NS Review: The Fall
The Fall is the debut effort by development studio Over The Moon, whose game was successfully funded through their Kickstarter project. This month it has finally come to the eShop on the Wii U, meaning Nintendo fans can get their hands on the indie platformer. The first hour of gameplay certainly makes one enthusiastic for more; the game’s dark visuals and sinister setting create an immersive and tense experience as the player guides the character through various puzzles.
Immediately, The Fall illustrates its atmosphere and character; the menu takes the form of shattered glass, which could be either a monitor screen or a visor of some description. The menu’s interface isn’t safe from the broken glass as the text becomes detached along the cracks – I had to quickly check that it wasn’t due to a technical issue with my monitor. Curiously, the d-pad isn’t mapped even to menu navigation, so your left thumb will never have to leave the control stick.
The game’s title possibly refers to the eponymous event at the beginning of the story, in which the main character plummets to the ground and below the surface by some distance. It could also be referring to the environment, which has clearly seen brighter days with the dilapidated mess it is now; the area is extremely dark with few light sources and plenty of broken machinery. Once the character regains awareness deep underground, it is revealed that the player is in fact controlling an artificial intelligence system that controls the ‘Mark-7 Combat Suit’ and is tasked with protect its human wearer.
The AI is known as the ARID (‘Arid’), and the human inside the suit – referred to by Arid as her ‘pilot’ – is unresponsive but alive. Like any good artificial intelligence system, Arid has primary functions and directives that she must comply with. The most basic and imperative of these is that the pilot must be kept safe and alive, and Arid must not break protocol. Fictional AI systems have a particular habit of breaching protocols, and Arid quickly has to make compromises in order to ensure the pilot’s well-being. Whenever this occurs, her own system logs her violation. However, Arid continues to edit the log entries and justify her dangerous actions. Despite her good intentions, I couldn’t help but be concerned that the unconscious human pilot is still being forced to run, jump and climb around the environment when they could possibly have suffered some broken limbs and a concussion.
As you might assume from this impression so far, the game is driven by the plot above all else. The various AI characters in the game love some chatter whenever they cross paths, and the first chapter is filled with some necessary exposition. Conversations can sometimes drag, but they also add tension and complement the unnerving atmosphere. Thankfully you are given multiple-choice responses, which helps keep the experience interactive.
The Fall is essentially a platformer, with strong elements of puzzle-solving and exploration. Arid is not capable of any fancy manoeuvres, being able to simply run, jump, and climb up onto ledges. Using the right control stick as they explore, the player can survey areas using a torch and gather information on anything worthy of research. Several items of interest can be interacted with or picked up, and this becomes a vital practice in order to solve many of the game’s puzzles. Exploration is the key to success.
The right control stick also lends itself to the combat mechanics, which are understandably basic. The player can take cover until they get a clear shot, aim with the right control stick and then fire once their gun is charged. The gunfights are very simplistic, but this isn’t a shooter; the player is often required to use other methods to advance. A pleasant addition is that the player can also stealthily attack enemies from behind. Successfully doing so will reward the player with a health boost should they need it.
Arid’s combat suit has several ‘power-ups’ that can be seen from the game’s retro-computer style pause menu. Most of these are locked and restricted, and can only be enabled if the pilot’s life is in danger. This is what drives the conflict in Arid, as she has to consciously put her pilot in danger – breaking protocol in the process – to be able to use functions that are vital to continue. The first one unlocked is a networking function, which allows her to interact with other electronic devices in various ways. The second is a camouflage mechanism, which immediately comes in handy in combat situations and is used to solve several puzzles. One can assume the other features will be unlocked throughout the rest of the game.
The Fall effectively attracts interest with its setting and main character; Arid’s apparent self-awareness and constant compromising of her operating parameters create tension, all while her pilot is unconscious inside the suit. The facility that she has found herself in clearly hides some sinister secrets, and they are secrets that players will eagerly wish to uncover.