The Fall by Over The Moon games is a thought-provoking sci-fi themed adventure that brings together three different genres. With a fresh take on point-and-click, pixel-hunting gameplay, this Kickstarter-funded PlayStation 4 title also combines platforming and combat with an immersive dialogue-driven narrative that takes one almighty twist just before the credits roll.
Inspired by Super Metroid, Monkey Island and Limbo, The Fall is the first part in a series trilogy, with the final episode set to conclude the story arc. This first episode takes around three or four hours to complete and puts you in the role of ARID, an artificial intelligence that takes the form of a combat space suit. During the intro, you learn that the original wearer of the suit is Josephs, an astronaut who, for some reason, is floating around in orbit before he lands on a mysterious planet with an almighty bump. With Josephs injured and unable to communicate, his suit gets taken over by ARID whose goal is to protect the human and find medical help.
As a robotic being, ARID is supposed to be conditioned to obey certain rules, but as she seeks to save this human’s life it’s clear that she may have malfunctioned as she goes against the commands she’s programmed for; most notably ‘being obedient.’ What makes the storyline so fascinating is that ARID’s character develops throughout the game, which goes against the grain of what a robot should be, and what it’s programmed for. As she interacts with other droids, you also see how they’ve developed beyond their robotic nature, taking on the personas of their human masters now that they’ve been abandoned. It’s creepy and thought-provoking to witness these robots push past their basic programming boundaries and appear to have emotions.
The narrative is driven by some superb script-writing and dialogue with a solid cast of voice actors who deliver their lines with skill and authenticity. The audio work is excellent with filters used to capture the sounds of the robots, and synthesiser-fuelled space music nailing the sci-fi theme. The pacing of the story is spot-on too as you unlock information from computers, consoles and droids, and discover that The Fall is anything but another generic sci-fi story. I found myself immersed in the unfolding tale, enamoured by the AI cast, and looking forward immensely to the next interaction. As the credits rolled, I was left satisfied with its conclusion, and keen to find out what happens next in episode two.
The Fall takes place on a decommissioning center (a testing plant) for robots, which has been abandoned by humans and is now home to hostile security droids and AI administrators. With its eerie atmosphere, the setting provides the perfect backdrop for the events that unfold as ARID searches for help through the debris and darkness. To penetrate the gloomy locations ARID carries a flashlight, which can be used to light up the darkness in order to find and interact with numerous objects.
In this side-scrolling adventure, gameplay largely takes the form of point-and-click puzzles. ARID can move around the environment to pick up objects, add them to her inventory and combine them with other items in order to solve puzzles. Near the beginning of the game, for example, she’ll find a spanner that can be used to unscrew a robotic arm. She then uses that limb to reach through a locked gate to activate a console. Despite areas being littered with items to examine, it’s not often you’ll have more than a handful of objects in your inventory, yet it still proves to be a challenge to work out the puzzles thanks to their clever design. Thankfully, the puzzles are logical and keep well within that sci-fi theme, such as having to use wire cutters to disable a computer network, or inserting a battery into a generator; the challenge largely comes down to actually finding the relevant items in the first place.
One of my favourite sections involves having to pass a number of tests in order to reach the medical bay. During this series of creative challenges, you have to be the perfect robot by carrying out menial tasks for a family. Through close examination of every room, and interactions between your inventory items and other objects, you need to comfort a crying baby, clean the bedroom and make a meal for the family. It’s the sign of a good point-and-click adventure that it takes a lot of thought to complete these tasks, yet when you discover the answers they make perfect logical sense and give you that warm feeling of satisfaction.
On the downside, if you miss one item with your flashlight you can get easily stuck. The Fall is a dark game in terms of its lighting set-up, and the flashlight is manually controlled so you’re forced to search every nook and cranny; miss one thing and it can throw you off for a considerable time, and will probably have less patient players reaching for a walkthrough. Like many point-and-click games, there’s also a few occasions where it’s fairly difficult to work out what to do next. Without the help of any audio or text hints, you’re totally left on your own – this will either be a welcome challenge, or an irritance.
As you progress you also unlock abilities for the suit, such as combat and camouflage. While the latter is used to turn invisible to avoid fire from hostile droids, the combat mode activates a gun that can be fired by pointing the laser beam. The gun is used to solve a few puzzles in the game, but is also needed for combat. The gun fights involve robots who generally take cover and take pot-shots at you. You too can click L1 to dodge behind cover and then pop back out to take a headshot to destroy them. With one-hit kills and predictable enemy movement, the combat sequences are very simple to complete, but they do offer a welcome change of pace to the puzzles.
Overall, the control scheme can be frustrating. Switching between flashlight and gun feels a little clumsy as you can only switch between the two when aiming, which can mean you get shot in the process. The small amount of genuine platforming gameplay, which involves jumping up to a ledge, isn’t particular smooth either. Having to get into that sweet spot and stand precisely underneath the ledge in order to make that smooth transition upwards feels a little dated. The biggest frustration, however, is object interaction, which could have been handled better. Whenever you spot an object, you can interact with it by clicking R1 to bring up a menu. You then have to move across that menu to select ‘interact,’ or to choose an item that you wish to use. As a result it feels a little clunky. It’s maybe a small point to bring up, but I feel it would have been more intuitive to have the option of one-click interaction.
Nevertheless, the control scheme and need to pixel-hunting so aggressively rarely distracted me from the bigger picture. The driving force of The Fall is its narrative, dialogue and immersive game world. The shadowy scenery and haunting soundtrack adds to that immersion, while its well-designed puzzles expertly help to build on its theme before it rattles you with its impressive conclusion. The Fall is, quite simply, one the best indie titles so far this year, and a must-play for those who enjoy sci-fi storylines. I truly cannot wait to play Episode Two.