“The Fall” review for MAC: Kickstarted Indie hybrid is a modern classic

When game fans trust in a relative unknown on kickstarter, they trust that their faith and money goes into the right hands. It takes intelligence, hard-work and a good idea to be a success. You have to think outside of normal parameters and protect your dream at all costs. This philosophy is at the heart of The Fall-literally and philosophically.

The Fall starts shortly after your craft lands on an unfamiliar planet. You quickly learn that it is not a human that is in control of the game, it’s an advanced A.I. named A.R.I.D. The pilot  inside the advanced combat suit is critically injured and incapacitated, and A.R.I.D. is in control. The advanced A.I. that is the focus of The Fall has 3 guiding principles: Do not mis-represent reality. Protect your pilot at all costs. Obey.These principles are the focus of the game as you control A.R.I.D. in her quest to take her human and get him medical treatment.

The Fall is a quirky hybrid of action/adventure, platformer and survival horror. The combination isn’t just a novelty however, as the different elements are melded together seamlessly and I never felt as though anything was tacked on just for the sake of a new mechanic.

The story

As pointed out previously, you’re marooned on what seems to be a junk planet. You make uneasy friends with a cleverly adaptive Mainframe AI that is overseeing this planet’s operations, and you quickly realize that he is adept at gaming the system. You can only speak to him through various interfaces and monitors throughout the game. His appearance on the monitors is distorted,  reflecting the twisted and contorted “personality”.The system in this place is a droid training ground. In order to get your pilot medical attention, you have to go through a training process to learn to appease humans. Graduate from the domestic droid school, you get access to the medical area and get the much needed access to medical care for your pilot.

You are hounded throughout the game by a “malfunctioning” droid called the Caretaker. The Caretaker has a droid’s body and also has an uneasy relationship with the helpful A.I. His aim is to have you scrapped and repurposed and he will stop at nothing to see that happen. As the story progresses, you are faced with weighty decisions, and see the “progress” of the A.R.I.D. artificial intelligence. aShe shows compassion for his life, or perhaps it’s an obsession or fault in her coding.

You face decisions in The Fall that truly stand out. You are drawn into A.R.I.D.’s struggle, and though she has the voice of a dry, nearly unwavering robot, her voice takes on inflection and emphasis at times that makes you think there’s something more there. This A.I. is advancing and becoming human. Her personality explores some of the more dark and drastic aspects of humanity later in the game as well.

Gameplay

The Fall is a side scroller with light platforming elements. Some running, jumping and climbing are involved, but they aren’t overbearing and don’t take away from the gameplay. As I mentioned earlier, the elements of the different genres of game meld together very well.

There is combat involved as well. It’s not abundant, and the amount balances well with the adventure, point and click aspects of the game. You are first tasked with finding a side arm once you establish your surroundings, and when you find a gun you quickly realize its worth. The gunplay doesn’t stand out, but is more than serviceable. Basic cover and a cloaking element are available and do add a degree of depth to the game. The gunplay, while not a major focus of the game is satisfying. You start with a “charge then shoot” mechanic, and unlock semi-automatic later on. The satisfaction of the shooting comes when lining up a headshot on a droid and watching the head topple and “clank” on the ground. I credit the wonderful feeling to the exceptional sound design in the game. The “whizz” and “whir” and explosion of your pistol lead to impacts that feel really good. More on the sound later.

You will spend a good chunk of your time in The Fall backtracking and hunting items. Like any good adventure game, you’ll need to solve puzzles to open a door or defeat a foe, and especially to get through the droid training. Many of the puzzles are very clever, while some of them I had no clue how to solve, and it was trial and error before I found them, while others you literally fall into. None of the puzzles were terribly tedious and I never felt frustrated. I did feel a little like the folks that designed this game are used to being the smartest people in the room, though. One particularly grisly solution made me feel rather bright, and I smiled as soon as it presented itself.

