RE-REVIEW: The Fall

*RE-REVIEW brings to light a review written during my tenure at the now-defunct website, What’s Your Tag?, in order to avoid losing it to the abyss of the internet. It appears as it did back then, with only minor formatting or grammatical changes. Although the review was written by me, Bradley Keene, the source is always What’s Your Tag? (whose domain is no longer available).

With developer Over the Moon recently confirming The Fall Part 2: Unbound for an early 2017 release, it was only fitting to revisit my review for the original game’s Xbox One release last Summer. It’s probably one of the greatest, most well-written sci-fi narratives you’ve never played. Hopefully this review changes that, as The Fall is heavily discounted (we’re talking a $1 or $2 price tag, folks) across all available platforms.

But enough talk! Let’s dig in!

Original review date: July 22, 2015
Developer: Over the Moon
Available on: Xbox One (reviewed), PS4, Wii U, PC, Mac, Linux

After a successful Kickstarter campaign in 2013, The Fall has finally made its way to the Xbox One by way of the ID@Xbox self-publishing program. It’s a 2D sci-fi point-and-click adventure game that feels like Limbo, Blackthorne, and Monkey Island, if they were all written by Philip K. Dick.

There’s tough puzzles to solve, creepy environments to explore, and a lot of great dialogue between characters, but what really brings it home is the phenomenal writing and storytelling that culminates in to one of the most bizarre and thought provoking endings I’ve experienced in a long, long time.

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The story begins when an unconscious pilot crash lands on a mysterious planet, awakening their combat suit’s on-board AI. Known as ARID, her primary function is to save the human occupant at all costs — yet within the limitations of her programming. ARID also quickly discovers she’s not the only AI on board, and yet, without human emotion, manages to forge relationships with the others in a rather interesting Blade Runner sort of way.

With a menacing “caretaker” overseeing the reformatting of disobedient AI, survival is your top priority. Is it possible for a computer to change, to adapt, or will they always conform to protocol?

“The overall atmosphere is really incredible, accompanied by an amazing soundtrack full of uneasy, ambient sounds that beg you to play with a set of headphones on.”

The Fall is the first of a trilogy, but it doesn’t play out like an episodic adventure game like The Walking Dead or Life is Strange. The first episode of any adventure exists purely to build a foundation, introduce characters, and leave enough breadcrumbs to draw you in to future installments. The Fall definitely succeeds there, but also manages to deliver a compelling story that completes the game, rather than coming off as a mere opening chapter.

The writing is smart, catering to my soft spot for science fiction and dark humor with its slow burn pacing and frequent guess work. I was a human in control of an AI suit, and no matter how much I wanted to think as a human, I was still confined by ARID’s own set of rules — and the dialogue never, ever let me forget that.

At no point did I ever feel that Over The Moon was pulling any punches or withholding information that would leave me with a crummy cliffhanger after five hours of hard work. My time was respected, and I always appreciate that.

I spent a majority of the game navigating corridors and reading documents while collecting various items to use in the environment in order to solve a plethora of brain bending puzzles. This is the type of game that encourages you to scour wall to wall, reading everything in order to make heads or tails of the situation blocking your path.

The solutions weren’t always in plain sight either, forcing me to think outside the box, but that doesn’t always mean they made sense. There was one instance in particular that baffled me, when I had go up two floors just to insert fish guts in a shower in order to bathe myself with their scent, instead of just applying them with my own hands. There were other times when I felt clueless, pacing aimlessly back and forth between areas, hoping to stumble upon something I might have missed the last 14 times, but that A-HA! moment when it all finally clicked was extremely satisfying.

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The Fall presents a fairly competent combat system as well. Your single-shot pistol eventually becomes a rapid fire killing machine, but it’s easy enough to line up well placed headshots by switching your flashlight to a laser scope and aiming with the right analog stick. Your combat suit is also equipped with a cloaking device that can be used to avoid gunfire, and with a simple press of the left bumper you can duck behind objects in the environment to trade rounds with security bots.

The first few encounters took some getting used to, but once I got my feet wet I looked forward to opening fire, or even delivering stealth kills, any chance I could. With that being said though, The Fall is definitely an adventure game first, not a shooter, and I’m glad it was built around exploration, puzzles, and storytelling, rather than its infrequent gun play.

“It’s well paced, smart, and brilliantly written…”

Graphically, The Fall is visually similar to The Swapper, which clearly had the same influences. Since most of the game takes place underground, it’s to be expected that you’ll spend a lot of time illuminating the darkness with your pistol’s flashlight. Your flashlight is used to highlight objects in the environment, so it’s more of an aim-and-click mechanic, and while braving the darkness was often exciting, trying to lock on to icons in the background was somewhat troubling at times.

There were moments when the darkness felt a bit overwhelming, hindering my ability to locate key items on the first pass, but the contrasting neon glow of computer screens, buttons, and exploding fungi prevented the dull tones from becoming too repetitive. The overall atmosphere is really incredible, accompanied by an amazing soundtrack full of uneasy, ambient sounds that beg you to play with a set of headphones on.

Overall, The Fall is a really solid adventure with a lot of creepy environments to explore, and well voiced dialogue between its interesting cast of characters. I didn’t expect its dark humor, which was a pleasant surprise, but the star of the show is easily the writing. It’s well paced, smart, and brilliantly written in such a way that I never saw the finale coming, and I really couldn’t have asked for more in an adventure game.

*So where’s the final score? There isn’t one. I spent a lot of time conveying my opinion in the above text, and I hope that’s worth more to you than some arbitrary number or a sequence of shaded-in star shapes. Basically, I’m not a fan of scores so I no longer use them. Read the review and judge for yourself if the game is worth your time and money.

Full disclosure: This review was done using an Xbox One copy of The Fall that was provided by the game’s developer, Over the Moon, in July of 2015. While I’m sometimes given games to review, I pride myself on providing unbiased reviews to fellow consumers, along with constructive feedback to hard working developers and publishers. Whether or not I pay for the game is completely irrelevant.

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