“I Want More Life…Trucker”
Robots, Cyborgs, Droids, Replicants and Synthetics…I’ve been amazed and mesmerised by them all my life, from a child to adult. If there’s one thing, in any media, that will stimulate my attention, it’s the notion of a mechanical life-form. Be it wanting to kill us or serve us, I’m there soaking it all in. As an example, all my Destiny characters are the same ‘production line’ Exo, with only the metal colour different to denote type.
It’s the movies where my love of all things robotic started, and no, it wasn’t Metal Mickey or that phallic helmeted robot from Buck Rodgers. It started from the original Star Wars saga, to the more ‘hard’ sci-fi of Saturn 3, Alien and The Terminator. My enjoyment of horror didn’t follow the traditional slasher movie. I realised that the sort of horror I enjoyed was all sci-fi based, the love of the dark, cold void, from hyper technology to low-fi electronics. Mankind out there, beyond our world, the mysteries of the universe … what WAS out there? This all adds up to a new fresh form of terror, and nothing like dropping in an androgynous killer cyborg or emotionally void AI into that mix.
What a game to be reviewing for only my third for P&L! Having not followed any of this indie masterpiece from its PC beginnings, the first I heard about The Fall was from a PS Blog post from Over The Moon Games, announcing its release. The visuals along with the mention of a robotic ‘suit’ had me gushing more than an R2 unit with a bad motivator. I WAS BUZZING. After reading the blog post and sort of understanding the premise, I knew it was a day one game for me. Looking at the game’s screenshots (I’d kept away from any videos) the 2D side scrolling reminded me of a PS Vita game, that on the face of it, had the same dark sense of foreboding and broody, deep space sludgy graphics – The Swapper.
However, the awesome Swapper, with its fiendish puzzle mechanics coupled to a dystopian gem of a story is a totally different beast. The Fall has at its heart a brilliant fusing of old school point and click adventure with a more subtle ‘tactical’ combat element to add pace. Speaking of pace, the curve of the game I found, was pretty much bang on. From the early obligatory tutorial (done properly) to giving you your lead to discover the initial story arc without too much hand holding, to giving you enough to introduce the control mechanics, from searching to combat, and using your OS on your combat suit. This is where the game/story stands out from the rest.
You play as the SUIT; not the occupant, the suit, the A.R.I.D. At the beginning all you know is your ‘pilot’ has fallen. Fallen from where? To where? You don’t know. All you do know is that the suit’s AI is programmed to save its pilot. This is the main aspect of the game, to secure medical treatment for whoever is in the suit. The driving force behind The Fall for me is the need to know why, what, when and how. Who are we, why are we there, what is this place we’ve found ourselves in and, like all dark sci-fi, can we trust this AI? The game may look simple in its design approach, but rather than limiting the game, I think it works perfectly for conveying the tension as you play. The need to explore and discover is paramount to unravelling the story, and like The Swapper, The Fall has its fair share of tricky puzzles to work out.
Sound plays a massive part in this game. Rather than having any music, the tone is set by some of the best ambient sound I’ve heard since the original Dead Space game. Among the rise and fall of tonal ambience, there’s this constant distant drone in keeping with the best sci-fi horror movies of all time. Add to this the chocolaty thick sound effects of elevators and hulking doors springing into life and the chest thumping gun sounds during combat. It all punctuates the quiet moments of the game, giving you that little jump inside. The Fall is definitely one to play at night.
The visuals have been matched in quality to the sound. That almost monochromatic silhouette style that we’ve seen in another indie gem, Limbo, has been put to great use here. There isn’t a moment that goes past where I find myself slowly proceeding through a section, gun out, torch on looking for clue markers or hostile robots, focusing on the murky distance, hoping to not to be jumped. It’s not just the in-game visuals that work a treat, but the low-fi OS menu screens are a sublime touch. Very DOS-like. They look so bad they are not only believable, but they fit the game so well. It’s a stroke of pure genius. I was grinning from ear to ear as I played through the early part of the game’s tutorial sections.
The special effects are also worth a mention – from corrupted graphics to cracked screens and ambient lighting. There was however one tiny graphical issue I thought spoilt everything the game did right, and that was when you swap from facing right to left and vice versa. The character model just flips. It’s as if it needs a smooth animation, as if the suit is turning around, rotating if you will, rather than just, ping, facing the other way. I wouldn’t care, but they have done transitional animations for the suit when it faces into the screen or ascends stairs. I can’t believe no one at Over The Moon has not picked up on this, but there you go.
The controls are smoother than a mouse’s ear. Simple to pick up, and a nifty way to add game mechanics into the game without making it too … gamey. As a combat suit, everything is done from the point of the gun, and not just any gun. I can’t help feel they were inspired by the awesome Auto 9 Robocop gun. In its default, the gun, aimed with the right stick, effectively acts like a pointer from a mouse. Rotate the stick and A.R.I.D will point in 360º with the gun in discovery mode, denoted with its built-in torch. Once you find an objective marker, it will turn from blue to yellow to show you’ve selected it. A press and hold of R1 takes you to a contextual menu where you can interface, examine or interact with whatever is of interest using the left stick. Releasing the R1 selects your highlighted choice. Click R3 and the torch swaps to a laser sight; now you’re in combat mode. Another nice touch is that the weapon is a single shot affair (unlimited ammo) thanks to a Destiny Fusion Rifle style charge and fire. Aimed in exactly the same way as before, 360º cover, but this time it’s R2 to fire.
As with games of this nature, I’ve kept away from any spoilers. The Fall needs you to discover its secrets and believe me it’s worth it. There’s so much to be had from self discovery. The enjoyment is rewarding in these types of adventure games, and with news of a sequel of sorts in the works, it’s looking promising for The Fall and Over The Moon Games.
For the price, the production values are exceptional. The full voice acting alone (with that excellent use of digital filters for that robotic twang) and the awesome selectable developer’s commentary, along with the overall appearance puts some AAA games to shame. Never let it be said that no one wants indie games, or that they didn’t buy their PS4 for games like this. They don’t come more engrossing than The Fall.
Northlander Rating – 10/10