The Fall Review – Survival of the Fittest (PS4)
The Fall is a truly befuddling platformer that questions deep topics of science with admirable dexterity while navigating a harsh and eerie environment. There’s no sugar-coating it, this isn’t a cakewalk and puzzles can often become infuriatingly complex while the little doses of action prove to be benign articles of respite. It’s this complexity that is likely to be The Fall’s greatest problem, hindering players from exploring the depths it actually goes to – most notably in its closing sequences.
After a spectacular crash landing in a derelict android repair facility, you’re introduced to your suit and its AI, ARID. The suits’ carbon-based life form occupant, Colonel Josephs, is in a critical condition, leaving the suits’ AI in control of its functions with a prime directive of saving the Colonel’s life. Incidentally the facility is stocked with hostile security drones who follow orders of “The Caretaker,” a creepy and eccentric droid who’s essentially taken control of the facility. Fortunately, not every automaton is unwelcoming and you quickly find an ally in the facility’s split-personality mainframe program.
It’s these charismatic and downright spooky characters that continually push you deeper into The Fall as they’ll normally raise more questions than answers. ARID presents us with the callousness of efficient AI that seems to naturally decay and evolve under the pressure of her task, allowing slivers of apparent emotion to seep through. On the other end of the spectrum, The Caretaker and his program take efficiency to a more sadistic level, crucifying humans for ‘malfunctioning’ while the mainframe program plays coy in a seemingly risky bid to keep his new friend around.
These characters are excellently written and tentatively fleshed out in a steady fashion that helps give drive to the brain-bashing puzzles strewn throughout. Oddly enough, the puzzles should make up the backbone of The Fall but actually present its greatest flaw. Using your flashlight you can explore and interact with your surroundings to progress, your suit can network with many electrical systems, while items can be carried and used in unique and normally unapparent ways. The scenarios often reduce to trying all available functions on all intractable items in the given environment – a futile effort in trial and error when you realize the puzzles have to be completed in a specific order.
A huge amount of backtracking, hours of head scratching and a handful of pride-shattering Google searches later and you’ll start to adjust to The Fall’s unrelenting school of thought. Thinking outside the box isn’t a natural trail to follow, but once you tune into its frequency besting the puzzles becomes less vein popping and more self-congratulating. Turning your brightness up higher than the recommended levels is well worth doing, too. as the gloom can cause you to miss imperative items, leaving you unnecessarily scouring random rooms for an eternity. Completing puzzles, aside from helping you to escape the facility, work to restart many of ARID’s suit functions such as a cloaking mechanism or more powerful bullets for your firearm that expose new ways to manipulate the environment and add new degrees of complexity to challenges.
Puzzles aren’t the only threat either; the aforementioned security droids pose just as much of a threat to your patience as the puzzles do. ARID possesses some seriously weak shields that security rips through with ease; you’ll have to take advantage of The Fall’s nifty and functional cover system if you want to remain operational. The combat is tricky, but tactical and the key is patience. Shield regeneration is about as fast as a squashed snail so fluffing up a combat sequence leaves you with two options – zip back to the last checkpoint or nestle in behind some cover and go read a book for a bit. This is problematic right up until you start to nail the headshots, then combat ascends into ego-boosting fluidity and you forget why you ever tossed your Dualshock 4 out your window in frustration.
The Fall takes inspiration from all the right games, merging Metroid-style platforming and atmosphere with Dark Souls difficulty and Portal writing. Its deep and thoughtful explorations into the technicalities of AI are intelligent and surprisingly thought provoking. It’s unfortunately hindered by clunky mechanics and overly complicated puzzles that often border on the obtuse when it comes to the specifics required to finish them. Google will be your best friend when playing through this, but try and avoid cheating or giving up entirely; solving The Fall’s conundrums is actually somewhat worth the hassle for once, proving to be a creative and rewarding challenge that shows creativity and promise.
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