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The Fall Review

The Fall is another game in the growing list of Kickstarter darlings released in 2014.  Set in a future where humanity has become largely reliant on AI assistance in day-to-day life, players assume the role of an AI suit, attempting to save the critically wounded human within them.  Landing on a strange planet, players explore a 2D plane, discovering items and interacting with objects to puzzle their way through the game’s deep and dark mystery.  In between these point-and-click puzzles, players will also encounter cover-based shooting sequences as the lead character, an AI named Arid, attempts to save her human’s life.

Before jumping into The Fall’s mechanics, one must point out the aesthetic of the game, which drenches the screen in darkness, making players rely on a flashlight to explore their environment.  Using 3D characters in a 2D environment, The Fall does a fantastic job animating its characters to be life-like while still keeping the game in an easy to explore 2D world.  Using stereotypical sci-fi industrial facilities as a setting, it could be easy for the environments of The Fall to look recycled and reused, or to get dull quickly.  But the game adds little touches of detail here and there to spruce up each area.  Crosses bearing dead humans, and piles of discarded robotic remains are perfect examples of the way Over the Moon Studios adds flavor to different sections of the game you explore.  The use of art is striking, and pointed, the consistent darkness means that objects and light stand out, drawing the eye and focusing your attention right where the developers want it.

For a game with a pretty simple premise – find objects to unlock areas – The Fall has a pretty complex control scheme.  Playing with an Xbox 360 controller on the PC, players must use one thumbstick to move left or right and a second thumbstick to aim the flashlight or weapon.  It is a bit unruly and aiming with the right stick can be a bit cumbersome, but the complexity doesn’t stop there.  When you spot an item, you can interact with it by holding the right bumper button, while holding the button you can also can use items in your inventory.  The game has such a slow pace that this control scheme never actively impedes your progress, but it does mean you are going to give your fingers quite the workout.

The puzzles are your pretty typical point-and-click affair.  Some are relatively easy and make sense, like using key cards or a severed hand on an ID pad to gain access to certain areas, others are a little more outside the box, but but there’s nothing too off the beaten path.  When all else fails, there are few enough objects in every room that you can usually progress through trial and error.  The harder part comes in actually trying to spot items you can pick up or interact with.  Because the game is so dark, you will need to shine your flashlight in specific spots in order to find items in the game.  Simply scanning over something with your flashlight isn’t good enough, you often have to focus on a specific spot for a moment or two before something will be made visible.  This means you’ll probably be combing over a few sections of the game, time and again, trying to find the one item or button you missed.  Sometimes you won’t be able to spot a specific item until you have completed one section of the puzzle, meaning you will have scour over places you have already been to in order to find what you are looking for.

While these puzzles start out organically, partway through the game you will find yourself in a domestic bot-testing facility, a section of the game which seems to be used to establish the relationship between humans and AI.  This part of the game makes the misstep by going on for bit too long and feels almost shoehorned in to bloat the already short (at about 3-6 hours) game.

The times spent training to be a domestic assistant especially stand out because The Fall’s point-and-click nature usually ties into the game world so well.  The game hinges on robot programming and oftentimes AI will discuss their directives and protocol limitations with each other.  These restrictions work as the perfect concept for limiting the players world.  The puzzles and interactions of the world are limited, much as they would be in the mind of an actual AI who is bound by their programming. There are other nice touches to reinforce this idea, the start menu reads like data, at times the screen freezes or tears as if suffering a glitch.  There is a lot of nuance used to tie the themes of The Fall into the overall package.

In between puzzles, The Fall has a few shooting sections to change up the pace.  Continuing with the button-heavy control scheme, players will have to use the left bumper button to get into cover – which can be a bit sticky – then use the right thumbstick to aim their weapon while popping out of cover.  Enemies deal out significant damage, so picking when to pop out and fire a couple shots is extremely important.  The game also varies the enemies a little bit to try and keep these encounters unique and some upgrades are earned through the story.  The shooting doesn’t feel particularly necessary or all that finely tuned, but it does break up the puzzles in an interesting way.

There’s not a lot of depth to the story and lore of The Fall.  There are documents to find and hints at what has occurred in the dilapidated facility you are exploring, but at no point does the game bog itself down with narrative details.  In fact, with the questions Over the Moon ask and the world they’ve built, the short play time of The Fall feels very appropriate.  The game isn’t forced to come up with continual twists and turns or pack itself with exposition heavy dialogue, instead it simply feeds you little nuggets of answers, hoping the kernels of information will keep you going, which they will.

The Fall doesn’t stand out in any one aspect of the game, its mechanics can be cumbersome, finding the right items can be frustrating, and the pacing lags at times.  If The Fall was an overly long game or tried to fulfill some ridiculous standard of playtime, it could have ended up being a real mess.  But thankfully Over the Moon has such a sharp and accurate view of the game they wanted to make, it never feels like The Fall is overstaying its welcome.  The blend of oppressing environment, interesting gameplay implementation, and narrative mystery make The Fall a game which remains consistently compelling, from its opening cinematic to its closing credits.  Thematically, the game uses striking visuals, creative flair, and rigid gameplay to submerge its players into a world where an AI follows its rigid protocols to try and save humanity, and it drives its point home in a conclusion which will leave you thinking long after you have turned off your PC.

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