Not every game has a place cut out for it. Sometimes certain elements are lacking to satisfy the palate of the general consumer, or a game is simply released at the wrong time and has to face the towering competition of other titles. When one of these titles soon to drown in the now sluggish swamp of oblivion has won several awards for the best story in the medium, I, of course, grow interested and this is how I ended up playing The Fall by Over the Moon Games. With my nerves still echoing with the tingling sensation of NieR Automata, it was nice to find a title that strikes a similar tone this soon and thus I began the short journey of A.R.I.D.
The protagonist is a suit with a presumably fatally wounded pilot inside as he cannot do anything at the moment and all the hard work is left to the operating system of the suit called A.R.I.D. (A name I will abbreviate from now on since the abbreviation itself is annoying to type). Arid finds herself on an unknown planet which does not seem to take too kindly to visitors as they are treated with the Jesus-wellness package upon arrival, meaning four thick nails through hands and feet. The planet is also home to a facility that specialises in the repurposing of robots. When the fireman robot no longer distinguishes between extinguishing and setting fire, he is sent here to become a housemaid, essentially. Arid’s sole task is to get to the next medical facility to take proper care of her pilot, the AI running the facility seems to want to help her and the caretaker seems to be opposed to the idea: tension and drama ensues.
The Fall manages to strike the right chords on the harpy of posthuman thinking with very little effort. Interactions are scarce and when they occur the dialogue is cut down to a minimum, but a maximum in effectiveness, as one would expect a conversation between two AIs to play out. As a matter of fact, it is laudable how the game has no filler dialogue. Everything is there for a reason; no sentence seems to be added for the sake of it. Tight and focused dialogue that fits with the entire minimalist theme of the game. All the more impressive is the characterisation the game manages to achieve throughout this short amount of time and with this little to work with. Facial expressions are, of course not an option and even basic gestures are not available. However, the strong voice-cast manages to pull it off either way and grants all characters an appropriate amount of depth. The ending may not surprise all but will some, and even during the final moments the minimalist attitude is present with no extra seconds being spared. Overall the plot and characters are well executed and you will long for more afterwards.
– The characterdesign might be basic, but it is distinct enough in every situation. –
The gameplay of The Fall is a mixture between a point and click affair and a cover based 2D shooter, neither work particularly great. When you are solving puzzles, and looking for clues your gun will emit a light cone which you control with the right stick. Hovering over certain objects allows for opening an interaction menu which is done by holding R1, then a selection is made with the left stick and to confirm, R1 is released. Reading this may be cumbersome but try playing something like this, it does not flow naturally, it is more akin to a river jam with the occasional still frozen fruit in between that gets stuck along the way. Sometimes seeing the points of interest is a challenge on its own as the environment is mostly black, you can never be sure what on the floor qualifies as a mere rock or a crucial item needed for progression. What you end up doing, at least I did, is frantically waving the light across the screen as you move forward to find every marker possible. Shooting on the hand is more functional but not any more fun. Cover is introduced as a central element and then completely dropped after the camouflage option is available, since it basically functions as cover at every possible moment. You shoot the enemies and the enemies die like they are supposed to and there is nothing more to be said about this.
– Arid’s journey is one less fueled by sympathy but rather morbid interest on my part. –
Coming back to puzzles, they really make up the majority of the game and I cannot really say I am satisfied with their design. I often felt stupid for requiring a long time to figure certain things out because I either did not find a certain crucial rock-lookalike or the solution simply did not seem logical to me. Sometimes the perspective did not help either. A riddle early on requires you to snatch a keycard from a terminal by using a robot arm you found, but the gate looks solid form the 2D plane and not like a grate with a way through. The only way to solve some of them is to think in a pure video game developer logic kind of way and even then, some of them are ridiculously trial and error based. For what it’s worth, I felt like it got better near the end, which isn’t saying much in such a short game, therefore, view it more like a wall you need to bash your head against after 20 minutes in and then it is relatively smooth sailing from there.
I do like the environment though, when it is not busy hindering my progress that is. Dark, atmospheric, and depressive like my room. Light is scarcely used and when it is, it is to great effect. While the game will win no visual prizes, the aesthetic design is still pleasing to the eye. There isn’t really a soundtrack, at least not one I actively recall aside from the standard adrenaline drumming during shooting sequences which might as well be replaced by white noise for all I care.
– Shooting, while not immensly exciting, does manage to break up the flow of the game every now and then. –
The Fall is a mixed bag. While my cold critic heart wants to slam it against the nearest wall and rub the black remains over my body (the only satisfaction I can gain in life), another part wants to treasure it as a unique gem. While the story is great and told in an effective manner it does not win prizes as a video game story as it does not use the medium to its full capacity (*cough* NieR Automata *cough*). The entire story would work in another medium just as well which is why I cannot label it a good video game story. Where it tries to use the medium, it ends up creating clunky controls and unintuitive puzzles. While I cannot give The Fall a gold star and full recommendation, I would still suggest checking it out as it is short and cheap and inevitably helps the creators to make a second part. It is one of these games that are on the way to being great. You still see all the areas that need fixing, but the dedication is palpable which is rare in most games.
Image sources in order of appearance:
• http://www.overthemoongames.com/SupportImages/OpeningShot.jpg (Last date of access: 03.04.2017)
• http://www.overthemoongames.com/system/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/Evaluator.jpg (Last date of access: 03.04.2017)
• http://www.overthemoongames.com/press/The_Fall/images/HeadShotAiming.png (Last date of access: 03.04.2017)