[Disclaimer: indie games that I review are reviewed differently than larger development team games; “AAA” games. This doesn’t mean I don’t hold them to high standards, but rather, I take into considerations different variables, such as the size of the actual development team, or the type of finances that were available]
I’ve made it know that I’m a horror/sci-fi fan, both for film and video games. There is something special when either genre is done effectively and efficiently; there’s something even more unique when the two are blended well. The Fall, the recent title by developer Over the Moon, has been on my radar for some time now. With only a few screenshots and short teasers, my interest had been piqued. Now that I’ve gotten my hands on it, did the game measure up to what I expect from a title in these genres?
Visuals – 7.75/10
Even from the teaser trailers that we were given before the release of The Fall, the title looked very good. Relying on dark landscape, the visuals found in this game are well done for an indie game. I wouldn’t say it is up to par with a full retail release, visually speaking, but it definitely holds its own. The game, generally, runs smoothly and has some very good lighting effects. Though the actual visuals are solid, however, I came across a few instances where the frame rate dropped, or the game completely came to a stop for a full 2-3 seconds. This only happened a few times, but it was definitely noticeable.
As far as design and art style goes, The Fall is a mixed bag for me. The atmosphere the landscape creates is amazingly well done; the background, as well as the foreground, gives depth to the caverns you land in. There are many instances where the player’s focus is drawn to the background specifically, whether a NPC is crawling around in the back, the distant terrain is shrouded in fog/haze (creating a sense of claustrophobia), or actual plot developments begin taking place in the background. The developers gave decent depth to this game, masking the 2D side-scrolling gameplay into something that feels more 3-dimensional. This type of depth created really enhances not only the overall visual experience, but immerses the player into this world, this story. However, where the landscape excels, the character designs do not.
Outside of the main character (who looks suspiciously like a version of a suit Samus would wear), the overall design is fairly bland. You will come across enemies throughout the game, almost all of the same robot design – they aren’t anything to behold, nor do they stand out much. Even the sole antagonist in the game has little appeal, essentially having a small improvement in the visual design department. Also, along the same train of thought, some of the animations were bland or didn’t make it up to par, like the enemy movements or the “jumping” animation from ARID (the main protagonist).
One other note is that the cutscenes in the game are done with still pictures of the characters speaking. This would’ve been fairly dull, but the voice acting and writing in the game helped to improve these sections greatly.
The visuals in The Fall are solid enough, creating great atmosphere to set the tone of the game, but are dragged down a little by a few instances of frame rate drops and generally bland character designs/animations.
Audio – 9/10
Being a horror fan, as well as a sci-fi fan, there is one thing that is a must when gaming is concerned: audio. Both the music and the various audio cues have to be spot on in order to both create tenseness and immersion. I’m happy to report that The Fall delivers on this aspect.
Right from the beginning, as soon as the menu appeared on the TV, I was immediately immersed into The Fall. The main menu acts as…well, a menu in the game; resembling a computer screen with basic functions to choose from. The sound cues fit extremely well with what was displayed. When I began my game, I was greeted with a haunting, ambient composition; this was tremendous, as this immediately set the tone of the game atmosphere and its story. Every step, mechanical sound, loud noise off screen, and everything between is incredibly well done.
The music mainly consists of ambient compositions which manufacture a great horror-like atmosphere and a feeling of impending evil. Yes, there were a few instances when the music swelled and emphasized important points in the plot, but the music that filled the space while exploring the map is a key “win,” as far as audio is concerned. What it effectively does is place the gamer into a tense mood; thus, when loud noises, music, or events created to startle the player are revealed, it truly feels surprising.
Not only does the audio and music enhance the horror element in The Fall, but the various audio cues promote the sci-fi aspect engrained in it, too. From the sound your gun makes, to the semi-futuristic machinery noises, to the AI voice overs, The Fall is superb. And speaking of voice overs…
The choice of using voice overs in this game was the right decision. I found myself attached to ARID, though she is just an AI for a military grade suit. The writing is very well done, too, and the few voice actors in the game handle each line very well. I was pleasantly surprised by these voice overs and cannot imagine playing this game without them.
