Steam sales are just the best, right? In fact, there are few things that I enjoy more than picking a random game that I’ve never heard of before, going in with absolutely no expectations whatsoever, and then proceeding to lock myself away for a weekend; keeping in mind that it’s cold and wet in Australia this time of year. The Fall was one of those games, and almost immediately, I knew I had discovered something special. Something that had to be written about.
Developed by independent studio, Over The Moon, The Fall is a game that was crowdfunded through Kickstarter. At a glance, it would be best described as a sci-fi adventure game, but that doesn’t really do it justice. There is an unusual combination of ideas at work, and I think the director says it best in his campaign video. Interactivity, atmosphere, and exploration were the three pillars he referred to while also sourcing his inspiration as coming from Super Metroid, The Monkey Island Series, as well as Limbo; all of which come together to create a unique experience unlike any other.
The game begins with ARID, a virtual intelligence integrated into an armoured combat suit, being activated when the human pilot inside the suit is rendered unconscious in a crash landing. With most of the suits functions inactive, and the pilot in critical condition, the AI must serve its primary function and find a way to get to a medical facility before it’s too late. In saying that, though, this is not a conventional tale about an AI who wants to exceed its programming to become more human. No, all ARID cares about is serving its purpose, and to the extent that it is also willing to manipulate protocols to gain access to the suits abilities; an action that should not be possible. Perhaps a fault, even?
A solid premise is important, but actually taking an idea and working it seamlessly into gameplay is one of the biggest challenges our industry faces. John Warner, the one man team behind this game, understood this hurdle, and, in my opinion, struck a near flawless balance in his storytelling method. From its compelling characters and well written dialogue, to the eerie environments and provocative sound design, The Fall delivers a powerful experience that will leave players with a lot to contemplate. In fact, for a story that steps beyond human motivation, I found myself heavily invested in ARID’s tale, and inspired by each of the characters that I encountered. This is not typical science fiction.
The greatest thing about The Fall is that, in many ways, it will feel familiar; which I suppose could be said of most games. However, it doesn’t take long to realise that it’s also like nothing you’ve ever played before, either. It controls like a platformer, feels like metroidvania, but most surprisingly, interacts with the player as if it were a point-and-click adventure game. It’s honestly one of the most unique and unusual blends of genres that I’ve ever experienced, and for all intents and purposes, it works very well. Of course, there are a few rough patches that need refinement, but the creative vision is clearer than anything, and there is absolutely nothing I enjoy in a game more than new experiences.
In most point-and-click adventure games, it feels as if the gameplay is primarily driven by item management, which, for the most part, has worked well in the past. The Fall, however, endeavours to step beyond that by allowing a lot more interaction with the environment. Item management still plays a large role, but so does the physicality of your presence, as well as your weapon; which provides an interesting variety in puzzle design. What I enjoyed most, though, was how well the puzzles were integrated into the narrative, as well as a bizarre approach that requires you to think outside the box. The only minor problem I encountered was with the point-of-interest detection as it was controlled the with the light of the gun; which works on an axis, and can sometimes make it easy to overlook things.
The gameplay in The Fall primarily revolves around exploration and tactical gunplay; neither of which dominate the experience. For the most part, the platforming is simplistic, but effective. You don’t have to guess to find your way, and while there are secrets to discover, it doesn’t ever feel as if the environment is working against you. The gunplay is reasonably well implemented, with a tactical approach that controls quite well. You don’t have a lot of life, though, so taking cover or cloaking to avoid gunfire is imperative. As mentioned earlier, ARID is not afraid to manipulate its protocols to unlock abilities, so there is a level of progression, albeit not one that the player can personally customise.
My only major concern with the gameplay is not in its mechanics, but rather the control scheme. Whether I was playing with a keyboard and mouse, or a 360 controller, it simply felt awkward most of the time. Fortunately, being slower paced with a tactical approach to gunplay, I was able to work my way through the game just fine, but in saying that, the option to define your own layout could have resolved that problem. I appreciate that this is the first time point-and-click and shooting mechanics have been combined in this manner, though, so I also anticipate that it could take a little trial and error to find the perfect way to play. In no way does it impede the overall experience, and, just like with all new things, it mostly takes practise and a little patience. It’s still a lot of fun to play, which is most important.
While being inspired by the ominous visuals of Limbo, The Fall, in my opinion, manages to capture that tone, but in its own unique way. The limited colour palette works well to define the darker characteristics of the world, but without ever falling into the utterly depressing. It’s quite stunning, actually, albeit a little repetitive at times. The visual design also makes full use of a retro-styled command prompt interface, which suits the AI theme especially well; without ever feeling cheap. There is a discrete lack of music in The Fall, which works to the game’s advantage; with the developer choosing to convey the finer points of the narrative with an intricate variety of sounds. It’s the voice acting that truly shines, though; with each character delivering a genuinely emotional performance. I honestly can’t praise this enough.
I went in with no expectations, but from a brief glimpse, I never expected to step into such a realised and interesting universe, nor did I expect to have my morals challenged in the process. ARID and her counterparts are surprisingly genuine, as well as supported by fantastic voice performances. This is not your typical android science fiction story, and the end result is utterly compelling. The unique blend of genres works incredibly well, without ever feeling as if it’s ever imitating the creator’s source of inspiration. There is an excellent balance between player exploration and tactical shooting; both of which are fueled by creative puzzles that think outside the box. There are still a few rough edges to iron out, but as this is the first game in a trilogy, I think an incredible foundation has been laid. The conclusion, will, without a doubt, have you on the edge of your seat. If you only buy one game this steam sale, make sure it’s The Fall.
Please Note: This review was based on the PC version of the game, and provided to us by the developer for the purpose of review.