The Fall pulls off some impressive tricks within its short runtime, and plays masterfully with the concept of an AI that must bend the rules of its own internal logic to accomplish its objective. This is a challenging and interesting point-and-click that had me on its hook for the duration.
You play as ARID, an artificial intelligence that has been given control of a combat suit which has crash landed in an unknown location, rendering the suit’s pilot unconscious and unresponsive. You must find medical assistance, but are limited to the achieving this whilst following your AI constraints:
As early puzzlesemerge and are completed, you’ll begin to see where the game’s narrative focus lies, as ARID pushes at her confines and even exploits the parameters to ultimately ensure the survival of the pilot.
The game neatly brings together mechanics from several genres, primarily point-and-click and tactical combat, and executes its ideas very well, for the most part. Puzzles are challenging and rewarding, though sometimes I felt that I’d exhausted my options and resorted to ‘try everything I’m holding on every interactive element in the gameworld’, scrolling through each inventory item in sequence in the hopes that I’d that simply missed something illogical. Luckily, this was rarely the case, and it was more often down to me not sweeping my torch across every surface thoroughly enough. I found the challenge enough to propel me forward without me feeling like I wanted to disengage.
Combat emerges out of nowhere, forcing you to take cover, survey the situation and neutralise the threat. Then the scene dissipates and you’re returned to stark reality. It’s really effective at taking you by surprise and forcing you to change pace, and doesn't outstay its welcome or jarringly pull you away from the relative quiet and creeping dread on display the rest of the time - it’s snappy and instant, and is integrated very well.
As you progress, picking up items and reading descriptions of your surroundings, a larger world is implied that you’ll be intrigued by and want to continue exploring. The facility that you find yourself in will seem very barren, but it’s inhabited by a small cast of AI characters that delivered my favourite scenes of the entire game. ARID must converse with these quirky residents to make progress and herein lies very clever dialogue and witty back-and-forth, all playing with the concept of artificial forms interacting with each other, and the danger of an intelligence that’s beginning to understand just how intelligent it can be, to the horror of its peers. These clashes are humorous and thrilling.
The Fall stays in character the entire time, from the dialogue options you’re given all the way down to its presentation: fake bootup sequences, bootstrap command interfaces, and the screen glitching out and tearing apart during encounters with hostiles, or - even more interestingly - in moments when ARID appear to almost justify to herself that her questionable actions are in service of the greater good, and therefore somehow still within her mission parameters.
The game is paced incredibly, clocking in at a handful of captivating hours that nudged me forward through it’s eerie world, eager to see more. My favourite puzzle moments in the game came when an area would open up and task me with juggling several objectives at once, forcing me to take stock of what I’d seen and where I’d been, piecing it together as I went.
Interestingly, we’re apparently due for another two episodes of The Fall. This first episode is self contained and well worth playing through now, it is a very easy recommendation for me, for how it handles narrative, and for the direction it takes with the concept of an AI that’s growing too big for its boots. That’s in part down to the Halo-phile in me drawing favourable comparisons with the concepts of AI rampancy prevalent deep within the lore of my favourite sci-fi universe, but I felt it strike a chord with me with everything it does that goes beyond simply reminding me of something I already like - It’s unique and intriguing in its own right.
GoPlayThat Podcast: Tom checks in with Rob and Stu to hear about their thoughts and experiences with 2014's The Fall.
The Fall is available now on Steam. As of yet, we've seen no word on release for forthcoming episodes, but are excited to see what's next for ARID.