A few years ago I had the opportunity to freelance a review for The Fall’s Xbox One launch, where I referred to it as “a 2D sci-fi point and click adventure game that feels like a cross between Limbo, Blackthorne, and Monkey Island if they were all written by Philip K. Dick.” It was a fantastically written sci-fi tale with a finale that still lingers in the back of my mind today. If you’ve never played The Fall, then I highly encourage you to free up a few hours this weekend and prepare to have your mind blown. To this day, it’s still one of the best sci-fi adventure games I’ve ever played.
However, it pains me to report that The Fall’s long-awaited sequel (it’s been four years) is wholly disappointing — though, like fellow fan Patrick Klepek echoes in his own review at Waypoint, I still urge you to play the original.
Unbound, as it’s titled, fails to match the original’s narrative momentum and concise structure. Rather, the aptly named sequel branches off into less interesting playable characters and goes all in on an uninspired Metroid-esque hub world full of dull exploration and poorly designed combat sequences.
The sequel begins immediately after the events that concluded the original game (a major revelation followed by a gasp-worthy cliffhanger). You play as A.R.I.D., an artificial intelligence residing inside of a combat suit who, until the final moments of the original game, was restricted by a protocol — save the unconscious human occupant within the suit, but within her pre-programmed ruleset. As the sequel’s subtitle suggestions, A.R.I.D. is more of a free-thinker this time around.
They’re trapped in cyberspace, which plays out like a watered down, Diet Metroid; complete with segmented rooms accessed by shooting bubble doors. Within the interwebs, A.R.I.D. finds three waypoints that allow them to access three playable androids — a butler, a ninja warrior, and a sex robot. This interesting predicament presents Unbound’s most drastic departure from the original game.
Very little time is spent playing as A.R.I.D., which is more or less determined by how long it takes the player to locate each of the three waypoints and complete some rather awful combat scenarios in between.
That being said, the original game’s lackluster combat is more prominent this time around, which tasks A.R.I.D. with using their sidearm to destroy floating Lovecraftian blobs whenever they change from red to blue. With a simple tap of the L button (I played the Nintendo Switch version), you can shift between multiple targets. From that point, combat is as easy as jumping over things when they turn red and then firing off shots when they turn blue. A “parry” ability opens up toward the end of the game, which I used all of once — when it was required to progress as part of the story. It was entirely pointless, otherwise. Combat, as a whole, was never, ever fun, and thankfully there’s an “easy mode” setting that reduces the number of physical encounters the player must endure. Just like in the original game, however, I wish the combat was removed altogether. It’s poorly designed, feels wholly out of place in an otherwise point-and-click adventure game, and continues to add nothing to the experience.
When you’re not trudging through The Fall Part 2’s mediocre level design and poorly implemented combat mechanics, you’re taking over the bodies of three aforementioned androids in order to complete A.R.I.D.’s new “goal.”
The Butler’s scenario immediately thrusts the player into what my Twitter buddy PlayCritically pejoratively refers to as Adventure Game Bullshit™ — repeating the servant’s daily routine over and over while tinkering with objects in the environment in an attempt to break their cycle. Having to endure their three-step routine for the 8th time just to fumble through and Click All The Things in hope of a different result from the last was agonizing and presented the lion’s share of the game’s opening hours.
As an aside, Unbound’s puzzle solutions were rarely obvious and often frustrating to decipher. They’re so poorly thought out that the game’s publisher included a PDF walkthrough with my review key and even some of THEIR solutions were incorrect. In seven years of reviewing video games, this is the second time I’ve ever received a walkthrough with a review key. I was baffled the first time, but I fully understood why Unbound needed one. There are solutions in this game that I would have never discovered on my own — either by quitting the game altogether or banging my head against the wall for hours — and I can’t honestly imagine the average player making their way through The Fall Part 2 on their own, especially the final third of the game where it transforms into a confusing multi-character-swapping Day of the Tentacle experience. I’m a point-and-click junkie and I found myself consulting an occasionally incorrect walkthrough (again, provided by the publisher) five times during my 7-hour playthrough.
The second companion A.R.I.D. overtakes is an android martial artist named The One. They’re convinced they’re distinguished from The Many (an army of fellow android warriors), speak in an annoying manner, and replace A.R.I.D.’s uninspired gun combat with a two-button fisticuff mechanic that feels directly ripped from 2013’s One Finger Death Punch.
The final companion, aptly named The Companion, is the most interesting of the bunch. They’re a female sex robot, designed to empathize with human emotions and “make people happy.” Their emotional conflict with A.R.I.D.’s more self-centered programming provided the game’s only interesting dialogue exchanges.
Just like the original game, The Fall Part 2 is mostly a 2D point-and-click adventure. However, in order to interact with objects in the environment, the player must first turn on the given character’s flashlight, point it at the object using the right analog stick, select the object with the action button, and cycle through the item’s interactivity menu. Having to aim using an analog stick, rather than using a mouse on PC, continues to feel offputting and cumbersome. It makes The Fall Part 2 feel stuck somewhere between a poorly designed action platformer and a traditional point-and-click adventure game because the developer didn’t want to go all in on one or the other.
I have many of the same complaints with Unbound that I did three years ago with The Fall. The fact that many of these “low points” are back in a larger capacity is incredibly disappointing — though not as disappointing as the game’s narrative. The saving grace of the original was its brilliantly written sci-fi tale of artificial intelligence struggling with the possibility of sentience. However, Unbound’s playable characters are mostly uninteresting and exist within a predictable, equally uninteresting narrative thread that fails to deliver all the way up to the closing credits.
I wish I had come away from The Fall Part 2 with a more positive opinion. Again, I loved The Fall in 2015 (the PC version released in 2014) and still highly recommend it to anyone looking for recommendations. However, Unbound’s newfound freedom works against its overall design in such a way that feels uninspired and deflated. The combat is still awful, yet there’s more of it. The flashlight interaction is just as bad, yet it’s in more abundance as well. Making The Fall bigger doesn’t make it better — it just makes it easier to accentuate its glaring negatives.
I cannot recommend The Fall Part 2: Unbound to anyone, even fans of the original. I will continue, however, to point you toward the original. With four years separating The Fall and Unbound, I’m unsure when or if we’ll ever receive the proposed trilogy’s final act. I sincerely hope the developer remembers what made The Fall so special between now and then, though. I haven’t been this disappointed in a long, long time, and I only say this harshly because I hold the original game in such high regard. The truth hurts, but I sincerely care about The Fall and hate seeing how far it’s stumbled away from its promising introduction in 2014.
Switch-exclusive thoughts: I’m not sure if any other critic experienced this, but The Fall Part 2: Unbound ran incredibly hot on my Switch in handheld mode. Like… very hot. However, the game performed just fine in handheld mode (no crashes like Mr. Panda experienced) and the text size was never an issue. The HD rumble felt pretty nice, although it continues to be negligible in my enjoyment of any game on Nintendo’s newest console. Overall, there were no technical hiccups or performance issues on the Nintendo Switch version throughout my entire 7-hour playthrough.
No scoring system is used here at Cheap Boss Attack. Hopefully, the above text proves to be more useful than an arbitrary number or a sequence of shaded-in star shapes.
A Nintendo Switch copy of the game was provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review.