Puzzle platformers are classic. From titles like Out of This World to the Space Quest series, games in the genre have always found a way to be light-hearted yet engrossing no matter what generation it comes from. While they’ve always dabbled in different styles and tones, the sense of heart behind the project always shines through and the story, characters and even the world feels true to to form. One could even go as far to say that they are the perfect choice for storytelling. Their off-the-wall puzzles with ridiculous solutions may seem like they’re removing the player from reality, but that is exactly what immerses them. Forcing the player to explore giant worlds for small objects, promoting experimentation when using every item on everything else, and even hearing the protagonist’s dialogue when your attempts fail only attach you closer to these elements. Over the Moon Games must have had this in mind when creating their new title The Fall, because it introduces all of what makes those classics great, while updating the gameplay and storytelling for the present day.
The Fall drops you right in to a cold and dark world where everything is completely unknown and unidentifiable. At first glance, it looks like a Limbo knockoff with another generic Isaac Clark wannabe in the title role, but The Fall quickly let’s you know you are in a world all its own and you have only begun to scratch the surface. You are actually controlling a suit with a severely injured pilot inside. The suit’s primary function is to make sure the pilot does not die. This immediately sets the tone for the game. You are detached from pilot, and yet drawn to the suit. You actions are only as valid as progressing to save someone you do not know, who cannot speak, and has no personality. The suit is very robotic in both voice and action and the world around you is filled with much of the same. Early on, you find another suit with a dead pilot inside. The suit is destroyed and has trouble speaking. It seems to be in pain and has trouble functioning, yet realizes it’s only goal is to serve its pilot. Both you and it have no sympathy or emotion and it is your job to remove its core and shut it down because its function is now obsolete. The disconnect between you and the only thing that would count as accompaniment forces you as a player to focus on a goal and learn to detach yourself. The game grows in how disturbing things get, and tests your limits as a human. The protagonist shows no reaction outside of the harm that may be caused to the pilot. The player then becomes obligated to protect and progress a machine that, in turn, is only interested in protecting and progressing a dying pilot. Neither of which understands where the finish line is in their attempts.
With the tone set, the next focus is on gameplay. While the engine and mechanics aren’t groundbreaking, opting to stick to a more classic design actually benefits the overall experience. To further simplify things, the setup is comprised of a basic choice to “interact” or to “network” with objects. “Network” is rarely used an is mostly keyed to electronics under the same brand as the suit. “Interact” is your general action. Any inventory items pop up below and are easily selectable. This streamlined system makes puzzle solving focus more on the puzzles themselves and less on the “I thought mouth meant ‘eat’ not ‘speak'” aspect that a lot of point and clicks suffer from. The idea is to try and move on because there is more to explore and more to combat.
Basic movements are used to walk, jump, aim and fire and they are all used in combat. While you are generally weak, your abilities make fighting enemies a breeze. Aiming either your flash light to examine your surroundings or a laser sight to fire the gun is easy to control and feels very natural, however clicking the stick to toggle between the two is a bit awkward. But basic fire tactics aren’t your only line of defense. As you progress, your suit is granted access to other abilities. These are initially locked due to a restriction that requires your pilot to give the order. The only way around this lock is if the pilot’s life is jeopardized without its use. Your course of action is to find ways to endanger your pilot’s life in order to override these locks. It’s a great explanation that only further separates the player from the body inside the suit. Once you’ve caused enough chaos to your pilot, you start unlocking endowments like cloaking, semiautomatic weaponry and the aforementioned networking. This adds both a run and gun or stealth element to the already fun aiming system. But all these resources come with a price.
You may have already become aware of the paradoxical linearity of harming that which your are programmed to save. After encapsulating you with isolation and cold reception, the mood is broken when you finally hear a friendly voice. It’s the first time the player feels like there is something they can latch onto. A friend; An ally; a partner that can help you with your seemingly futile task. A voice over the intercom who, though also robotic, has trained himself to speak more human tonally and can emote his synthetic feelings. He names you. He fears for you. He’s as excited to see you as the player is to hear a familiar, human voice. This clashes with the mood of the introduction and so the player, while thriving to care about the world around them, volleys back and forth between trusting and doubting the only thing you’ve been able to call a friend. Additionally, a character named The Caretaker shows up as a veiled antagonist to the same time. It marks you as faulty because of your need to harm your pilot and aspires to have you destroyed. The emotional journey keeps pulling left and right and blurred lines between motives and goals keep the game going until the puzzles seem like an afterthought.
The Fall isn’t unique in gameplay style or control scheme. It isn’t intricate or groundbreaking in genre. But its atmosphere snares you from the start and its simplicity by design keeps you trudging through silly puzzles. The ambient bass tones and arithmetic combat music are only used to suck you into the world further. After every menial task you’re left to wonder why you had to do it in the first place and you question what you true goal may be. You want to know how things will progress. The isolated and cold environment make what few characters present relatable be it by pure desperation or the drive to decipher their amorphous goals. The Fall is a good game to play. It is a great game to experience and it would be a shame to pass it up.