Artificial intelligence (AI) doesn’t always have to lead to a robots-take-over-the-world scenario. When it does, however, we can only hope that not all AI are hostile or illogical in-nature.
ARIDs in The Fall are activated when their pilot/operator is injured or otherwise unable to operate the suit. The ARID which The Fall focuses on as the main character is activated as the suit of its unconscious pilot hurtles towards the surface of an unknown planet. Able to activate its antimatter particle shield before impact, the ARID-controlled suit, equipped with a female voice, nonetheless hits the surface hard enough to drill at least 5o meters deep into the planet.
The primary ARID directive after regaining consciousness: save the pilot, whom the ARID finds is in urgent need of medical treatment. This goal, however, won’t be simple, as the ARID finds itself surrounded by and trapped in the dark events that transpired on the planet it crash-landed on.
The ARID follows three strict protocols that require it to see the reality of the situation without bias, be obedient, and protect the active pilot. What I enjoyed about The Fall concerning this is how it tries to simulate the internal struggles an AI might go through as it grows self-aware and, in the process, comes to question and challenge its protocols in its efforts to protect its pilot.
The ARID is equipped with an operating screen that displays the suit’s abilities (8 in total: Network Interface, Camouflage System, Motion Accelerator, Power Assist Movement, Power Transfer Bypass, Thrusters, Antimatter Shielding, and Health Monitor), the activation of which normally only the pilot can authorize. In The Fall, the unconscious pilot of the ARID-equipped suit you control is obviously not capable of giving permission.
Fortunately, the ARID operating system comes with a fail-safe that allows the ARID AI to override the pilot-required restriction. Unfortunately, the fail-safe requires that pilot death be imminent and that the ability in question is required to keep the pilot safe. So, to override and activate each ability, the ARID AI often must directly violate the third protocol by purposely putting its pilot in danger, which, as the Vulcans would say, would normally be highly-illogical.
This process of an AI becoming self-aware and struggling to determine when breaking rules is necessary for self-preservation is all-too-possible, and is an excellent and rarely-used theme to explore both in the first episode and in the remaining two episodes that will make up the “The Fall” trilogy.
The Fall has excellent systems of exploration and combat, as well as a healthy dose of black, but disturbingly-human, humor in its dialogues and asides/soliloquies. For all the good that can be said of it, however, The Fall lets down in ts exploratory-clarity and “solvable” puzzles, as well as in a meaningful combat system.
The controls appear deceptively simple at the beginning of the game, then become more and more complex as you progress throughout the game. Move with A and D ( left and right) and ascend and descend stairs and/or ladders with W and S (up and down, respectively). Tap the space bar to jump, or take a running jump by tapping space while moving either left or right. The space bar is also the means of confirming a dialogue choice, proceeding to the next page of text, and to select from the in-game pause menu. However, as your primary weapon and more abilities are unlocked throughout the game, more controls become available, such as aiming and firing your weapon.
Aim your weapon, a gun that must first be charged, by holding down the right mouse button (or by rotating the right stick on a controller), and fire it at where you’re aiming by holding down the left mouse button. Handily, a later ability you activate upgrades the gun so that it can be fired semi-automatic, meaning you’ll only need to tap the left mouse button instead of holding it down for each shot. This aiming system is also the primary means of exploration, allowing you to switch between using an examining flashlight and a red laser sight on the gun with a press of the F key. Before continuing with the combat system, the exploration system needs some lovin’ too.
Like almost all puzzle-platformers, exploration is key in The Fall. The player needs to explore to find required items and acquire necessary abilities and/or knowledge. You can analyze/use/access objects and areas by hovering the flashlight over the little blue boxes that mark their location, then, after reading the short description of the area/object that pops up, holding down the shift key, which opens up a menu with several possible actions (throughout my playthrough, I was able to choose from Interface, Cancel, or Interact, with interact further giving me the option of using something in my inventory on the object/area/person). The majority of the exploration segments of the game are played with chilling background music that appropriately becomes fast-paced during gunplay as well as creepy and pitch-climbing during the more bone-rattling exploration segments.
The synchrony of the chilling music with the equally-chilling and gorgeous graphics of The Fall is splendid. The dark mood and art direction, combined with the climactic pitch and tone of the in-game music directly contributed to the horror-movie-suspense feeling I got during my first few hours into episode one. More “sensitive” images of dead and mutilated/decomposing human bodies are treated with a cautious hand that always found a way to show the gore, but still hold back on the full revelation so as to avoid stirring up too much controversy or turn off the audience of players.
Much of what I was able to analyze with the flashlight is not able to be interacted with, but does add novelty and atmosphere. These include bioluminescent insects and, later on in the game, gruesomely-treated human bodies. Because of these irrelevant options, combined with the rather-small and hard-to-spot blue boxes (which become yellow when you hover over them with your flashlight) indicating an analyzable object/area, I often became lost or frustrated in figuring out where to go or what to use throughout the game.
Perhaps, however, this is how it was meant to be, since Over The Moon has stated that The Fall’s puzzles were designed to be organically-solved, meaning their solutions were not supposed to be obvious. One-time use of items or modifications/combinations among them or with the environment are the most common interaction choices there are in The Fall. For example, one puzzle totally stumped me for at least a day and a half. This puzzle exemplifies one of the more implicit solutions to an otherwise-tough problem: You must realize that you can get off the elevator early on in the game before it starts going up so that you can access the sewer underground tunnel beneath the ledge that you get on the elevator from.
Although it wasn’t as beefed-up as I thought it would be, The Fall’s combat system is nonetheless engaging and action-packed. The gun is aimed by moving the mouse either up or down (or left or right, depending on which side of the screen you want to shoot at) while holding down the right mouse button. Holding down the left mouse button (if you haven’t reached and acquired the Power Transfer Bypass ability; but once you do acquire it, the gun becomes semi-automaticm needing only a tap of the left mouse button) fires the gun at where you were aiming at. You can toggle the laser sight on or off on the gun for easier targeting, and it is automatically turned on when you fire the gun while in flashlight mode. Also, somewhat annoyingly, you cannot scan/analyze an object or person or area while in laser sight mode.
Shortly after acquiring the gun, the cover system is introduced. What looks like just part of the non-interactive environment turns out to be a vital part of staying alive. Pressing E while next to or running towards a cover spot (the boxes and cement blocks etc. in the environment) prompts the AI-controlled suit to take cover behind the object. The character can peek out and aim from behind cover by holding down the right mouse button, with the laser sight automatically turned on after entering cover.
Why take cover at all? There are two health gauges: one is the primary shields of the suit, and the other is the life support of the suit. When you take damage from the gunshots of other droids, the primary shields usually can handle shots without being too depleted, but you still need to get to cover, because if you lose 100% of primary shields, then life support is hit next. After life support is depleted, then the suit, and thus the pilot, dies, forcing you to continue from your last checkpoint.
Taking a couple of pages from many modern shooters, you can get a headshot with the laser sight, and even silently take-down enemies who haven’t seen you yet. The silent take-down requires you to get in close behind the unwitting enemy droid and press F, rewarding you with one less headache and a satisfying fizzing-out sound as you rip out their power cell.
Being a small and mostly-pointless quibble, I feel like the enemy AI follows too-restricted of a pattern in number of shots per burst per time they are exposed out of cover. I’m not asking for The Last of Us-style enemy patterns nor that the combat system becomes overemphasized or frustratingly-difficult, as that is precisely something the developer wanted to avoid. What I do hope for, though, is that Over The Moon enhances the second episode’s enemy predictability and behavior patterns to make the combat more of a challenge and less a game of taking cover in time and correctly timing peek-a-boo and gunfire. There is one type of enemy, though, that charges at you and kills you with one hit, and will no doubt keep you on your toes as well.
The last two but not the least two elements to consider are the black AI-created humor and replayability. What stereotypes come to mind about a robot that tries to speak? I come up with a droning monotonous and completely-logical being that cannot make a good joke, much less one that makes use of black humor. But I was pleasantly surprised by how Over The Moon managed to believably-explain, design, and create a companion ally AI that does manage to crack good black humor-derived jokes. Indeed, one joke implied that, because the main character is a military robot, then it probably uses force or some other violent means in order to stop a baby from crying.
Another example of black humor is the main character’s logic of needing to “repurpose” a fellow ARID suit’s power cell that should be used for something else in order to benefit itself. Death and following-protocol doesn’t matter if your own needs are greater than those of another, and that other’s purpose is now irrelevant and whose existence is now no longer necessary.
Finally, The Fall’s replay value is fairly low in my opinion. Because of the slow start and lack of any real incentive of replaying the dialogues beyond just noting the possibilities and responses, replaying The Fall would undoubtedly be uninteresting to most of you, our dear readers.
In conclusion, with gameplay pimples and all, you’d have to be a fool or completely broke not to buy The Fall Episode 1 for the $10 price tag. Also, take advantage of the Steam 10% discount on purchases of The Fall through June 6.
What do you think of The Fall? Will you be getting it? Sound off in the comments below! Be sure to stay with us here at OnlySP on the website, on Twitter, on Facebook, on Youtube, and on Google+ for all the latest news, coverage, and reviews in the world of single-player games!