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SummaryDoes not compute
The Good* Strong atmosphere
* Compelling, thought-provoking storyline
* Great ambient music and decent voice acting
The Bad* Terrible combat system
* Mediocre platforming
* Poor puzzle design
The Bottom LineThe Fall is a 2D platform adventure game. Largely a one-man effort from Canadian developer Over the Moon Games, this is the developer’s debut title and the first in a trilogy of story-driven games. Taking elements from Flashback, Metroid, and Monkey Island alike, this mix of genres attempts to tell an ambitious sci-fi story about artificial intelligence in a grim future. However, for as much as it succeeds, it gets a lot of things very wrong.
The Fall is set in the far future on an unknown planet. In the game’s intro, Colonel Joseph Simmons, a space marine, becomes unconscious and crash-lands on an unknown alien planet. However, you the player aren’t controlling Simmons, but rather the AI of the suit: Autonomous Robotic Interface Device, or ARID for short. One of ARID’s primary functions is to protect the unconscious pilot. With no choice but to seek help, she sets out to explore and find medical help for the pilot inside of the suit.
As most of ARID’s functions have been disabled due to safety reasons, the only way to activate them is to put herself, and Simmons, in mortal danger. In doing so, however, she ends up bending her parameters and adapting in order to help Simmons, and this leads to the game’s main ethical questions: How far should the “limitations” on artificial intelligence be placed? To what extent should an AI be able to adapt in order to follow certain rules? Should an AI be accepted as a machine or as a life of its own? These questions eventually lead to a satisfying, excellent twist ending that will almost certainly have you wanting to play this game’s sequel, despite the game’s numerous problems.
The Fall has a terrific presentation, running on Unity and using a mixure of 3D characters with 2D backgrounds to create a very pleasing look. The environments are often dark with minimalistic lighting and jagged, angular designs. Dust particles and spores often fill the rooms, lending you to speculate on what must have taken place in the facility. The background textures are just detailed enough to give you a sense of what the facility looks like, yet are largely bathed in shadow, creating an unsettling effect reminiscent of Playdead’s classic cinematic platformers.
Similarly, the game’s dark, ambient soundscape contributes greatly to the atmosphere. At one point, the game’s soundtrack sent chills down my spine even though nothing was actually happening. The game’s music picks up considerably during combat situations, and its here where the sound design is slightly unimpressive. The sounds seem to be pulled straight out of generic sci-fi sound libraries. Thankfully, the voice acting is more than good enough to round out the package.
It’s good that The Fall has such a strong story and atmosphere, as it is severely lacking in the gameplay department. During standard gameplay, you’ll explore the planet and abandoned facility by running, jumping, and climbing up ledges in a platformer-like fashion. However, the game is really a point-and-click adventure at its core. Your right analog stick shines the flashlight from the combat suit’s gun over objects in the environment. Mousing over them gives you more information about your surroundings. Pressing the A button brings up a menu where you can choose to use any inventory items on the selected object. Other puzzles will require you to be standing near various objects in order to use items nearby. The game leans much more into the adventure elements, as there isn’t too much in the way of platforming to be found here, and what little there is is marred by questionable controls and wonky physics.
The puzzles themselves are often designed to where there’s only one particular way to progress through the entire game. Generally, there’s one item you need to use on another to continue, and you can spend minutes at a time clicking and combining everything until you find what you have to do in order to continue. This is pretty typical for most adventure games, but there are two aspects which make this even worse than it already is. First, interactive items are largely bathed in shadow and only highlight when moused over them, meaning that you can easily miss important items despite combing over an area repeatedly. It doesn’t help that items which should be able to be highlighted don’t become so until after you solve earlier puzzles, which is a terrible way of doing adventure game design. Combined with the excessive backtracking in the game’s back half, and what you have is a thrilling tale dragged down repeatedly by disappointing puzzle design.
The worst part of the package is the game’s combat system. The game attempts to deliver something resembling a cover-shooter in 2D, with ARID able to take cover near various metal boxes and concrete pillars while enemy droids shoot at the suit. However, the cover system is very flaky, and half of the time you’ll end up blending into the wall, which is equally effective but just as clunky to use. Initially, your gun is slow to fire, and requires you to hold the trigger down for a second. You do eventually get an upgrade which allows you to fire off shots rapidly. It is also possible to “stealth-kill” enemies by sneaking up behind them when they aren’t looking and pressing the Y button, though this is rarely effective in areas where multiple enemies have spqwned. The combat isn’t actually difficult, but it just doesn’t feel very satisfying or enjoyable to play. It felt like I was fighting the controls more than the enemies. Given the long tradition of games this draws from having respectable to great combat, it’s disappointing that The Fall simply doesn’t get this aspect right.
Much like Red Dead Redemption 2, in The Fall we have a case of everything about a game being good to great, except for the gameplay. So I have to ask myself, are the creative elements enough to override the lacking quality of the mechanical ones? I unfortunately have to answer this question with a no. The story is strong but even it cannot completely overcome the frustrations and unpolished feel of the game’s puzzles, platforming, and especially combat. It's a good thing this game is so short, as dragging out this gameplay for even longer would be incredibly exhausting. Its a shame, as I still feel that there’s a whole lot of untapped potential in combining the genres of platforming and point-and-click adventure, yet this attempt still falls short of the mark.