This is one of those times when an idea proved too good to leave behind. I remember seeing this game for the first time when it was a greenlight title, and the idea of playing, not the hero in the armor, but an AI running the armor itself was unique and too interesting to not support it. So when the game dropped, I was eager to see what it was going to reveal. Admittedly, I waited for it to be on sale since my backlog was big enough as it was and the game was already selling as part one of a trilogy. I was tired of every game under the sun assuming it was getting a sequel like that. Still, I picked it up in a sale, and when it came up in my selections for the next game to take on during the #100daysofgaming for Extra Life, I jumped at it. After finishing the game, well… let’s talk about that.
Story: You fell…. literally from space. A drop execution was made to place you on the surface of this world. And while it wasn’t a particularly rough landing, something has gone wrong. You see, you are not the human who was sent here on a mission, but the military armor protecting that pilot, and they are unresponsive. To make matters worse, you have no knowledge of the mission you are on and your vital signs monitor is broken, leaving you with no clear picture of why you are here or the condition of your pilot.
With little but questions and the urgency to ensure your pilot gets the medical care they most likely need, you pick yourself up and begin to explore, looking for a way to answer both questions.
From this starting point you will guide ARID (the AI of the suit) as she explores the immediate world around her to find a medical facility and to accomplish the various objectives that will be placed in her way to do so, most of the time on threat of dismantlement with no regard to the human being she carries who would be dismantled with her.
This will be a fairly straight forward story on the surface, but only there, for details will suggest more going on then meets the eye, and even that surface story is written from a very appropriately mechanical standpoint, placing you to think like your AI avatar, and just adding an additional layer of interest to the writing in doing so.
But that is not to say that everything is perfect here. Over the years, we have watched a lot of titles choose not to end their story for the promise of being able to push out a sequel, literally ending with the dreaded words: To Be Continued. Hell, at least two of my favorite series did this to me, leaving me to wait 5 years or more to see what happens next after a horrifyingly brutal cliffhanger ending. This game is not quite that cruel as both the ending could be left at a simple (if unsatisfactory) end the game shows you before displaying those words on the screen and as I write this, the next game is scheduled to release early next year. But this is a rather cliché tactic I have seen way too often in the hopes of getting three games instead of being glad to write one. Thankfully in recent years that fad has died off a bit more, but… yeah, I have to take real issue with that.
Graphics: If I had to pick one word to describe the look of The Fall, it would be “dark” and meant in many ways. The world you will play in is physically dark, as much of it is done in a silhouette style giving the first places you visit a striking contrast, but leaving a lot of detail unseen. Later, the game remains dark, but more in tone as the world you wander is clearly abandoned and falling apart, often lit by your searchlight and local ambient light-sources like the glowing fungus or terminals in the station you will find yourself exploring. Yes there is often an element of “can’t see shit captain” going on, but the mood is carried through it too well for this to be upsetting.
And what you can’t see so well in the environment is immediately offset by what you can see in the characters. ARID, for example, has a bright glowing faceplate which will allow you to see the armor fairly well even in the worst lighting, while other characters are either in places lit well enough to see what was made or also have ways they light themselves up… with the exception of one, but I can’t explain them without giving away part of what you will discover. But don’t worry about running into a “can’t see shit, captain” scenario that actually matters. You will see what you need to no matter the lighting.
Sound: Like most atmospheric titles, this game relies on it’s audio side to set the mood as often as not. The music backing the game is fairly limited, however, sticking to background tones you will not remember much… until one of two things happen. Combat changes the tone, warning you of the danger you are in quite effectively, and will often be your first hint to be on your guard. This wont be music you remember long after the game is over either, but it does quicken just right to get you in the mood to fight for your digital survival.
But far more interesting are moments when the game goes dead silent for you in reaction to actions you made. To explain more would be to reduce the impact of the moment unfortunately, but that feeling of “what did I just do?” permeates the tone, even is at least one of the events seems less important considering the goal of ARID.
Sadly the sound effects are about as limited and not half as effective. Most of the sounds you will hear are your own clunky boots moving through whatever environment you are in and weapon fire, both of which feel fairly standard. Nothing you hear will in the actual environment does much for or against the foreboding and lonely tone this game sets up so well with the background and graphical choices it makes.
