In The Fall, a point-and-click adventure game, you play as the artificial intelligence (AI) aboard a combat suit, programmed to protect the human inside. Who could have predicted that a game where you play as a suit could be more compelling than the scores of games starring dull human meat-bags?
This indie game, funded through a Kickstarter campaign and designed by Over the Moon Games, begins with a lone combat suit falling from the sky and down into an underground facility. The onboard AI controlling the suit detects no response from its pilot and takes control in order to rush him to any nearby medical facilities. The AI, code-named ARID, then has to navigate a defunct robotics facility run by chaotic machines.
This game is rated T for Teen. The only enemies in the game are slugs and other robots, but the remains of humans unlucky enough to cross them are in the facility. The most morbid the game gets is when a couple of puzzles are solved with body parts or corpses strung up on posts. The art-style, however, does not really show in detail any gore. The feeling is evoked through the sound design and item descriptions while showing most objects as silhouettes. Teenagers (or tweens playing along with an adult) who are used PG-13 levels of gore will not be shocked, especially if they are fans of sci-fi classics like Alien, Bladerunner, any of the Star Wars movies, or even Star Trek.
The Story: Do Video Game Characters Dream of Electric Pixels?
For a game without a single human character, The Fall is endlessly fascinating. Underneath the robotic monotone, there is a dialogue about the nature of these machines. For instance, ARID at one point coldly tells another AI that, since its pilot is dead, he is irrelevant, and then coldly rips out the power cell, as if she’s ripping a heart still beating from a chest. Happiness and survival always come second to the AI’s primary function, up until the moment an AI realizes she wants more.
This is the real strength of the game: the story. What starts as a simple quest to save the human pilot becomes a tale of transformation. ARID is forced to push her parameters and guidelines in order to survive in the facility, and it quickly becomes unclear exactly how much her programming controls her. When the limitations that previously bound her are gone, the game asks the player what will remain.
The facility is delightfully decrepit, reminding one of the best parts of Nintendo’s sci-fi platformer Metroid mixed with the darkness of the puzzle-platformer LIMBO. The dark humor of the setting made me laugh more than once, especially when puzzle solutions include launching baby mannequins or utilizing rotting body parts to trick computer systems. For a cast of characters that consist only of robots, the voice acting is surprisingly strong, with emotion bubbling underneath the monotone. The robots are fairly genderless, but ARID’s voice is feminine, which is a lovely change in such a male-dominated medium.
The Gameplay: Definitely a Kickstarter Project
The strength of the story is unfortunately diminished by the roughness of the design. The gameplay consists of puzzles as ARID navigates the facility, reactivating systems, tricking computer systems, and recovering tools. Small shooting sections, which balance stealth with eliminating enemies, break up the puzzling.
The gameplay is fairly weak when compared to the story, with somewhat awkward controls, lots of backtracking, and puzzles with very specific solutions. Several times, I had to look up solutions to puzzles that had me stuck for almost an hour because I had missed a single loose ceiling panel.
How much fun you have with The Fall is really tied to how much love and patience you have for point-and-click adventure games, though this is a good example of the genre. The solutions always feel mercenary and ruthless—ad-hoc workarounds in a system long since fallen to ruin. For those that love sci-fi, it might be worth dealing with the frustration to soak in the atmosphere and grapple the tough questions the game throws at the player.
Another caveat: only the first chapter has been released so far, but further episodes are incoming. Honestly, I found the ending so compelling that I am willing to be patient.