For some reason, science fiction has never really interested me as a genre. I’m not sure why. Perhaps it’s a reflection of my pessimistic nature — I fully expect we’ll have killed each other out of pettiness or overpopulation long before space travel becomes a thing. Maybe that’s why, when I do decide to check out a sci-fi game, it’s usually of a dark or dystopian nature. Something that illustrates a potential danger if we don’t keep ourselves in check. I think that’s why the trailer for Over the Moon Games’ The Fall caught my attention.
In The Fall we take the role of the artificial intelligence program ARID (Autonomous Robotic Interface Device) after crashing on an unknown planet knocks her human “pilot” unconscious. ARID’s programing requires her to protect the pilot of the combat suit she inhabits, & thus she begins to search for a means to save them in the rundown factory they’ve mysteriously landed on while dealing with droids a bit too invested in following their programing to the letter. In the end, the player will find themselves questioning if the enemies are the ones who have gone crazy, or if ARID has.
The Fall is best described as a side-scrolling puzzle/adventure game with a touch of combat thrown in. For the majority of the game, you’ll be trying to find ways to overcome the next obstacle standing between ARID & the medical facility she’s ultimately trying to reach. But as she progresses & continues to show signs of aberrant behavior, you’ll have to contend with the facility’s defense droids in short shooting sections. However, these sections play out on a slower place, with ARID hiding behind cover or using her cloaking program to wait for the right moment to pop the droids in the head.
Narrative: Although short & ending somewhat on a cliffhanger, obviously setting up for the next chapter of the game still in development, I felt that The Fall had a tightly contained, complete story arc. While getting help for the pilot is ultimately the main goal of the game, the story focused less on that & more on ARID’s evolution in sentience. As an AI, there’s obviously a rigidity to the way ARID thinks & problem solves, which in turn puts her at odds with the AIs in the facility who are blocking her from her prime directive. I appreciated that it wasn’t your standard rogue AI story like I expected in the beginning. None of the three personalities in the game have gone “crazy”, per se, as it is them following their programing to the most logical, if extreme, conclusion. Their outcomes are all understandable, even predictable. ARID, for instance, is understandably frustrated when she has to appease the domestic droid protocols to receive clearance to reach the medical facility to save her pilot. Not only does this hinder her prime directive (the very thing she was programmed to do), but as a combat unit she isn’t “made” to carry out such menial tasks. It’s an interesting evolution in her psyche where she has to learn behaviors that aren’t things AIs are supposed to do (such as lie). In a way, The Fall illustrates the potential pitfalls of relying on AIs without beating us over the head with it.
And in the end, we get a nice conclusion to this part of ARID’s story even while it sets up intrigue for the next chapter.
Overall, while short, The Fall has an interesting classic sci-fi story that maintains a tight, contained focus on its story & characters.
Mechanics: Overall, I felt The Fall’s controls were simple & effective. Right Mouse Button pulls up the aiming mode, where you can switch between the flashlight (explore) or the target sight (for shooting). It was easy to aim at enemies or places in the environment, although I did notice when I would enter aim mode the direction would frequently default to the right regardless of which direction I’d previously been facing. I’m also not a huge fan of having to hold down the buttons to stay in aim mode, but I didn’t see an option to change it to toggle. However, this is more a personal preference than one that affected gameplay, as the combat was slow enough that I didn’t have a problem aiming while holding down the mouse buttons.
Cycling through the inventory was simple. However, I didn’t really care for having to be in aim mode to interact with the environment. I also frequently got stuck behind cover. I’m not sure if this was a game problem or an error on my part, but I found rather than pushing E again exit cover, I’d have to move in the opposite direction to exit. As with the aiming, it was more an annoyance than a problem.
Being a puzzle game, I found the puzzles generally interesting, & many of the solutions very amusing. The game definitely has a dark sense of humor at times. For example, a big portion of the game is ARID having to achieve merits to reach the medical facility by acting like a “proper” domestic droid & doing chores around a fake house & community. A few of my favorite solutions were offering a rotting human head (stolen from a giant slug) to a child as a protein-packed meal, quieting a crying baby by sucking them into the vents, & attaching a cable between a tire axle & a flying jenny which resulted in sending the child flying into the distance. At times the solutions seemed pretty opaque, but I found that if I explored as much of the area as I could, picking up everything & trying each combination, I would find something that made sense. You can’t use the wrong item. I never felt completely stuck.
Overall, while I had some personal issues with the control scheme, the controls were well implemented with some fun puzzling.
Aesthetics: I thought The Fall had a very nice, bleak presentation that suited the themes & setting excellently. I think the lighting is the best part, helping to cast an eerie glow over the levels. The entire game just felt creepy to run through. Those cardboard cutout people were the worst. Even though the player can only operate on a 2D plane, the backgrounds really gave a sense of depth an ambiance. I felt the sound designs was well-done, as well, mostly sticking this slow, droning tone suited for an old, crumbling factory, but occasionally picking up with some techno music during the brief fight scenes. The voiceacting, for all three characters in the game, were well realized & portrayed.
Replay Value: Average. While nothing in the story itself really changes, there are different options a player can take, such as letting the Caretaker live or not, or deliberately failing the tests. And once you know the puzzle solutions, The Fall is a fairly short game, clocking in at a few hours, making a second playthrough conceivable.
Final Score: 4
Final Word: Though a bit on the short side, & ending on a “To Be Continued…”, The Fall is a fun little indie sci-fi game that takes a focused, measured look at the potentiality of AIs & the troubles such programs might pose. Personally, the regular price is a bit high for the length for my tastes, but if you can snag it on sale I definitely recommend checking it out.
Title: The Fall
Consoles: PC, Wii U, PS4, XB1
Developer: Over the Moon Games
Publisher: Over the Moon Games Release Date: May 30, 2014