However, that is not to say you are always alone, either. There are a few characters here and there you will have to interact with to proceed in the game, and that’s where the audio of this game shines. ARID’s actress plays her roll brilliantly, sounding somewhere between an automaton (which she is supposed to be) and a personality getting exasperated at what she is being put through for the sake of someone she desperately wants to save, creating an interesting combination not seen in an artificial character in long time. Add to this the AI who clearly has pre-decided lines they are supposed to say, but figured out a long time ago that humans want to talk to something more “human” and learned to be that and a caretaker which is desperate to stick to it’s original programming, even as it clearly has deviated itself, and you have a main cast that is genuinely interesting in their own right.
Even the challenges put before you come with “pre-recorded” lines that often add a touch of much-needed black humor to the entire situation. To put it bluntly, your ears are in for a treat just because of how well thought out and executed ALL the voice acting in this game is.
Gameplay: The Fall is a side-scrolling title, but I would be hard pressed to consider much of it platforming. Rather, the game plays a lot more like a streamlined point-&-click game. You will wander around jumping to some places on rare occasion, but pointing is going to be your main way of interacting. Doing so causes a cone of light to shine in the direction you aim it with little square magnifying glass icons pointing out what you can interact with.
Hold the light on these long enough and they will highlight yellow and show you a description box to explain from ARID’s point of view and/or deliver a hint of what you can do with it. At this point, you can open a menu of three icons which will allow you to, interact with the item, network with it, or cancel out and not bother doing either. Your inventory is accessed as a set of icons that appear below the interact icon if highlighted, keeping this whole thing looking neat but everything easily accessible.
However, this is not necessarily a home run in ease of use, as in order to this you must hold the direction while selecting to open the window. If others play this game with a keyboard and mouse, feel free to let me know if it’s better that way, but on a controller it means hitting the right bumper while pushing the right stick where you want to go. This would not be so bad if for how shooting worked, and the fact that shooting is done with the right trigger, making it very easy to shoot instead of work with the menu.
When you do fire your weapon you will notice the cone of light disappears, replaced with a beam of red laser to point where you will shoot. In this mode, you have no other way to interact with anything until you switch back, an awkward act in itself as you have to press down on the very stick you were using to aim.
Thankfully, the game itself seems fully aware of these limitations, as you will never run into a point that makes you balance both modes, choosing instead to have moments of pure combat sprinkled in with the puzzles. And that combat is far from challenging. Almost all of it will involve you taking cover only to come out and fire when the enemy robots are not. It is a very simple aspect that occurs only a few times through your adventure. Most of the time you will be solving puzzles. And while most of those puzzles are fairly clever a few of them are severely obtuse and will leave you scratching your head for hours. This is one of those games where there is no shame getting a hint from a guide from time to time. You will probably need it.
Bugs: I can not claim to have run into a bug when playing this title. At most there were times I would see a small pause, but based on the written requirements this could have easily been the system I was using to play being underpowered on a per-CPU core level.
Overall: The Fall is a very interesting title, but definitely one that could be taken farther. The story is fairly direct and simple, but keeps it’s feel and interest from beginning to end with everyone and everything feeling just “right.” But it is also incomplete, ending with a “To Be Continued” screen as we wait for a part two that while guaranteed now, was not at launch. The mechanics work well enough for the game itself, but they are a lot more awkward to to switch modes then is necessary, slowing the game down a bit artificially. And the puzzles run the gamut of easy to classic Sierra-game level hard and obscure.
Really the only thing here without compromise is the performance of our voice actors, but at the same time, they really bring this game to life in their own right, adding amazing atmosphere and feel to the experience. Without them, this would be a really cool idea with a mixed bag of execution, but they will hold your interest and keep you glued to the plot.
If you are into atmospheric titles and not afraid of a little awkwardness or a lot of challenge in the puzzles you will face, this is definitely a title to check out. But if you are looking for your action fix, walk away now.
Source’s Listed System Requirements:
- 2.5 GHz dual core processor
- 3 GB RAM
- Geforce 8600 with 256 MB VRAM
- Windows XP SP3
- AMD Athlon 5350 APU 2.05 GHz
- 8 GB RAM
- Radeon R3 (512MB VRAM minimum)
- Windows 10