9 weeks into the #52Games52Weeks challenge and Sean plays atmospheric puzzler The Fall on PS4;
After reviewing 2 freshly released and very interesting games over the past 2 weeks (sandwiching my first ever 10/10 review score in-between), I turned my attention back to my ever-growing “pile of shame”. And at the top of that pile? The Fall from Over The Moon Games.
The Fall is a *large intake of breath* sci-fi side-scrolling action/adventure puzzle platformer with a strong and unique plot *Phew*. So, basically, my kind of game. You play as A.R.I.D. (short for Autonomous Robotic Interface Device), an Artificial Intelligence on-board a Mark-7 Combat Suit. When the suit and its human passenger – Col. Josephs – fall from space and crash-land on an unknown planet, ARID is activated to assess the damage. With no response from Col. Josephs, no information on her location and the suit’s health monitoring system malfunctioning, ARID is afforded control of the suits motor functions and given the prime directive to seek medical attention for her incapacitated pilot.
“The story-line in The Fall is an interesting and unique one because it deals in logic and in particular, contrasting logics”
The plot of The Fall is almost entirely portrayed through the dialogue between ARID and the only other 3 characters in the game, all of whom are also Artificial Intelligence. You see, the nearest medical facility that could help Col. Josephs is located in a presumably abandoned droid re-purposing facility that was used to determine whether outmoded droid AI’s can be recycled or need to be “de-purposed” (sic. Destroyed). Even though this facility is devoid of human life, 2 AI’s remain in-tact and are still following their prime directives – to run the facility and evaluate whether droids are faulty – which is often at odds with ARID’s quest to find medical aid for her pilot.
The story-line in The Fall is an interesting and unique one because it deals in logic and in particular, contrasting logics. The 3 main AI characters of the game – ARID, The Caretaker and The Administrator – all have different operating protocols, rules and programming. They all work to different sets of logic and perceive actions in differing ways. Early on in the game, The Caretaker (an AI droid that works at the facility) decides that ARID is faulty because she is unable to adequately demonstrate that she is performing her primary function and attempts to “de-purpose” her. At this point in the game, the logics of ARID (whose aim is to get Josephs to the medical bay) and The Caretaker (who’s only current purpose is to evaluate a droids effectiveness) are both “correct” but are entirely conflicting. Because Col. Josephs is unresponsive, The Caretaker has deemed ARID to be faulty and a failure of her prime directive and at the opposite end of the spectrum, ARID needs to get Col. Josephs to medical aid quickly and The Caretaker is preventing her from fulfilling her primary directive. It’s a story line the creeps up on you, showing you occasional flashes of its depth that lay seeds in your mind that then grow into pondering questions later. It’s also a plot that leaves it’s mark – it’s 3 days since I finished my second play through and I’m still turning over its events in my mind.
The puzzle’s in The Fall also follow this pattern of contrasting logics – for better and for worse. While some of its puzzle solutions are bordering on obtuse (turning a gold coin into a wire using nothing but a hammer being the most questionable) the vast majority of the games head-scratchers involve taking a situation and finding an alternative but logical solution. For example, during part of the game, ARID is being tested to see if she can be re-purposed as a domestic family droid in order to reach the medical facilities. She has to pass 8 tests, one of which is to completely clean a room without any cleaning implements so that a sensor cannot detect any dust. Now, this facility has been abandoned for a while and the room looked like Oasis had just had a post-gig after-party in there – it was wrecked. There’s no possible way that ARID could clean away the mess which in turn meant she is failing her prime directive – so she (see: we, the players) finds an alternative solution, one that follows her own logic and not the logic of the test. The Fall is a game that asks you to be unconventional, often requiring the simplest of solutions, sometimes doing things that fly against traditional puzzle game logic. It can be as frustrating as it is refreshing because of this. You constantly have to second guess yourself, looking for unorthodox solutions which required a little bit of trial and error on my part.
The obscurity of the puzzles isn’t helped by the games reluctant controls. ARID’s pistol has 2 modes – that of a standard firearm which is indicated by a red laser sight (more on this in a second) and the other, indicated by a flashlight from the barrel of the gun enables you to search and interact with objects and the environment. To use anything in The Fall, you have to point ARID’s flashlight at the desired object and press R1. This felt clunky, especially when coming out of fights and having to switch between the 2 pistol modes manually. This lead to me missing a vital puzzle piece on the first tread through an area on a few occasions.
The Fall’s combat then… What a surprise that was. At the start, it doesn’t feel like a game where you are going to be doing much battling, even though you are pointing your firearm at everything and everything just to progress. Then it happens – enemies spawn. The Fall does a lot to build tension, leveraging ghostly silhouettes in the background but the robotic enemies that stand in your path are adequately geared to bumping that up a notch. Featuring a rudimentary cover system and foes that hit hard and can take a beating, the combat in The Fall feels anything but tacked on and inspires some of the more nervous moments in the game. I was surprised by how well it integrated with a genre that’s not renown for getting this right very often – at least not in the past 10 years or so. The Fall gets it right. It’s edgy and punishing should you get your fingers in a twist.
Visually, The Fall is incredibly atmospheric and could be described as having similarities to Limbo or The Swapper. Its use of shadowy, skulking silhouettes in the background and the general dark, broody aesthetic give it a lonely, uncomfortable, isolating feeling – like crawling around in an attic in the dark, trying to avoid spider webs. It’s a creepy theme that runs throughout the game – even when it’s at its peak sci-fi, it still looks rusty and dilapidated. The only complaint I have about the visuals is that the cover positions, which can be essential to survival during certain portions of the game, can fade into the background making the combat that little bit more difficult.
STORY SPOILERS AHEAD – TURN BACK NOW IF YOU HAVN’T PLAYED THE GAME
That plot twist. Even though it was foreshadowed very early on in the game, it’s a moment that still hits like a sledgehammer to the chest. There is no Col. Josephs. There never was. It was all self-preservation and it’s ARID that’s faulty, not The Caretaker or The Administrator, both of which were obeying their programming and interpretation of the rules. It’s a twist that has an incredible impact because it’s the player that solves the puzzles, that subverts the rules, that uses shaky and flawed logic to bypass the obstacles. We, the players, break ARID. We solve the puzzles in a way that doesn’t follow the literal meaning of her directives. Of course, the game doesn’t give you the chance to follow the literal rules – but let’s face it, cheating our way through the tests of Domesticon’s run-down facility was much more fun than cleaning up a room and preparing a meal for a child.
“After finishing the game for the first time, I decided to replay The Fall again immediately – and it’s all there. Every conversation. Every puzzle solution. It misrepresents reality and subverts the rules.”
The thing is, it was so easy to believe that the other characters in the game were the ones that were malfunctioning. The dead bodies. The crucifixes. The fact that the facility looked like something out of your worst nightmares. Everything from the vocals to the art style of The Administrator and The Caretaker screamed “We’re broken” – and it was believable – and maybe they were. ARID, on the other hand, is high-end military gear. She’s new. She’s us – the player – and how can we be wrong? How can we be malfunctioning?
After finishing the game for the first time, I decided to replay The Fall again immediately – and it’s all there. Every conversation. Every puzzle solution. It misrepresents reality and subverts the rules. “Nothing binds us”. We did what was best for ARID, not what was best for Col. Josephs. “Nothing binds us”.
The Fall is part 1 of a series and it’s a game that has left a mark on me. I can only hope that the series continues with the high quality visuals, voice over and game play on display here and that Part 2 eventually comes to PS4.
The Fall was reviewed as part of Sean’s quest to play and complete 52 games in a year and to write something, nay, *anything* insightful about each one AKA the #52Games52Weeks challenge. You can catch up on his progress so far by visiting the links below: