THE FALL REVIEW – FALLING SHORT OF POTENTIAL

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Sometimes, a game comes along that you really want to love, but it seems to be doing everything in it’s power to prevent you from enjoying it. The Fall by Over The Moon Games is one of those games. The teaser trailer for the game had my interest, and when I booted up the game, I saw a lot of potential. Unfortunately, that all fell apart the more I played it.

The Fall is an episodic side-scrolling adventure game with light action and platforming elements sprinkled in. It’s main focus is exploration, puzzle solving, and narrative. The best way I can describe it initially is to compare it to classic point-and-click adventures, containing a lot of the same puzzle frameworks that fans of the genre have come to expect. And like most point and click adventure games, there is a heavy focus on environmental exploration and storytelling.

Starting abruptly with you careening through space and crash landing on a strange, dark planet, you awaken as a cold and calculating AI affectionately nicknamed “Arid”. Arid resides within a high-tech battle suit wrapped around her human pilot who has found himself on the receiving end of a bad case of the “I just fell from outer f****** space” disorder. Needless to say, he’s in rough shape and it’s up to Arid to take control of the body suit and seek medical assistance. This is presented as her directive, something she cannot disobey and must accomplish at all costs.

Unable to get a fix on your location, you’re left to explore the ruins of this worse-for-wear planet, which is covered in the scraps of various droids and seems to be completely devoid of human life. As you explore, you find yourself in an abandoned factory belonging to a company that seems to be in charge of creating and programming droids for human use. You must find your way to the medical bay, avoiding hostile droids and reprogramming yourself to maintain your objective. This all comes to pass as a very I, Robot-style philosophical story about sentience in AI plays out. Arid has to find ways to reactive systems and even break them in order to achieve her primary objective.

As you continue, you bump into two other main characters. An aggressive enemy droid that seems to be patrolling the area looking for robots in need of reprogramming, or crucifixion depending on the situation and the building’s information computer who has managed to survive for a long time, filling the void where necessity used to be with the desire to study and learn human tone and speech patterns. Considering the cast is made up of nothing but computer AI, the characters are surprisingly deep and interesting, strengthened by solid dialogue writing and the starting of interesting philosophical conversation pieces about will, choice, and cognizance in computer AI.

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The writing is solid, and the set-up in the first of three chapters is there for some hopefully more in-depth excursions into these topics. But as the first chapter stands, it’s simply a taster of a much larger story that may or may not pay off.

And it’d be a joy to explore this intriguing environment, indulge in the solid narrative, and contemplate computer AI, if it wasn’t for the gameplay, which is where The Fall lost me.

As I said earlier, the game plays like a point and click adventure. Exploring environments and using your surroundings to solve logic puzzles. The puzzles themselves are clever enough, often slipping into the familiar pitfalls of obscure logic and “just shove all the items into the other items until something works” kind of gameplay the genre is loved for, but this is rendered much more annoying by the central control scheme.

The Fall requires a gamepad in order to work, due to it’s analog-stick centric design. The right analog stick is used to scan the dark environments using a flashlight attached to the suit’s gun. This is done in a 360 degree circular control, with objects you can study and interact with marked by a tiny icon. From there, you use the right bumper to open a menu navigated with the left analog stick (also used for movement) which allows you to interface or pick up/use items in your inventory. It’s a somewhat cumbersome control scheme that takes a bit of getting used to. It gets especially annoying when it’s used to interact with simple things, including buttons and door panels which would have been better off assigned to a simple interact button.

But this isn’t the worst use of the control scheme, that’s held down by the combat in the game. Sporadically, you find yourself in gun fights with the patrol bots that have been reactivated to stop you. These occasional action sequences are frustrating and bland, forcing you to jump behind cover with the use of the left bumper and jump back out to shoot, using the 360-analog control to aim. The trouble is, the controls felt a bit sensitive to me, and I’d often have a hard time getting the laser sight to move slow enough to get a lock on my enemies, usually shooting right above their head or emptying clips into the crate they’re hiding behind. I wish there was a way to adjust the sensitivity of aiming in order to make it easier to hit the small parts of the target poking up from behind cover. The standing-cover enemies are substantially easier to deal with, as you can just wait for them to finish their three-shot bursts then unload on them, hit cover, and repeat. It never changes up from there.

The enemy AI is about as stupid as it can get too, taking cover and popping up to fire off a number of shots in a perfectly predictable pattern, never adapting or changing. This turns every shoot out into an uninspired game of whack-a-molebot. Which is a time-consuming chore if you can’t master the finicky aiming. Eventually, I discovered I could just walk over and jump over the crouched robots, then instantly turn around and initiate the “stealth” take down attack. I didn’t even have to worry about taking damage because when you sneak up behind the enemy and insta-kill them in this way, it completely restores your health and shield. So basically, I could take a their three-shots, leap over them, and “Metal Gear Revengeance” their spines out like some kind of demented robot game of leapfrog, instantly restoring my health. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

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This dumbed-down combat renders these segments completely unengaging. They could have been completely removed from the game and it would have been a substantially better experience for it. They do nothing but get in the way, and their predictability (Gee, a bunch of cover lined up in a hallway, wonder if I’ll be in a shoot out here soon) makes them nothing but a boring filler to extend the game a little bit. Even the very few “upgrades” you get do little to expand on the experience.

But what about the controls during the bulk of the game? The puzzle and exploration segments? Unfortunately, the controls stumble here as well. The platforming, though very, very sparse, is clunky and awkward, and the way you switch from your laser sight to your flashlight is atrocious. You have to move your right analog stick and point it down to switch, which made me hold up my gamepad and go “but what about all these other unused buttons?”. It wouldn’t have been so bad if I didn’t find it incredibly hard to trigger, sometimes spinning the analog stick around in circles or flicking it up and down in an attempt to get the flashlight to turn back on. Sometimes, it’d click twice in quick succession moving to my flashlight then straight back to the laser sight. This is an exercise in trying to fix something that wasn’t broken: a button assigned to changing between the two gun modes would have worked just fine.

The scanning made searching for items feel like more of a pain than it should have. I felt as though I had to constantly move my scanner up and down as I walked so as not to miss something obscured by the dark environments. On more than one occasion, I was completely stuck due to items appearing where there weren’t any after I did something. This wouldn’t be a problem, but as the game progresses the areas become larger, and searching every single room you were already in over and over to find things you missed took way longer than it had to. There is a lot of backtracking, and if you’re not super thorough, you’re going to miss one thing and find yourself searching every room like you lost your car keys. It takes the already sometimes tedious point and click gameplay and makes it exponentially more frustrating.

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I also had issues with a few game-halting bugs. On one occasion, I fell down an elevator shaft I had just come up, and the button for the elevator no longer worked, unable to jump out, I had to restart from the last checkpoint. One time, I beat the first stage of a boss only to find his health bar regenerated… and the boss nowhere to be found. Trapped in the boss room with nothing to interact with, I had to restart from the last checkpoint. Then, I solved a puzzle which should have let me go and open a new door, but interacting with the door button did nothing. I spent the next hour searching my environments again to see if I missed something. Killing the game in frustration, I came back the next day to find the button suddenly working! It started giving me a sense of “am I actually stuck on a puzzle, or is the game broken again and I have to reload?”.

The checkpoints are fairly arbitrary, sometimes making me tread through a puzzle or two again, or listen to a long string of dialogue every time I reloaded or restarted. I wish the game would have given me an option to save manually so I could make sure I didn’t have to do a puzzle again or run through dialogue trees repeatedly to get what I needed done. It’s not a huge problem, but when the game had me in a position to have to restart from checkpoints multiple times, it did get grating.

As this is only the first chapter, I’m expecting improvements over time, but as a first chapter, this just didn’t do much to make me hopeful for the product as a whole. It’s only a teaser for what’s to come, and the strangely rushed and abrupt cliff-hanger ending felt especially forced and poorly executed. It didn’t so much make me want to play the next chapter as it did make me raise an eyebrow and go “well, that came out of nowhere…”.


SUMMARY

The Fall isn’t completely without merit. I did find the characters and story to be very well executed, and the environments were designed with some solid detail and interesting sci-fi elements to keep you enjoying where you are. But, the gameplay completely derailed the experience. Lending itself to frustration, tedium, and boredom more than engagement. I wish I could say the narrative was worth the trouble, but even the best story can’t undo the painful experience of the gameplay and it’s many questionable design choices. I’m still invested enough to keep my eye on the next chapter, but I’m hoping with it comes some critical fixes to make the overall experience less of a mess.

MOMENT OF ARTISTRY

The  information robot companion’s switch between his programmed schpeal and commentary in it’s newly discovered human-style voice was exceptionally well-written and delivered, giving a rather unique take on AI sentience. This solid writing is what made the characters more than just empty computer AI cliches.

PROS

+ Well-Writing Dialogue Teases At A Deeply Philosophical Sci-Fi Narrative Filled With Interesting Questions And Characters

+ Well-Realized Environments With A Solid Attention To Detail Give The World Life And Raise Questions For Chapters To Come

CONS

– Clunky, Counter-Intuitive, And Mostly Frustrating Controls That Could Have Easily Been Done Better

– Atrocious Cover-Based Shooting Segments With Iffy Controls And Boring Enemy AI

– Checkpoint System Feels Random And Occasionally Leads To Repeating Segments Upon Death/Restarting The Game

– A Few Game-Halting Bugs Made Worse By Being Completely Unable To Tell If It’s A Puzzle Or A Break

– Exploration And Backtracking Is Made Far More Tedious Than It Should Have To Be

5/10


The Fall was developed by Over The Moon Games and is available on Steam starting May 30th for $9.99. No news on the release of the final two chapters.

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