In this week’s Breaking Down the Backlog; I fought against the system with all my might just to try to save someone.
The Fall is an odd game. All I knew was that it won Giant Bomb’s Best Story of 2014 but I was totally unaware what kind of game it was. Well after playing it, I can completely understand why The Fall won that award, I just wish that the game-play reflected it’s other qualities.
That isn’t to say that playing The Fall was a chore, it just wasn’t especially interesting. The game is a glorified Point-and-click adventure with some stiff combat to liven things up somewhat. Using the torch on your gun, you examine certain points whereby some text will pop up describing what you are looking at and then you attempt to interact with it, sometimes with an item you have previously picked up or just yourself. This then leads to more puzzles, some dialogue or a combat scenario. And when I say that the combat is stiff, I mean it. You can’t take many hits, so you have to hide in cover and time your shots after the robotic enemies have finished shooting. The going in and out of cover feels very analogue and unnatural since you have to press so many buttons to aim, go into cover and pop out again. It kind of reminded me of earlier Metal Gear Solid games with its overly complicated button layout. Unlike those games though, it never felt comfortable. There are a couple of cool things you can do in combat, however, such as diving over cover when an enemy is on the opposite side instantly kills it and fully refills your health and shield. Basic stuff, but it was appreciated.
So the actual playing of The Fall isn’t the greatest. But everything else in the game is top-notch. You play as ARID, an artificially intelligent military suit that is programmed to save its pilot no matter the cost, who has crash landed into a decommissioned domestic robot factory with a charming A.I controlling it, a sinister caretaker robot, strange mushrooms and acidic Hive Slugs. As you can imagine, the atmosphere in The Fall is thick and sinister. There are crucified corpses, decaying strange robots and general detritus everywhere. The game is also fairly dark, with the only light sources being from equipment and your own glowing head. It is a stylistic choice that I feel covers up a lot of the graphical short-comings of the engine (reminiscent of The Swapper), but what is implied, coupled with the text boxes, really lets your imagination run wild. On top of all this, the music adds a lot to the atmosphere. It all sounds like an auto-tuned cat howling into a tunnel, but it really kept me unsettled right up until the end.
The real highlight is the story. ARID has to break her own logical rules in order to protect her pilot and him medical attention. However, she goes up against The Caretaker who believes her to be ‘deviant’ and does everything in it’s power to stop her. It is all sharply written and the various twists in the game, especially the one at the end, left an indelible impression on me. The Fall doesn’t ‘fall’ (excuse the pun) into the usual scientific robot trope of ‘Yo man, is smart A.I indistinguishable from human intelligence?’ It instead ops for something closer to Asimov’s ‘I, Robot’ as it explores what happens when a robot tries to go against its own programming. What really adds to the writing is a surprising undercurrent of dark humour. For example, in order to prove that ARID can be used as a Domestic Droid, she has to go through training. One of the situations is stopping a baby from crying. The system expects a lullaby to be sung but instead, because you don’t know the tune, you break a tube that sucks up unsuccessful applicants so that it hangs over the cot, then you deliberately fail another one of the tests so that it sucks up the baby. The system then registers this as a success because you have, technically, stopped the baby from crying. That is just one example, but the game is littered with more. It left me both shocked and impressed that the game would attempt such an interesting tone.
So The Fall is yet another game that has a fairly rotten core, but everything around it is impeccable. The writing, the functional graphics and the atmosphere really combine to make a profoundly unique game, even in a world filled with atmospheric indie puzzle games (your Limbos, Braids, Swappers etc). Something I wish I knew coming into this game was that it was just the first ‘part’ to a game. The Fall is very short and ends abruptly so I could see how people might feel ripped off as the ending could be implied as a massive cliff-hanger. However, I saw it as a great ending to a science fiction short story in a manner of speaking. I’m not exactly gagging for the second part, but I am certainly interested to see where the story goes.
Next time on Breaking Down the Backlog: A Wolf Among Us.