If The Fall was released 25-odd years ago, it would have almost certainly taken the form of a PC-only point â€˜n clicker. You know, the kind where half the screen is taken up by the GUI. The spirit of such games as Maniac Mansion and Beneath a Steel Sky is still alive here, but being a modern day endeavour the point â€˜n clicking has been replaced with direct character control, a la a Telltale adventure.
That comparison is more than apt, as this too is an episodic affair – the first in a trilogy.
Set on an unknown planet, the torch carried by protagonist ARID – an advanced AI program fighting to keep her unconscious human host alive – isnâ€™t just used to light up environments, but to also highlight items and objects of interest. These can then be interacted with via a small drop down menu, which is also where the inventory can be found. Like point â€˜n clickers of yore youâ€™ll sometimes find yourself becoming stuck and resorting to trying every object in your inventory with everything that can be interacted with. Some things never change.
The opening is purposely slow paced to allow the control system to become familiar, with the first task at hand being to lure an alien creature out of its den to steal the shiny firearm it has become attached to. This lends a slightly misleading initial impression; we thought we were in for a gritty quest of sheer survival, battling both creatures and the hostile alien world itself. Once the combat tutorial is out of the way, however, youâ€™re ushered into an indoor facility and this is where the gameâ€™s true colours emerge.
Ingeniously, there are no human characters in The Fall aside the one being carried inside ARID. Itâ€™s a battle between robots and computers, often won non-confrontationally with logic rather than a well-aimed bullet to the chrome dome. The robots and other AI computer programs ARID meets have their protocols and primary functions that cannot be overwritten; protocols that often clash with ARIDâ€™s task of getting her human host to the nearest medical facility.
This so happens to be the other side of a diagnostics lab, and access will only be granted if ARID can prove that she isnâ€™t malfunctioning. Only fully functional robots are allowed to leave the lab and go back to serving their human masters, see.
And so a good chunk of The Fallâ€™s 2-3 hour runtime is spent trying to fool the diagnostics system into thinking that ARID is in working order. Technically she is – sheâ€™s far more advanced than other AI systems encountered. The facility is beyond a state of disrepair, though, with human remains littering the testing grounds and dubious stains coating the already filth-encrusted decor.
The tasks at hand also all involve housekeeping, which is fair to say isnâ€™t ARIDâ€™s intended purpose. With camouflage and a rapid fire mode as standard, sheâ€™s clearly built for combat rather than cooking.
Tricking some test terminals is as easy as finding and hacking their mainframes, while other puzzles involve out of the box thinking. The easiest way to stop a baby from crying? To â€˜removeâ€™ the baby altogether, of course. Just to further highlight how The Fall doesnâ€™t take itself too seriously, another simulation involves helping an old lady cross a busy road.
Tests can be completed in any order, with each bestowing a merit token. It speaks volumes about the general design that failing certain tests proves to be more amusing than finding the correct solution. Or bypass, if you will – this is a game based around fooling unwavering AI logic.
In the run up to climax a slightly darker tone is present, while puzzles become tougher due to the final location being multi-floored, with each room featuring a few objects that be interacted with. Alien creatures are more predominant here too but worry not – ARIDâ€™s firearm has unlimited ammo, and her shield is also rechargeable. Crouch behind a crate or wall and sheâ€™ll recover fully given time. The difficulty level of combat raises a little towards the end, but it never frustrates. It never really thrills either, mind – itâ€™s simply here to punctuate the puzzle solving.
The Fall may stumble a little in the beginning but it quickly finds its feet. Like the majority episodic adventures, it can easily be beaten within an evening, but with hidden achievements to discover – plus one alternative choice to make – there is a reason to return for a second run-through. The Â£7.99 asking price still strikes us a little pricey for an episodic adventure, however, even if it does feel more self-contained than most.