Overall, the musical and audio cues in The Fall far surpassed what I expected from the title, and do a sufficient job with the horror/sci-fi nature of the game.
Gameplay – 8/10
As I stated before, The Fall is a 2D side-scrolling game with 3D elements that give the illusion of more depth. The exploration is very limited in the game, as it is very story driven; there are upgrades to “find” that are needed to progress in the story, but it is a very linear experience. I do not use that with a negative connotation, either, as a game can be entertaining whether it is open or linear; it just has to be done correctly. The developers, thankfully, did it correctly; well, for the most part, at least.
The “point ‘A’ to point ‘B'” mentality really works for this game, as you play an AI for a military grade suit; the focus being “fulfill the mission.” You, the player, navigate through various puzzles, each being labeled as “organic” by the developers. You have to figure out how puzzles in order to progress to the next area of the map, and unfold the story further. I have to say, some of these puzzles are very hard, but in a superb way. What the developer meant by that statement – the puzzles being organic – is that they do not conform to typical game puzzles. There aren’t really any tutorials, but rather, the player must explore the controls as well as the game itself. I, personally, enjoyed this aspect of the game, but could see how it might be frustrating for others.
An example would be towards the very beginning of the game. You have to figure out a way to go deeper underground, and the game gives you very little direction. It took me about 15 minutes just to figure out the solution; in fact, I almost decided to walk away from the game and try again later. What’s intriguing about the puzzle solving in The Fall is this: once I finished that initial puzzle, it changed my mindset on how to solve puzzles, making the rest of the game much more enjoyable. There are actually some very well done puzzles later on, mixed with black humor (you’ll know which one I’m talking about specifically – one that involves a baby). I will say this about the puzzle gameplay in The Fall – I haven’t experienced anything like it before. The puzzles are the heart of the gameplay, and it truly helps the game to shine and set itself apart.
As good as the puzzle elements and the story driven gameplay aspects are, the battle aspect is less than desirable. When faced with (boring) enemies shooting at you, you can take cover by holding the left shoulder button, then using the right joystick to aim. This method works well on paper, but the execution isn’t the best. There were many times I missed my shot because the recoil of the gun didn’t blend well with my aiming of the joystick; needless to say, I died quite a few times because of this. The fighting gameplay is fairly bland as well: basically, you take cover, wait for the enemy to shoot, then shoot them in the head. That’s it. Later on, another enemy is introduced which adds to the strategy of fighting mechanics, but by then it is too late, and not used often enough.
In short, The Fall has very memorable puzzles to solve – which are at the very core of the gameplay – which will most likely test your patience, but is riddled with fighting mechanics that might have been better left out or polished a little more.
Entertainment Factor – 8/10
The Fall entertained me greatly, in both gameplay and story. The story isn’t anything that will blow your mind (I guessed the surprise twist towards the middle of the game), but because of the voice acting, good dialogue, and atmosphere, the story is enhanced greatly. I put in about 5 hours of play time, and I enjoyed every bit of the various story events experienced.
You play as ARID, an AI trying to save her human (who is inside of her suit). The human pilot clothed in the military grade suit, that ARID is a part of, mysteriously fell out of the sky and plummeted through the surface to an underground cavern – barely alive thanks to the help of ARID initiating a protective force field before impact. It is your job to seek medical attention for your human pilot. The story proves to be solid, with some great black humor and dialogue propelling it forward.
However good the story is, though, there were a few drawbacks: the replayability is extremely low for The Fall, and the GamePad is only used for off-TV play. A game like this had potential to utilize the GamePad in some unique ways, perhaps adding into the already excellent set of puzzles to solve. Alas, the GamePad is merely used to double the screen, and nothing more. And as far as online play is concerned, this game doesn’t have any, nor does it really need it. Though I put 5 hours into it, I wanted more content, simply because what was served was very good.
Good story, great voice over work, excellent atmosphere, and amazing puzzles come together to create a very entertaining game, despite its shortcomings in replayability and GamePad usage.
So, what do I think of The Fall? There were some flaws to be found in the game, but they were made much smaller in comparison to stellar puzzle solving, great storytelling, and excellent atmosphere created by the audio and visuals. I definitely recommend it, especially for its $9.99 price tag!
Overall – 8.25/10