The Fall Review
“The purpose of function is to be served”
Thematically, a story about artificial intelligence gaining actual free will is nothing new in terms of science fiction. However, 2015 indie title The Fall has quite a bit going for it, firstly the narrative itself is smart and thought-provoking, backed up by some astute character writing. In addition, the game is an intriguing mesh of point-and-click with light platforming and combat. So, it’s somewhat regrettable that The Fall doesn’t quite pull off what it was trying to achieve, the puzzles are a tad too obtuse to the real detriment of the overall pacing. Meanwhile, the control scheme feels clunky, indicating at the difficulty of translating the point-and-click format properly to consoles, resulting in some clumsy workarounds instead.
The Fall is but the first part in an overall series trilogy, the player assumes the role as ARID, an artificial construct housed within a combat space suit. The human pilot of the suit meanwhile is gravely injured in the opening sequence, as a result ARID is programmed to take over the suit in order to protect her pilot and find medical assistance. Unfortunately for her, your pilot has crash-landed into a decrepit android repair facility that’s been overrun by hostile machines, and led by the insane and fantastically creepy ‘caretaker’.
Where The Fall really hits its stride in regards to telling its story though is how it conveys ARID’s gradual development and growing incompatibility with the programming she is forced to comply with. It becomes clear that as she attempts to save her pilot’s life, she is aware that she is irrevocably corrupted, but the argument then extends to whether she is corrupted for the right reasons. Her actions have some surprisingly deep moral quandaries for the player to stew over, especially when even in seemingly the bleakest setting imaginable, there’s still ‘life’ here.
Robots that have developed beyond their robotic nature, as ARID is doing throughout the duration of the game. One being the mainframe A.I. who has adopted the persona of it’s former human master and is understandably overjoyed to meet a friend after enduring decades of crushing loneliness and punishment from the caretaker.
The narrative quite neatly seeps into the overarching structure of the game too, with many of ARID’s abilities locked to limit your freewill, which are subsequently only activated when your human pilot is in great peril; these abilities range from cloaking, hacking and rapid-fire weaponry. The Metroidvania-style technique is skilfully retooled to suit the game’s purpose, it makes the player think more deeply about ARID’s intentions, I mean for example is she purposefully putting her pilot in danger to get her own freedom? She is bound to three directives: to not misrepresent reality; to be obedient; and to protect its active pilot. One by one, she strips them away.
The core gameplay meanwhile is largely a throwback to old point-and-click puzzle games, with a little bit of shooting and platforming dotted around too. You move around the environment picking up objects or combining them with other items in order to solve puzzles. The early puzzles are logical enough, one time you’ll unscrew a robotic arm, which you can then use to reach through a locked gate to activate a console. However as the game progresses, the puzzles seem to regress in their design, with some exasperating back-tracking going on by the final act.
To make matters worse, the control scheme is unwieldy to manage, with object interaction being especially clumsy, which is kinda a deal-breaker when it comes to games in this genre really. Clicking on an object isn’t one-touch, rather you have to scroll along a menu to ‘interact’. It may sound petty when writing it, but when you’re in the game it feels so unnecessarily clunky.
As mentioned before, The Fall also has some combat sections, along with basic cover mechanics. The enemy movement is predictable and generally these sections are very simple to complete. One case of annoyance is how the gun and flashlight is on the same button, so often you’ll unwittingly take damage because of control scheme issues.
The Fall has an arresting narrative and a clever progression mechanic, however the clumsy controls and tedious puzzles bring it down significantly, which is a shame because it does have some really cool ideas in there.
If you’re a sci-fi fan this is certainly worth a look, but also far from essential.