Design and feel

When I first fired up The Fall, I noticed a couple of things that reminded me of other games. One, was the rudimentary DOS type interface for your pause screen and interface for A.R.I.D. and the other was how the game initially looked like Limbo, or Deadlight. Though, it is closer to Deadlight really. The game isn’t in the upper echelon as far as graphics go, but it is distinct and the soft glow of A.R.I.D.’s helmet is memorable.The atmosphere is downright frightening, and there is a feeling of dread throughout your journey. I felt as though I was in a place where I didn’t belong, and the side scrolling nature made me move at a terribly slow pace throughout.

In addition to a fine atmosphere, the game features top-notch sound design by Cameron Jarvis. Music is sparse for the most part, and the “whiz” and “hum” of your Mark 7 combat suit becomes a steady friend. It’s what tells you that you’re real. That and the “tink tink” of your boots and the warm purr of your gun-mounted flashlight. When the music does appear, it is appropriately tense. I love the whole design outside of one section below ground where it got a little abrasive. The effect didn’t last, as I didn’t linger in the section too long. Perhaps that was the point of the part of the score. Either way, it worked.

The voice acting is surprisingly good for such a small budget, especially A.R.I.D. whom is voiced by Alison Kumar. I’m not sure how tough it is to make a programmed droid sound authentic though. All of the voice acting has appropriate tone and was recorded well, and outside of one drunken wooden cutout in the domestic area of the facility, all of the dialogue is crisp and spot on.

What I’m loathing

For my regular readers, you know I typically add this section as an ode to Hunter S. Thompson and it’s a section where I point out anything that bothers me about a game. Really, outside of a lot of backtracking and a couple minor graphical hitches, there’s not much to dislike. I didn’t enjoy needing to point my light at everything to interact with it, or having to point my light or laser sight to fire, but minor annoyances truly. There are some little oversights however. Generally when you select to interact with an object, you will get a text pop-up telling you “I cannot” or such. In some sections of the game, that is replaced with a sound, sometimes nothing. Again, minor annoyances. Truly, I experienced fewer bugs than the majority of games I’ve played. That’s AAA games or indie. The coding seems really solid and well done.

The Verdict

The Fall really caught me a bit off guard, and the premise intrigued me but, I honestly didn’t expect a high level of quality. The Kickstarter raised just over 30,000 or so and I heard little buzz about the game. The Steam Greenlight program has been mostly a miss for me, as I have a backlog of games that I feel bad about posting because my experiences were so poor. That is not the case at all with The Fall. The story is absolutely the most original Sci-fi, A.I. horror story that I’ve experienced since Isaac Asimov. I’ve gone away from sci-fi after many disappointments like the Dead Space series, Star Wars and Trek, and many others. This story by Caleb Allard however hit home and made me think and evaluate. The characters are memorable and the story is such that it causes a problem for me as a writer. I enjoyed it so much, I’m nearly left speechless because I want you, the reader to enjoy it as well. The villain and scenarios are fresh and powerful, and the ending literally left me with my jaw hanging open. I almost wrote to John Warner at Over The Moon Games to call him a bastard. I didn’t, though I did call him faulty. Once you play the game, you’ll get that inside joke.

The Fall is must have for Sci-fi and horror games, or if you enjoy a good story.

 

finalgrade9

For more information on The Fall, go to http://www.overthemoongames.com

“It is the obvious which is so difficult to see most of the time. People say ‘It’s as plain as the nose on your face.’ But how much of the nose on your face can you see, unless someone holds a mirror up to you?” 
― Isaac AsimovI, Robot

I was granted  beta code via Steam for MAC by Over The Moon games for the purpose of this review. In total, I spent almost exactly 6 hours playing the game.

Developer:
Over The Moon
Based in Vancouver, BC

Release date:
May 30th, 2014

Platforms:
PC / Mac / Linux/ Wii U

Website:
overthemoongames.com/

Regular Price:

USD $9.99
CAD $9.99
EUR €6.99
GBP £5.99
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