The Fall Review
A mysterious figure streaks across a starry sky, punching through the atmosphere of a dark and foreboding planet. It’s a stunningly cinematic moment, and caught me completely by surprise, but from the moment you start a new game, The Fall feels like it punches above its weight.
A side scrolling sci-fi adventure, it melds tense exploration of an alien world with devious puzzles and occasional action sequences, all tied together by a genuinely interesting and original story.
Players take on the role of ARID an artificial intelligence embedded in a combat suit, intended for use by a human pilot. As the game begins, ARID’s pilot is mortally wounded, and her systems are damaged. You don’t know where you are, having crash landed on an unknown planet, but you must do everything you can to keep your pilot alive. While I might otherwise criticize the choice to make ARID yet another sultry female-voiced AI, in this case I think it puts an intriguing, almost motherly, spin on the character’s unwavering dedication to protecting her pilot.
It’s not often that game stories examine AI personalities, but it’s surprising how few other games touch on a topic so intertwined with the computer technology that they’re based on. By raising questions about forced obedience and the legitimacy of artificial life, The Fall is a worthwhile, if short, addition to these efforts.
As with all good things, however, it doesn’t last. Time spent figuring out puzzles aside, the story motors along at a formidable pace and I don’t feel like I was ready for it to end as quickly as it did. It isn’t all bad though, as this is just the first game in a planned trilogy, so there’s more to look forward to…
The game focuses mainly on exploration, which makes for a refreshing change of pace when compared to other side scrollers. More importantly, it allows players room to breathe, there’s no relentless push to the next objective, and you can really soak up the atmosphere on offer. While the default running speed is adequate, I actually felt compelled to walk for much of the game, because I wanted to spend more time enjoying the sense of exploration and suspense.
It’s a shame that the story, as compelling as it may be, is told almost exclusively through dialogue. Given the strong atmosphere and fascinating setting, I would’ve loved to see more environmental story-telling.
Occasionally, The Fall dips it’s toes into the action platformer pool by throwing a handful of enemies your way. There’s a rudimentary cover system on offer, but the combat feels pretty clunky like a tacked on way of ratcheting up the tension. I felt did more to undermine the abandoned, creepy vibe than to enhance it. Fortunately, battles are few and far between so the damage done is minimal; so few and far between, in fact, that I didn’t die even once during multiple play throughs. I think most of the blame can be placed on the overly simplistic enemy AI, but when combat has no real danger, it’s reasonable to question whether or not it should be in the game at all.
In an interesting design decision, the exploration and combat modes of gameplay are separated by way of a toggle switch. When inspecting the world, ARID can use a broad torch beam to highlight interactive objects, but it switches to a laser targeting sight at the press of a button. You can’t examine anything with the sights active, and firing the weapon automatically switches the flashlight off. Fans of FPS games will no doubt have flashbacks to the horrors of Doom 3, but fortunately you’ll never find yourself needing to use the flashlight when enemies are around.
Graphically, The Fall looks great thanks to its brooding minimalism. The focus on silhouettes draws obvious comparisons to Limbo and the many games released afterwards that tried to ape its art style, but it’s done well enough here that I really can’t fault it.
The audio, too, is excellent throughout. The game is fully and ably voiced, with no noticeably flubbed dialogue. I was also very impressed with the soundtrack, which makes several dynamic changes based on location and fits well with the visuals.