Category Archives: XBox One

Game Review: The Fall

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.

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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.


20170130175245_1Narrative: 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.

Score: 4


HeadShotAimingMechanics: 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.

Score: 4


20170515134755_1Aesthetics: 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.

Score: 4


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.

Score: 3


Breakdown

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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.

– GamerDame

Title: The Fall
Consoles: PC, Wii U, PS4, XB1
Rating: T
Developer: Over the Moon Games
Publisher: Over the Moon Games
Release Date: May 30, 2014

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Filed under 4, Indie, PC, PS4, Reviews, Wii U, XBox One

Game Review: Inside

The end of the year was the perfect time for me to take a vacation of sorts, allowing me to recharge & not even think about work or worry about the constant emails I get on a daily basis.  Fortunately this also coincided with several year-end game sales, thus allowing me to aid in this recharging by spending uninterrupted hours catching up on some games I was interested in but hadn’t gotten around to buying.  Playdead’s acclaimed Inside was one such game that I completed in a single sitting.  I’ve gone on record of saying that Playdead’s previously acclaimed game, Limbo, was a visual feast but suffered (in my personal opinion) from some frustrating puzzles & impenetrable story.  So have they improved with Inside?

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As with their previous game, what exactly is going on in Inside is debatable, but what’s apparent from the plot is that you control a faceless boy who must traverse a desolate, post-apocalyptic landscape while avoiding armed guards, rabid beasts, human-hunting machines & apparently failed human experiments to reach some indeterminate end goal.  What is the boy’s goal at the end of his journey inside the imposing factory?  Does he even know?

Inside is 2.5D sidescrolling puzzle-platformer.  Kid (as I took to calling him as he’s never given a name) must navigate a series of obstacles & puzzles to continue forward.  He can run, jump, climb, push & pull.  There are also sections where he must utilize mind-control helmets to control drone-people to help him solve puzzles, as well as an underwater section involving diving tank.


256-inside-screenshot-1466596552Narrative: There’s a fine line between being open to interpretation & being as opaque as a brick wall, but I feel Inside strikes the right balance between telling us what’s going on & letting players interpret events.  The term “visual storytelling” gets thrown around a lot in game media, but Inside is an example of putting this idea into practice & doing it well.  Without a single line of spoken dialogue or text (in fact, I don’t think there’s any text anywhere in the entire game), Inside perfectly portrays its world, & we instantly empathize with the challenges the Kid has to overcome.  The very first moment of the game is the Kid climbing out of a hole in some rocks & coming across a barrier, with mindless drone-people being loaded into the back of a shady truck, all while surrounded by glowing tanks & armed, masked guards.  Whatever’s going on, it’s not good.

Inside also does an excellent job of exemplifying “transformational media,” or the idea that each person who views a piece of media will take away their own unique experience.  Because the plot is just vague enough for us to never truly be sure of what’s going on, we build our own interpretations, & thus the story changes a little bit for each person.  The way I interpret events might be different from the next person.  Who is the Kid?  Did he intend for the outcome?  What really happened to this world?  But it leaves just enough questions unanswered to make us what to see what comes next.

I also have to say I really enjoyed the setting for Inside… if you can enjoy an oppressive, potentially doomed world.  Not only are there strong Orwellian, 1984 vibes, but it reminded me a lot of a short-story we read in high school called Harrison Bergeron (check it out if you’re a fan of dystopian science fiction).  Everything is dark & depressing, & each obstacles builds on the horror, making us think the worst of this world.  Outrunning guards, controlling drones, watching what remains of society staring blankly on as they seemingly purchase these drone-people, failed experiments, & finally the Hive Mind… I found the ending genuinely distressing.  Not something to be “happy” about, but if that was the goal of the developers, they succeeded in spades.

Overall, an intriguing mystery that will have you thinking about the game long after you’ve stopped playing.

Score: 5


2016_0719in06Mechanics: I really feel that Playdead perfected the mechanics they set out to create in Limbo with Inside.  The controls are simple & responsive.  Heck, there’s only three controls, really.  Movement with the left stick, jump & grab.  Simple, but everything controls like it’s supposed to.  I didn’t experience any frustrating lags in the Kid doing what I said or ungainliness like I did in Limbo.

The puzzles are also vastly improved.  Playdead seemed to realize that the fun & challenge in a puzzle should come from figuring it out, not in precision timing.  Of course, that might also be due to Inside being less about the futility of action & being stuck in a limbo of death & failure.  The puzzles have just the right amount of difficulty, with the solutions coming very naturally from the player’s experimentation & exploration of the environment.  There’s also a nice variety of puzzles or obstacles, mixing strategic thinking & timing.  I think my favorite was in the flooded base when you have to bait the water baby/siren thing to different parts of the water to give you time to reach the next switch.  Yes, these require timing, but to the point of making you feel tense as you try to swim away from the water baby, & not frustrating.  Although you will probably die several times, it never became frustrating to me, & the checkpoint system is very forgiving so you’ll typically restart right before you died.

Overall, smooth, solid controls & great puzzle-platforming design.

Score: 5


851099-inside-windows-screenshot-the-boy-was-shot-let-s-try-thatAesthetics: I find it funny that when I initially saw footage of Inside, I immediately thought it was from Playdead.  The art style is very similar to Limbo, utilizing atmospheric lighting, heavy shadows & imposing scenery.  The art style is suitably gloomy, & the developers clearly paid a lot of attention to detail.  For example, the Kid’s red shirt is some of the only color in the game.  Everything feels muted.  Another detail that makes me wonder about its narrative significance is the fact that people don’t have faces, but specific people are shown wearing masks with faces on them, like the guards & “regular” citizens.  What does it mean?  And while I’m a little loathe to do so, I give Playdead credit for creating something that made me feel a bit nauseous.  The Hive Mind at the end seriously grossed me out.  I’m not sure if it’s a body horror thing, a blob thing, or the way it moved, but it was very effective.

The musical & sound direction were also spot on.  There’s actually not a lot of “music” in the game, but in its place, we have atmospheric sounds that really help with immersion.  I actually paused the game in the beginning to see if my TV had a headphone jack so I could take in every little sound (sadly, it didn’t).  But again, I think it’s the attention to detail.  Little things like the irregular sound of rain, or that deep booming tone that sounded straight out of Inception, or even how everything goes silent & muted underwater.  Without proper dialogue, everything’s portrayed through noise.  And portrayed effectively.

Overall, shows supberb attention to detail both in terms in visual presentation & ambient sound.

Score: 5


Replay Value: Moderate.  While this could certainly be a one-&-done game, I think there’s a lot to it that makes it replayable.  For one, it’s fairly short.  I think it took me about three hours.  There’s also an alternate ending that requires you to find all the secret orbs hidden throughout the game.  You can replay from any checkpoint, which is fairly frequent.  And just the mystery of the plot makes it so you’ll want to play again to try to understand it better.  To really take your time & explore to uncover all the mysteries.  Score: 4


Breakdown

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Final Score: 5

Final Word: I didn’t realize until writing this review that I literally have nothing bad to say against Inside, & that’s never happened before, not even with my favorite games.  That fact alone means I can’t help by recommend this game to every gamer.  While the open-ended story might not appeal to everyone, the only people I can really see not finding something to enjoy about Inside are those who only play one specific franchise (like Madden or Call of Duty).

– GamerDame

Title: Inside
Consoles: PS4, PC, XB1
Rating: M
Developer: Playdead
Publisher: Playdead
Release Date: June 29, 2016

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Filed under 5, PC, Platformer, PS4, Puzzle, Reviews, XBox One