When it comes to the allegorical relationship between artificial intelligence and the meaning of life itself, fiction has done a pretty decent job of marrying the two. From Blade Runner and Humans, to Ex Machina and The Matrix, it’s path well worn by many a piece of art. So is there space for a fresh interpretation, and can such a new offering really bring anything new to an already busy conversation?
Thankfully, The Fall does have something to say that's worth hearing, crafting a story that uses its science fiction setting to full effect, and it’s that narrative that carries what is effectively a set of obtuse environmental puzzles and some 2.5D platforming/exploration. While its sequel - The Fall Part 2: Unbound - has already made its way to Switch, this first game had the (dis)pleasure of emerging on Wii U back in 2014, so what you’re getting here is a port of a three-and-a-half year-old game.
The good news is those intervening years haven’t dulled its dark and dangerous world, a place where an AI must attempt to save her human pilot while slowly learning to think beyond her base programming. ARID is the robotic heroine at the heart of the story, her pilot critically injured following a crash onto an alien planet. With her passenger close to death, she finds herself all alone with danger, decisions and death at every turn.
Trapped in what turns out to be a decrepit android repair facility, you’ll guide ARID as she encounters the mysterious and maniacal Caretaker, a being whose rigid programming sees it ‘repairing’ both androids and humans alike, usually with grim and horrific results. On the flipside, there’s the Administrator, an AI that wants to learn more about humanity, a sympathetic intelligence compared to the apathetic Caretaker. As the pilot inside her suit deteriorates, her actions become emotionally driven, with the game’s nuanced script slowly showing a program becoming something more than simple software.
So we know the story of The Fall will grab your attention, but what about the actual game itself? Well, that’s less of an easy sell. While it's presented in the form of a 2D platformer, it’s actually more of a point-and-click adventure game. Pressing ‘ZR’ will pull out a pistol with a flashlight, which she can use to highlight points of interest on-screen with the analog stick. It’s a control scheme that works competently, it never feels intuitive in the same way the version on PC does.
The levels of a more open feel to them, and while it’s far from a traditional Metroidvania title, this sense of exploration enables ARID to investigate her surroundings, searching for clues to the mystery of the planet she’s landed on and acquire items to help her in her quest to save the dying pilot within. It plays into the adventure game core of its gameplay, where you’ll often need to explore an area to find a keycard to turn on a display or a broken arm to reach a distance console.
The only problem is these puzzles are often extremely obtuse, with very little clues or trails to follow in order to traverse from one area to another. That is, of course, the point of some point-and-click adventures, but considering how much of The Fall’s aesthetic relies on a dark and shadowy palette a la Limbo much of your time is spent swinging your flashlight around similar locales looking for a missing item to add to your inventory.
There’s some combat too, with the ability to use your pistol’s non-flashlight capabilities for a little shooty bang bang fun. The gunplay isn’t going to win any awards for ballistic excellence, but with scope for upgrades there’s just about enough depth to make its gunfights feel like a worthy punctuation to all that exploration and interaction. However, the rate at which ARID’s shields recharge remains as slow as the Wii U version, a fact that makes combat - especially in the first half of the game - feel tedious if you’re a poor shot.
Arriving almost four years after the Wii U version, The Fall still manages to offer one of the most engaging takes on the age-old ‘robot starts to feel alive’ concept without feeling tired or rote. Sadly, the limitations of its gameplay haven’t been addressed for this port, so while there’s a great story to be experienced, the game itself remains a forgettable miasma of genres.