The Fall begins aptly, with a spacesuit-clad soldier hurtling so quickly from the sky that they burst through the Earth into a cavern. Unconscious, the marine’s A.I., called A.R.I.D., takes control of the suit in the hope of finding the medical attention its pilot needs. Thus begins a hard-boiled science fiction tale of an A.I. doing whatever it takes, perhaps even skirting its own programming, to complete its sole directive.
The Fall plays out like a 2D adventure game; trying to reach your goal involves a careful study of the environments you find yourself in, with a lot of cause and effect puzzles to propel you further. A.R.I.D. uses a flashlight to focus on the dank landscape, causing certain points of interest to be highlighted for further investigation. It’s not as scripted as you might think, but at the same time it’s also a welcome quality of life addition that makes the usual “click on everything” mentality feel even more archaic than it already does.
What also makes The Fall stick out in the adventure genre is that the flow of discovery feels very organic and logical. Instead of throwing everything at the wall and hoping something sticks, The Fall kind of sets you on the right path if you stop and think about what you’ve seen and read, as well as what you’ve gathered on your journey. An early example has A.R.I.D. trying to nab a working firearm from a space rat tucked away in a hole. The solution involves using a pan you confiscated to gather blood from another dead soldier you came across to lure it out, then interfacing with the gun while it’s outside the nest to cause it to remotely blast the rodent.
The game definitely requires a high level of observation, but it does a good job of teaching you what to look for in a very subtle manner. If you find yourself stumbling (as I often did), the game will also make its hints a little less subtle and more direct. I still found myself frustratingly stuck every now and again, but it was often because I missed a clue along the way. Design-wise, some of the puzzles felt a bit padded out, but the logic was still there and I just chose to follow the wrong breadcrumbs.
Where The Fall falters is in moments where it decides to add combat to the proceedings. Switching your flashlight for a laser sight, there are occasions where you need to fight your way through corridors to get to where you need to go. You can take cover in various ways and, as is the norm for shooters, headshots garner a quicker end. The combat is a bit stiff and unexciting, but it’s manageable… at first. Towards the end you’ll find yourself fighting in a few gauntlet-like scuffles where you might struggle with the controls and perhaps even see a reload screen or two. It’s not enough to damn the game, but the combat is definitely a wobble instead of the welcome change of pace it was probably supposed to be.
What really makes The Fall interesting though is its story – and it’s the kind that the less I tell you about it, the more you’ll enjoy it. It’s a play on Isaac Asimov’s I, Robot, and it asks a lot of hard questions about what’s kosher for an A.I. to do in order to serve its master, both moralistically and logically. Certain interactions further drive home what purpose A.R.I.D. has in the world at large. The ending is surprising and a bit befuddling – but the sequel, The Fall Part 2: Unbound, has already been released on Switch, so it’s clear that this is supposed to be an episodic story that the developers hope you’ll follow.
As someone who isn’t into the head-scratching nature of adventure games, The Fall came across as a breath of fresh air for its environmental storytelling and logical progression. If I found myself taking shots in the dark it was because of my inability to grok what I knew and not because of arbitrary obtuseness on the part of the developer. What’s nice is that the next chapter is readily available for those who seek more answers, but what’s nicer is that there is a story here that makes you want to seek those answers. As a singular experience it works well too, assuming you take the ending at face value and leave at that. Regardless, The Fall is an intriguing blend of short story and adventure game that takes a welcome hard sci-fi slant.
The Fall is available for Wii U, Mac, Linux, Xbox One, PC, PlayStation 4 and Switch. We reviewed the Switch version.
Disclosure statement: Review code for The Fall was provided by Plan of Attack. A Most Agreeable Pastime operates as an independent site, and all opinions expressed are those of the author.