acknowledgement of herself as a living being. For, as Arthur C. Clarke wrote in 2010: Odyssey 2 , “whether we based on carbon or silicon makes no fundamental difference; we should each be treated with appropriate respect”, and that is a most worthwhile goal indeed.