The Fall – What We Think:
Technically the first chapter in a three-part trilogy, The Fall from indie developers Over the Moon, is an excellent modern take on legendary side-scrolling platform adventure games like Flashback and Another World. Thanks to its themes of artificial intelligence and the morality of robots, it also recalls the thoughtful science fiction of Isaac Asimov and especially Philip K. Dick.
The Fall puts you in control of ARID, an artificial intelligence integrated with a high tech suit of battle armor; the suit’s inhabitant has apparently been knocked out during a crash landing, leaving ARID in control of the suit. Damage sustained during the crash has also knocked out portions of ARID’s programming, including the parameters of her mission, but her primary objective is to keep her pilot alive at all costs.
The Artificially Intelligent Dodger
The Fall focuses more on thought than action; though the mechanics are pretty standard for a platformer, you don’t have to worry about missing jumps. Similarly, combat is based more on stealth than twitchy reflexes; you can duck behind cover and eventually activate an onboard camouflage system that lets you more or less turn yourself invisible. Rather than running headlong into enemy fire, you’ll find yourself hiding a lot and waiting to deliver kill shots.
You will need your wits about you to progress, however. The Fall is loaded with inventory puzzles in the classic point-and-click adventure mode; to its credit, all of the puzzle solutions make sense in the context of the game and its story. In addition to manipulating objects in the environment, you can also network with computer terminals and androids to converse with other artificial intelligences you may encounter.
Which Rule Rules?
Where The Fall really excels is in its story. ARID is more than just a computer program controlling a suit. As the events of the game unfold, the story becomes less about the immediate struggle of getting medical attention for her pilot and more about the choices she is forced to make, many of which seem to contradict her own programming. A scene early on, for example, requires her to allow the suit to be shot; this puts her pilot in danger, but at the same time allows her to activate the camouflage system she will need to keep him safe.
As the story progresses and she interacts with other artificial intelligences, the ideas of programmed rules (clearly inspired by Isaac Asimov’s Rules of Robotics) and the freedom to break them grow thornier and more convoluted. The game raises philosophical and moral questions about artificial intelligence while at the same time applying a Philip K. Dick-inspired sense of dark humor to them, as exemplified by a section set in an artificial suburbia during which ARID must contravene her programmed orders against deception in order to impersonate a domestic servant droid.
Equal Parts IQ and Pew Pew
Luckily, the gameplay is satisfying enough to keep things from getting too cerebral. Philosophical conundrums aside, there’s a sense of accomplishment to be had from solving a difficult puzzle and a more visceral pleasure derived from the occasional but beautifully implemented combat sequences.
Much like last year’s Gunpoint, combat isn’t the game’s main point, but it’s nonetheless a delicious thrill to step out of the shadows and blow a security robot’s head off with a single shot from your high-caliber sidearm.
First Rule of Robotics: Always Leave Them Wanting More
The only trouble with The Fall is that it’s too short! The puzzles are so perfectly placed—hard enough to make you think but not so obscure that they leave you frustrated—the atmosphere so perfectly thick, and the storyline so compelling that just when you feel like you’ve really inhabited the world the game builds for you, it’s over! To make matters worse, it ends with a twist that asks a lot more questions than it answers. Developers Over the Moon Games are at work on the second installment, and frankly it can’t come soon enough.
Watch the trailer for The Fall below: