Space Paranoid Androids
When Limbo came out in 2010, it enveloped you in its dark, murky world immediately when you booted the game up. The tone was immediately apparent as you started to run through the foreboding landscape; once that Giant Spider starts chasing you that foreboding turns into a full-on nightmare. Very few games are as good at establishing an overall sense of your experience to come as Limbo, but The Fall may be a part of that selective list. The game garnered widespread praise for its narrative accomplishments however I never got around to playing through it. With the release on Switch coinciding with the simultaneous release of its sequel, The Fall Part 2, I jumped at the chance to finally see what I’ve been missing. Boy, was I missing a LOT.
The Fall starts with a man in a suit of powered armor falling out of orbit and crash landing into a mysterious facility on an unknown planet. The player assumes control of the suit’s AI A.R.I.D. As the AI your primary goal is to find medical attention for the pilot inside your suit and figure out where you’ve landed. The facility itself is very chilling with hostile robots, wacky AI personalities that annoy A.R.I.D., The Fall immediately brings Limbo and The Swapper to mind in terms of perspective, but it plays a bit more like a point-and-click adventure. You will solve a whole lot of puzzles by picking up objects and talk with many robots about servitude and other deep stuff, but you may be surprised to hear that The Fall has a good amount of combat encounters as well.
The combat is mostly a barebones affair but is serviceable in ramping up the tension towards certain story beats. You can take cover next to certain objects and do some ol’ fashioned cover-based shooting, your enemies will do the same so shootouts can get a little hairy sometimes. Unfortunately, the excitement of these shootouts is nullified by an earlier game upgrade that lets you disappear into the background and avoid all enemy fire. The gunplay isn’t too robust and can kind of feels like an afterthought in the context of what you do for the rest of the game. When the game decides to throw multiple enemies at you it feels like a frustrating obstacle keeping you from moving on to the next story section. Thankfully these sections are mostly brief and didn’t make me feel like it detracted from the rest of the experience.
Limbo With Robots, How Low Can You Go?
The atmosphere in The Fall is laid on thick. This whole game is sparsely lit, you won’t be able to see much without your flashlight and each room feels claustrophobic and dirty. You see the constant glow from the helmet on A.R.I.D’s battle suit and it looks fantastic juxtaposed against these dark backgrounds. Levels are separated by using elevators to move throughout the facility, most of your objectives have the end goal of making an elevator accessible through various contrived means.
But even though that sounds like a deconstruction to its most basic progression, the writing in The Fall really is where this game shines. A.R.I.D. has a singular focus-protecting the pilot inside her-and will do anything to ensure his safety. This makes her unwilling to deal with any nonsense from other AI that direct her in specific ways, even though some are trying to help her get the pilot medical attention.
A.R.I.D’s singular focus often alienates the allies she makes and can even prevent the player from approaching a puzzle in a certain fashion. Normally when a game withholds a possibility from the player I would be frustrated, but with The Fall I found this to be a fantastic way to build A.R.I.D’s character. It made me understand why her allies felt annoyed and the game conveyed this in a way that I did not think I would find favorable. Conversely, there are also forces working against A.R.I.D. in the form of the “Caretaker” AI. The Caretaker interrogates A.R.I.D. near the start of the game and finds her programming faulty. For the rest of the game, the Caretaker will stalk the player and try to shut A.R.I.D. for going out of purpose since her pilot cannot verify her primary function. This moment near the beginning of the game also shows the player how they will get more abilities. When the pilot’s life is in danger a fail-safe in the suit activates allowing the player to counter the same obstacle later in the game.
The one gripe left for me with The Fall was the difficulty in identifying objects that can be interacted with. The game’s dark palate obfuscates certain key items and most puzzles require the player to find those. My best recommendation would be to keep the flashlight on and constantly search high and low to find interactables.
Other than those impediments, this game is one of the strongest storytelling experiences that takes a short amount of time to finish. The writing is absolute aces and doesn’t feel like a banal sci-fi tale that you can find anywhere else. The non-human characters express emotion through flat, robotic speech and have distinct morality behind their actions. Every character feels relatable in some way, despite the absence of lengthy inner monologues that feel forced in other games. The Fall has one of the best stories I’ve played all year and I really cannot wait to dive into Part 2.
Final Verdict: 4/5
Available on: Xbox One, PC, PS4, OS X, Linux, Wii U, Switch (Reviewed); Publisher: Over the Moon Games; Developer: Over the Moon Games; Players: 1 ; Released: May 10th, 2018; ESRB: T for Teen ; MSRP: $6.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a Switch review copy of The Fall given to HeyPoorPlayer by the publisher.