It's like Metroid if the Power Suit was the star and it was really into point-n-click adventure games
Kickstarter has helped some truly unique gaming titles to come to fruition. Pixel-art Metroidvanias. Unity-made top-down isometric RPGs. Adventure games. And many more of those exact same types of game. But what happens when a crazy developer called Over The Moon combines all three?! Well, apart from the top-down isometric RPG, but it is made in Unity. May we present The Fall, which has absolutely nothing to do with Deus Ex, Max Payne or a TV series starring Gillian Anderson. It's a combination of Metroid and a point-n-click adventure, except with the novel twist that you're not playing Samus Aran - you're playing her suit.
After a crash into a mysterious junk planet leaves your human pilot in critical condition, you the player take control of the A.R.I.D. AI on-board the power suit the pilot is wearing. Your goal as ARID is to get him to a nearby medical facility and make sure he doesn't die. This will be more difficult than it seems as the planet is filled with hostile animals and robots, not to mention a psychopathic android called the Caretaker who has determined you are faulty and must be disposed of.
Always a good sign
There are a number of problems with The Fall that I'll get to, but fortunately writing isn't one of them. ARID starts off coldly logical but the events of the game twist her programming into something more adaptable and interesting, and the main two side-characters are cool too. The Caretaker is pretty terrifying, tasked with maintaining the facility to a certain standard but has clearly gone crazy - like the Robot Santa from Futurama but less Xmassy. The Domesticon Mainframe is surprisingly the warmest character, as he's spent a long time mastering the art of human speech and really exaggerates the friendliness. He can't help you directly but gives loads of rather sweet nudges ("How would a combat droid deal with a crying baby?"). As the rather horrifying story of the facility makes itself known in a System Shock-style way through to the shocking finale, I could only be disappointed that The Fall is only the rather short first part of a three-part story as I was into it so much.
As a game though The Fall has numerous flaws that kept me from fully enjoying myself, and most of these became apparent immediately upon starting. To the extent in fact that I very nearly gave up on this review and deleted the game in the first area. As mentioned it's like a combination of Metroid and point-n-click adventures. You control ARID on a 2D perspective and there is combat, but the majority of gameplay is solving adventure-game-style puzzles by using inventory items and logical thinking. And it's here that the frustration lies, as The Fall's design is not conducive to puzzle solving. In fact Over The Moon seem to have gone out of their way to make the adventure game side of the game as needlessly frustrating as possible.
Let's start with the controls. The Fall allows both keyboard and Xbox 360 gamepad to be used, and both control equally badly. On 360 pad 'A' is jump (which you barely ever use), LB takes cover and RB is Interact, clicking the Right Stick changes between Combat and Interactive modes, whereas B, X, Y and the two triggers aren't used. That's silly enough, but Keyboard + Mouse can be customised and that's equally hamstrung by what the buttons actually do. The Interact button for starters: if you press it, it doesn't interact. You have to hold it to bring up a menu, and it still won't interact because the default option is 'Cancel'. You know how annoying it is in some games where you get asked "Are you sure you want to enter the next area?" or "Do you want to save?" where the answer is almost always "yes" but you have to physically select it because the default stupidly is "no"? Imagine that but with every single interactive item in an adventure game. Why is there even a 'cancel' button? I have to hold the Interact button down, so I can just let go to cancel!! Then while holding Interact I can press Left to Network with the item (used all of twice in the entire game), Right to Use, and Right and then Down plus Left and Right to use various inventory items with the object (which could be just a bit of scenery) - all of which requires several fingers. Over The Moon, please find a dictionary and look up the word 'intuitive', you've clearly never encountered it before.
The rather creepy Caretaker
That's the first pain-in-the-arse. The second is that the art style, which is clearly a combination of Limbo and The Swapper, doesn't work with a genre where you need to see important or interactive objects easily without having to sweep every screen with the mouse (or in this case, flashlight). For example in the very first area of the game you need to get past a motion sensor, and need a cloaking device to do it. That cloak is attached to a crucified robot, but the only way to get him down is to notice that a cable and black square hanging from the ceiling is important - it looks like part of the background, because like all the scenery in the game it's totally black. The only way to see if something is important is by shining your flashlight on it at close range, otherwise you'll walk straight past it and not notice it. How about a indistinct black box that looks like part of a wall which you can only "see" with the flashlight from one side, the opposite way you originally approached it from? Or literally a straight angular part of the ceiling that is solid black like the rest of the walls until you shoot it and it turns out to be glass? "Finding the things you want me to find" is not a puzzle guys, and it's certainly not enjoyable.
Finally, like all the worst adventure games, once you get stuck there's literally nothing you can do other than running over the place looking for something you've missed. There's no in-game hints of any kind - I don't mean a full hint system, I mean no clues at all. Some of the middle puzzles in The Fall, the tests where you have to prove you can be a lowly service droid, offer some clues, but the majority need to be fully figured out. Try to use the right item at the wrong time and does ARID offer words of encouragement? Nope, just "I cannot do that". My early portions of the game were spent scanning the Steam forum looking for advice or, more likely, solutions. I was getting increasingly fed up.
Combat is pretty fun when it works
And then, and then, once I'd finally got used to all the s**t above it all clicked into place. I don't know if the game just got better designed or I just at last understood the logic at play between the dodgy systems, but the last half flowed much better, I didn't get stuck at all, and I could enjoy the story in peace until the thrilling conclusion. According to Steam it took me 3+ hours to finish The Fall (or Episode 1 or whatever the heck it is) and 1-2 of them were filled with pain, misery, and a lot of Alt-Tabbing to search Google for a walkthrough. The final hour though I actually managed to like, although I never did get used to those awful controls (and I'd personally say that mouse and keyboard is better, but not by much).
THE FALL VERDICT
So, will I continue to The FallEpisode 2? Only if Over The Moon fix the critical and aggravating flaws with the game. The story and writing was excellent and once I finally got used to all the poor design decisions I found out that the game was actually quite fun. Nevertheless, the controls remain an unintuitive mess (with both keyboard and gamepad), the Limbo shadow world-style easily hides important information or items, and if you get stuck there’s no help at all and nothing you can do other than boringly using everything on everything or venturing out of the game to find a walkthrough. The first half was so frustrating I almost cried, and the second half was actually pretty entertaining. Oh, and the whole game was 3 hours long. And you can’t use either mouse or arrow keys on the main menu for some reason. In short, fix these problems Over The Moon and maybe the second episode of The Fall will be all fun and not just the last hour.
TOP GAME MOMENT
The rather dramatic solution to the “baby crying” puzzle. Well, it stop crying didn’t it?