The Fall is a combination of an adventure game crossed with a side-scrolling platformer but that description hardly does it justice. It is also very much a puzzler and a story driven narrative that explores several themes throughout the campaign, drawing on elements from science fiction. While it does certain things well it is definitely the plot that serves as the most important aspect and clearly the part of the game that developer Over the Moon Games put most of its effort into.
The story begins with a spaceship crashing on an unknown planet. The only obvious survivor is a man wearing a Mark-7 Combat Suit, an exoskeleton that is designed to protect and assist its user. With the pilot apparently severely injured and not responding the suit gives control of its functions to the Autonomous Robotic Interface Device (otherwise known as A.R.I.D.), an artificial intelligence that is programmed to get medical assistance for its host as quickly as possible as the combat suit malfunctions.
It’s this central premise the spurs on the entire plot and leads to some fantastic writing. It challenges the player to think about what they are doing, the consequences of A.R.I.D. slowly breaking her programming as she attempts to rescue the pilot trapped inside her and the fate of the various characters encountered. The Fall is certainly comparable with very good science fiction novels and short stories, providing a deep story with the right amount of emotional undertone. The other characters you will encounter are equally as fleshed out with the dialogue and paint contrasting pictures when compared with A.R.I.D.
There’s a strong emphasis on exploration and a feeling that you don’t have to rush on to your next objective or advance the story at a set rate. Instead, you can examine the world around you and make your own way through the game. This makes for a somewhat measured approach that really allows you to take into the atmosphere created by the developers and think about the events that have taken place. It also servers to build suspense effectively, creating an air of drama and that you really have something to lose.
The exploration and storytelling is broken up every now and again. The main way that The Fall does this is through combat and puzzles. Combat can feel fiddly at first but once you get used to the way the gameplay works it becomes much more fluid. You can use a simple cover system to avoid enemy fire while utilizing upgradable weapons to take out enemies by switching to the gun from the flashlight using a toggle system, although you can’t just go in all guns blazing thanks to the fact that shields and health reload at a snail’s pace.
Unfortunately, the puzzle aspect of the game does fall down somewhat compared to the narrative and combat. It’s here that The Fall seems more like a point and click adventure game of old, with the challenges mainly involving using one particular item on another in a certain order to achieve the desired outcome. This can lead to some frustrating moments, although for the most par the puzzles are not too difficult or obtuse. They are also easy to forgive thanks to the ideas behind them, with A.R.I.D. needing to trick the combat suit into powering up certain abilities by believing the pilot is in danger, forcing the A.I. to use unconventional methods to manipulate the suit’s programming.
According to the developers Limbo served as visual inspiration and that is clear from the very beginning. Many games have tried to capture the eerily dark silhouetted art style of that platformer but few have managed to pull off the minimalist look with any success. The Fall does a good job with the visual direction though, with the environment and dark brooding light making the perfect companion to the story while the light from the suit’s visor contrasts well to give a ray of hope. The audio is just as effective, with the soundtrack shifting with the plot to build tension and accompany the visuals. The dialogue too is well done and brings the characters to life in a way that subtitles simply can’t.
Ultimately, The Fall has several shortcomings that are easily overcome by the gripping plot and excellent atmosphere. It does something that many games with huge budgets all too often fail to do, tell an engaging and intelligent story that can excite or intrigue the player throughout. With two more entries already confirmed to be in the works, Over the Moon Games could be well on the way to creating one of the best indie trilogies ever made.
Over the Moon Games provided a copy of The Fall for review purposes. The game is currently available on the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 online stores priced at $9.99/£7.99.