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Friday, March 27, 2015

Review: The Fall

Oh ARID, don't make me fall for you...
Having taken a step back from the pressure of new releases, I decided to pick up a game I had always been very interested in, but missed the opportunity to pick up. After watching the trailer for The Fall, I was pretty enchanted, and I wanted to know more about how the game played and the story that is illustrated very well in the trailer.

Imagine my horror when I found out it was an adventure game.


-An absolutely fantastic narrative lies at the center of The Fall, with lush and engaging characters and concepts.

-Environments and art style are well-crafted and intimate.


-The standard adventure game trappings.


Oh boy.

I should say this- I have played a number of traditional adventure-style games in the past, and atop that, I have played several independent adventure titles. Before expressing my thoughts, I would like to reflect on an archaic style of gameplay that has somehow seen a resurgence in the medium despite being restrained and, quite frankly, not very enjoyable.

Many adventure games utilize a school of thought that focuses on narrative and detail in order to flesh out the world and make it one that is enjoyable to experience. I don't have a problem with this- I believe video games have the ability to tell vibrant stories and show us memorable worlds. However, I do take issue with the idea of making everything in an adventure game interactive, because the nature of these games is to present the player with elements they can combine to solve problems. Because of the narrative, there's often a great deal of gating in these types of games, where interactivity becomes available after progressing to a certain point in the story. This means any number of detailed elements can gain interactivity and that makes combing over areas again very tedious. Not all games fall prey to this flaw, but I'll tell you the truth- The Fall does.

While The Fall features a gripping narrative filled with dread and unsettling details, it's puzzles are convoluted and dissatisfying. While any adventure game requires the mindset of "interact with anything", The Fall's major issue is it's use of a flashlight scan to point out areas that are important. The flashlight beam is small and has long range but not great width, which means you can only see where a small amount of things are in front of you. This is certainly because the developers did not want a large amount of markers cluttering the screen, but there are many areas in which there is a lack of markers, so I don't understand the purpose. The Fall also insists on gating many if it's inventory items for specific points of progression, and creating various exceptions to its rules- context-sensitive and constant items that will stay in the inventory but never see reuse. It feels a bit sloppy and unpolished. The fact that several gated items appear at the site of story-driven events is a bit bizarre, even more so when the items have seemingly no relevance. It's an adventure game curse- make the progression as confusing and specific as possible so that the difficulty comes from understanding what the developer thought was a good idea.

There is combat, but it essentially becomes a minor inconvenience once you can the ability to camouflage. The fact that there are boxes here and there for the player to hide behind is immediately invalidated by blending into the background and it seems superfluous. The final boss of the game isn't threatening in any way, and the lack of cues as to how to defeat him when every other in the puzzle has had some sort of hint is a bit annoying.

I'll use the word "superfluous" again, because there's lots of aspects of The Fall that... fall into that category. The environments are pretty, but the low density of interactive elements and amount of walking involved to solve some puzzles makes the solution a bit of a chore. The story is genuinely engaging and I was actually surprised by the twist, which I first thought was obvious, but the way it ties events and justifications for gated information is a bit lazy and feels like a nice coat of paint to cover up a disappointing fact. The combat has no reason for existing. And yet, there is still a part of me that is willing to sit through the mediocre puzzles and plodding character movement so I can discover more of what this story has. So they succeeded in that respect.

Final Verdict: With a story that is mysterious and horrifying and bolstered by the dark visuals, The Fall has great potential, but it is squandered by overcomplicated puzzles, a frustrating lack of innovation, and useless game mechanics. But with a story as good as this, it is hard to turn someone away from it. I recommend a Let's Play.

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