System(s): Wii U
Release Date: Aug 26, 2014
Publisher (Developer): Over The Moon (Over The Moon)
ESRB Rating: “Teen” for Violence and Blood
The Fall has landed on the Wii U. The product of a successful Kickstarter campaign that launched in October 2013, this atmospheric game is on a trajectory to make an impact on fans of exploration and logical puzzle games, but did they hit their mark?
I already used all of my best falling puns
The Fall starts with what could easily be someone’s end. An unresponsive astronaut is hurtling toward the surface, and just before impact the onboard AI activates protective dampeners. You are ARID, an artificial intelligence who is required by her programming directives to keep her unconscious pilot safe at all costs. You have control of the space suit, but most of its features are offline and cannot be used without pilot authorization, which is of course a problem at the moment. However, protocol allows for their use if the pilot’s life is endangered, and here below the surface, lethal hazards abound.
From the outset, The Fall introduces and authorizes new abilities as they are needed to explore and survive the dark corridors. These features are implemented (and initially restricted) sensibly. ARID is able to explore with a flashlight to locate interactive objects and creatures, and if something is computer-oriented, interface with it. Her weapon was damaged but is soon replaced. She can use cover and scale ledges and examine clues left behind by former visitors.
Few things are straightforward, however. The Fall has several interactive puzzles that hearken back to the old Monkey Island series and similar games. At their best, these puzzles have an obvious solution that is impossible for ARID due to either her limitations as an AI or the dilapidation of the environment. Finding ways to circumvent the “rules” of the puzzles in order to solve them grants a satisfying sense of accomplishment while you try to make your way to the surface in search of medical attention.
Guybrush would be proud
The puzzles are rather ingenius. Some of the simpler ones are actually there to be repurposed to solve neighboring ones, and they’re easily the highlight of The Fall. But while they’re cleverly designed, you won’t find yourself stumped by any of them. The method by which interactive features are made visible under the flashlight beam makes it unlikely that you’ll overlook anything important, and everything has a function. So if you’re given a new challenge to get past an obstacle, you’ll remember that you haven’t done anything yet with the piece of technology two corridors up and see if the last thing you picked up fits into it.
This causes The Fall to go rather quickly. It took under four hours to complete while doing extra exploring for any hidden elements. Playing through it again, probably half that time. And there really wasn’t anything to be found for the extra searching. You do get the delightfully eerie sense that you’re discovering places you ought not be, but it’s all part of the game’s fairly linear progression. The story is intriguing, but then The Fall ends abruptly with the promise that it is “to be continued.” The game is described as the first of a planned trilogy, but it plays like the first episode of a single product.
While I did not discover any hidden content with my additional exploration, I did turn up a couple of game-breaking bugs while playing The Fall. Early on, you will encounter cover before being directed to use it. If you set the nearby puzzle into motion by placing a specific object and then use the nearest point of cover and vault over it to the right, you will find yourself plummeting through the ground and into the void. This can be repeated. Go ahead, and then enter the menu to reload your save. Much less amusing was when, in the final minutes of the game, I activated ARID’s cloaking technology without any adversaries present and the game froze noisily. It completely locked up the Wii U, and I had to hold the power button on the console to reboot. The system greeted me with messages about an inproper shutdown. Needless to say, some work is still needed.
The part I’d be most eager to experience again is the voice acting. ARID holds conversations with some of the other electronic entities she encounters throughout The Fall. Some are purely mechanical, and some seem to have transcended their original programming to become something more. ARID herself develops as she completes the game’s trials, showing growing introspection. In contrast, the recorded voices of humans sound hauntingly spiritless. All of the voice acting is superb. Sadly, these conversations are too few. While a Monkey Island game allows you hours of witty banter from characters between (or as part of) puzzle solving, the conversations in The Fall are brief. Worse, near the end, the game abruptly only lets you select single conversation choices and then ends the conversations. This is only jarring since, prior, I was exploring two conversation prompts and then checking them again in vain for something extra.
Rising every time we fall
The Fall does some things amazingly well. The premise, puzzles, atmosphere, and voice acting made a positive impression. However, the game would have been improved with more to see and do, more features to examine, more conversations to be had, and more to distract the player from objects whose presence clearly indicate that they are necessary to solving a puzzle. Some more debugging is called for as well. As it stands, I’m hesitant to recommend the game by itself.
But then again, it seems that my primary concern is that I want more of what was offered, and more has been promised. I do want to see what follows the events of ARID’s journey to bring her pilot to safety, so I am hoping that the remaining planned installments come to surface. Looking at The Fall as proof of concept, they’re definitely onto something good.