The Fall, a Kickstarter-backed game that first released on Steam, has now made its way to the Nintendo Wii U. I strap on my powered suit, and go exploring to see whether this puzzle action game is worth playing. Come along!
The Fall has a very unusual protagonist: an AI in control of a space suit. The human inside the suit was injured in the fall to the planet surface, and the AI—A.R.I.D.—has to take control of the suit and find medical assistance for her human occupant. But she soon finds that the facility in which she finds herself is not as it seems, and that getting medical assistance may be harder than initially thought.
In practice, The Fall is a very clever puzzle game with one hell of a story—and I have to be clear here, the story is definitely the best thing about this game. It’s almost perfect narrative, tantalizing you with hints and speculations about the facility. Arid herself, of course, offers little in the way of speculation: she’s an AI, not programmed to muse on the maybes. I must doff my hat to the writers, because it truly has been artfully written.
The puzzles themselves can be fairly tricky, and will involve some amount of exploration, but thankfully it’s not on the same level of insanity as, say, Monkey Island, or on the same level of ill-logic as The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. For one thing, the biggest your inventory will ever get is about five or six items (thankfully). You also only have three potential actions to perform: look at something, interact with it, or if it’s a computer, interface with it. Oh, and sometimes, you can shoot things. It takes some trial and error to realise that you should “shoot this to make that go there and then pick this up and take it here”. It’s fairly standard adventure puzzle fare in that respect, but once you’ve passed an area by, you seldom have to revisit it extensively again.
The action sequences, on the other hand, feel a bit like a third arm sticking out from an otherwise perfectly proportioned body. There isn’t enough of it to make it feel completely like an action game, and it serves very little puzzle purpose. The game is 2D, and Arid’s hiding mechanism feels a lot like Hardboiled Chicken’s mechanic, except that that game was fully action oriented. Arid gains a gun early in the game, but beyond about four or five sections where robots are potting shots at her suit, it just fades into the background. I’m actually not sure it needed to be in the game, really, although I can understand some of its necessity from a narrative point of view. The fighting sequences also added something completely undesirable to the game: reloading after death, and the reloads can take a ridiculous amount of time.
Graphically, The Fall is pretty, but certainly not mind-blowingly beautiful. The graphics serve to tell Arid’s story, and provide some atmosphere (Ed: I believe the term you’re looking for is “functional”. Or maybe “Utilitarian”), and it does the job perfectly. It tries to be a bit spooky, too, but without really carrying through on the threat of creepiness. It’s not going to win awards, but it does what it needs to. Sound design felt a lot better, and the game is is dripping with atmosphere, sound-wise. What music there is mostly fades into the background (as it’s supposed to do), but it’s nothing that you will be humming soon.
My biggest, most painful gripe with the game is that it’s crazy short. You can conceivably finish the game in under three or four hours—less, if you know what you’re doing or are adept at solving puzzles (or are a filthy cheat and using a walkthrough. Trust me, the experience of the game is worth not using a walkthrough). And as things are getting really good, it ends, and it leaves you wanting answers. I understand that The Fall is the first of a trilogy of games, but of course, beyond the ending, there’s nothing more to indicate that.
Obviously, you have to play this. It’s an amazing story, and honestly, Arid’s predicament makes for a character you enjoy playing. You’ll definitely be wanting more after the game’s conclusion, and that can only be a good thing. Its length obviously stands against it, but it also feels like it didn’t outstay its welcome—something a lot a games can stand to learn a lesson from. The Fall is possibly the first game in a long time to make me cry out “No! I want to know what happens next!” at the end of it. And that, dear readers, is the game’s biggest disappointment.
Final Score: 8.5 Fallen Prawns out of 10
Developer: Over The Moon
Platform: Nintendo Wii U (reviewed), Steam
Age Rating: PEGI 12