Looking at screenshots of Over The Moon’s recent side-scrolling horror adventure The Fall, you’d be forgiven for mistaking it for a stereotypical sci-fi actioner, the kind that tasks players to guide Generic Astronaut X through Inhospitable Environment Y to reach Goal Z. While it certainly retains a few traces of classic Metroidvania gameplay, however, there is very little actual action, with emphasis instead placed on inventory-based puzzle solving and telling a dark, atmospheric story. In fact, the compelling story is the true selling point of The Fall.
It does indeed seem at first glance that the designers resorted to that go-to safety net of science fiction, where an unlucky cosmonaut has somehow gotten stranded on an alien planet and must use his wits to survive. But appearances can be deceiving. In reality, The Fall’s protagonist isn’t Josephs, the human wearing the spacesuit, but the actual suit itself. During an unprotected freefall from orbit, Josephs becomes critically wounded inside his suit and loses consciousness. This prompts A.R.I.D., the artificial intelligence onboard the suit, to take over all essential functions and follow its prime directive: to save its pilot by finding medical assistance for him somewhere on the planet.
While there is no cosmetic difference between an AI-controlled suit and a human wearing said suit, it has some interesting implications for the game’s story. A.R.I.D. acts on pure logic and follows its programming to a fault. It is wholly incapable of lying, disobeying, or performing any action that causes its pilot direct harm. As A.R.I.D. explores the planet, it discovers the ruined shell of a droid repurposing facility, once a thriving place of industry, now devoid of life and populated only by other AIs and machines. Time has taken its toll, and some of the mechanical beings have spent the years developing quasi-human personalities, ending up with a strangely skewed grasp on reality in the process.
The game’s writing really shines in the interactions between A.R.I.D. and the other AIs, exploring the tragic process that occurs when a being of cold, programmed logic completely goes off the deep end. Dialog choices are stated in ways that would make sense to artificial intelligences (instead of “asking questions”, you are “acquiring data”). Without any trace of emotion whatsoever, A.R.I.D. can have a rational conversation with another robot about turning it off and removing its power source, i.e. killing it and looting its corpse. This method in approaching how the characters relate to each other is at once uniquely interesting and scary in its cruel efficiency.
Josephs’ loss of consciousness has caused most of his suit’s functions to toggle offline. Re-enabling these functions works in a similar fashion within the game as obtaining new abilities does in other titles; some alter A.R.I.D.’s programming and enable you to solve the game’s puzzles, while others unlock new gameplay mechanics, like combat or camouflage, to help A.R.I.D. survive on its way through the abandoned facility. However, the developers have implemented a rather clever mechanic to acquire these new abilities throughout the adventure. In the absence of a conscious pilot, the suit’s safety protocols prevent any systems from coming online unless faced with a potentially lethal situation that must be averted. For example, the only way to reactivate the camouflage ability is to come under deadly fire from an enemy. This lets A.R.I.D. take advantage of a loophole in its programming: By submitting Josephs to dangerous situations, despite her programming to protect him at all costs, suit functionality is restored bit by bit.
Though there is some gunplay sprinkled into The Fall at a few points, it really is a negligible amount that doesn’t detract from the overall adventure experience. Essentially nothing more than pointing and clicking, the three or four combat sections are brief and amount to about the same as a sort of “rhythm puzzle” – time your clicks just right to stay in cover, pop out at the right moment, squeeze off two or three shots, repeat. There is very little difficulty imposed by this, as there is no reloading necessary, and A.R.I.D. has both regenerating health and shields. There is a boss battle at one point, but even this is focused on the combination of brains and brawn.
Graphically, The Fall thrives on darkness, and rarely goes out of its way to show off very much of its environments. In fact, the entire foreground is displayed in pure black silhouette, including the suit itself (which fans of Dead Space will probably find suspiciously familiar). Backgrounds are also quite dim and sometimes purposely hazy and out-of-focus, making you squint your eyes to try penetrating the darkness. Though a powered-down facility should be dark and dim, at times I found myself wishing for a way to turn up the brightness a little, if only to enjoy my surroundings more.Continued on the next page...