Back to the Backlog: The Fall Review

Discovering Your Humanity As An Artificial Intelligence

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Operating Parameters

“You are irrelevant. I will find a way to get you down, then I will deactivate you and repurpose your power cell.”

When The Fall is at its narrative best, it pulls no punches. For example, I was asked to silence a simulation of a crying baby by sucking it into a disposal tube. I was only doing so to prove my worth as a domestic unit, rather than fulfil my built purpose as a combat to save a dying man that is riding inside me.

Unravelling all that, The Fall is a side-scrolling adventure game that puts you in the role of A.R.I.D, the Autonomous Robotic Interface Device. A.R.I.D is an artificial intelligence housed within a Mark 7 military exoskeleton combat suit. The titular fall occurs in the very first scene, as you drop into a desolate area and awake to sentience with a single notion; your human pilot is dying, and your primary objective is to save his life.

To complicate matters, all of your core system features are offline and you’re lost in a decaying industrial facility for repurposing damaged domestic droid units. A.R.I.D is promptly misdiagnosed as faulty and must prove her worth as a domestic unit in order to escape the facility and fulfil her primary objective of rescuing her pilot.

the fall screenshot

Robot Morality

Proving your worth, in this case, is that quintessential idea of an artificial intelligence proving its humanity and morality, a theme that is persistently explored in various science fiction media. Philip K. Dick would be proud of the plot elements that developers Over The Moon Games employ in The Fall, as your journey is intercepted by several robotic intelligences. The Administrator is a computer program that is seeking to achieve humanity through imitation, developing realistic sounding human dialect and mannerisms. The shape-shifting Caretaker, on the other hand, seeks only to stand in your way. Having shred any semblance of society, the android acts on a misguided analysis of its own primary function— to de-purpose faulty units.

The story is The Fall’s most compelling element, and the interplay between the characters leads to interesting dialogue and exchanges. Each character feels individual, unique in their varied interpretations of their functions, and how that function makes them more or less of a person than the other inhabitants of the forlorn facility.

The bulk of the journey for Arid (as your unit affectionately becomes known) consists of some reinterpretations of her own, as she finds ways to game the eroding system . A system once built to evaluate domesticity of android assistants. This is performed by completing a series of point-and-click style puzzles, connecting together items in the environment to find solutions. The mileage of these puzzles varies wildly, from clever and amusing to obtuse and nonsensical. Some are well sign posted, such as a computer console that changes the artificial seasons from summer to winter. On the other hand, others follow no logical path.

Some of the early puzzles are solved by causing damage to your suit to activate certain abilities, such as the cloak which allows you to bypass a scanner. Another, which I’ll helpfully spoil for you here, requires you to activate a lift, jump off it, and then walk underneath it after it rises upwards. I spent a long time trying to determine how to progress before stumbling upon this happy accident. Backtracking through areas of The Fall would become a common occurrence during my playtime, and the game is designed to make you do so through its limited areas.

the fall screenshot

Point and Miss

Adventure game aficionados may struggle less, but for the average player some solutions may result in a trial and error approach. Opening the inventory slider on an interactive part of the environment allows you to click each item in succession, and a simple prompt stating “That does not work” greets any failed attempt. More often than not, I could deduce what the game was wanting me to do by cycling through all of my items on each part of the environment until something progressed. This approach only failed where a piece of scenery was particularly difficult to spot.

The Fall uses a lot of dark, moody environments for its abandoned factory setting. It has a LIMBO-esque silhouetting effect, illuminated only by Arid’s blue visor and her flashlight. It’s great for atmosphere, but unfortunately can sometimes hinder puzzle-solving— on one particular occasion a puzzle had been completed and the result was a small black item deposited on the floor. It blended so much into the environment, that even shining Arid’s flashlight on it barely brought it into view.

This brings us to the other major downside to The Fall. The control scheme, whether played on mouse and keyboard or on control pad, is unintuitive and actively gets in the way of making steady progress. Interactable items are only highlighted as such when shining Arid’s thin flashlight beam on them. This means holding a button down to keep the light on, whilst also clicking another to open the inventory slider. A third press is needed to arrange these items in order and the menu closes as soon as you’ve tried one. Rinse and repeat. Even for a game first released in 2014, the lack of a radial menu is baffling.

the fall screenshot

Evaluated for Depurposing

If puzzle solving isn’t fiddly enough, there is also some minor combat in The Fall. Arid can switch from her flashlight to a pistol with a single fire option. This lends to infrequent moments of ducking behind cover, or into cloaked mode, and then firing headshots at robots when they are reloading. The combat is basic but functional, serving as a minor distraction from puzzle solving. Sadly, it is a missed opportunity where a more fleshed out combat system could have raised The Fall out of its standard point-and-click trappings. There are no additional weapons for Arid to find, no upgrades to unlock, and no variety in enemy types or scenarios.

Confusingly, some occasional puzzles are solved by shooting at something rather than interacting with something such as a piece of scenery, or certain creatures in the game. Therefore meaning if you’ve exhausted trying every inventory item on every piece of the environment, you instead need to start firing bullets to see if anything in the background reacts to gunfire.

Some of these puzzle and control problems distract from the otherwise interesting story that Over The Moon Games are trying to tell. Arid is a compelling character and sees genuine growth as the five or so hours progress. The voice acting is consistent across the handful of speaking characters, and the derelict assessment centre makes for a genuinely unsettling backdrop to the story’s events.

If there is a reason to recommend The Fall, it’s for the science fiction of its message, the conflict between programmed personalities in the absence of genuine humanity. This idea has been explored better in other places, such as the classic Blade Runner or the more recent NieR: Automata, but for a short experience that can be enjoyed in one or two sittings, The Fall has a voice to add to that narrative. It’s just unfortunate that elements of the gameplay feel like they are actively working against your progression rather than enhancing it.

Buy The Fall on PC, PS4, Xbox One and Nintendo Switch


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gavin hart

I have had a passion for writing almost as long as my passion for video games. Which came first, the controller or the pen?

My earliest memories include stapling A4 papers together to make books to write on, and playing Super Mario on the NES with my brother. Now I play a huge variety of game genres, platforms and styles, from indie to AAA, from 2 hour experiences to 50 hour marathons, from RTS to FPS to RPG and every three letter acronym in-between.

E-mail: gavinlhart@googlemail.com

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