The magic of an independent game is that one can come from pretty much nowhere and completely blow you away. Black The Fall, the debut game from developer Sand Sailor Studio that was successfully funded via Kickstarter back in 2014, is a perfect example of that. Pitched as a 2D puzzle platforming game, the title is actually so much more than that as it explores a desolate Communist world filled to the brim with shocking imagery, surprising mechanics, and a moody and tense atmosphere. Say hello to this year’s Inside.
Set in a dystopian future, you play as machinist Black. After decades of relentless hard work, he has grown tired of the Communist regime that follows and manipulates his every action, and so during another gruelling shift at the factory he works at, Black plots his escape.
What starts out as a compelling premise quickly develops into an even deeper and darker tale. As Black explores the factory he comes across other departments and witnesses their actions, how they’re treated and the atrocities the higher-ups within the company commit. It paints a violent picture of a dictatorship gone very wrong, and things only worsen once Black reaches the outdoors. Metal Gear Rex-like machines patrol the wastelands, while armed cameras shoot on sight. Furthermore, it’s within this wilderness that you’ll witness some of the most disturbing scenes the game has to offer. Black The Fall will shock, unsettle, and disturb you as it demonstrates the human race at its very, very worst. This imagery combined with the intriguing setting and plot makes for a fascinating story that had us captivated from the open to the close.
Puzzles start out fairly simple, such as escaping a guard’s grasp or demolishing a security camera, but as you progress you begin to turn those dangers into your advantage as things increase in complexity. Neutralising the gun on a camera and then using its tracking sensor to move it around and thus destroy the door blocking your path is just one example. Part way through the game puzzles become even more complex as you gain access to the laser pointer, a device that allows you to directly control the placement and actions of your fellow employees thanks to the antennas on their uniform. This can be used to get workers to operate machinery that’s inaccessible to you, or move a labourer within the vision of a camera so that it's distracted and you can sneak past. This is built upon even further when your line of sight to a staff member is blocked and so you must work out a way of bending your tool’s vision in order to attract the attention of the employee.
New elements and mechanics such as the laser pointer are incorporated at a fast but reasonable pace to keep you on your toes, with many of the game’s toughest puzzles featuring a number of eureka moments as you finally figure out your means of progression. It catches you off-guard as The Witness is invoked, creating some of the game’s biggest highs.
As the puzzles remain thought-provoking throughout, the platforming side of things is just as admirable and fluid. The game will transition between 2D and 2.5D as you traverse the environment which gives you more perspective on your jumps and landing. The platforming itself is never very difficult, but it remains satisfying and fun to execute for the whole game. And even if you were to miss your jump by a few inches, you’ll be right back at your starting point in no time as the respawn after death takes up less than two seconds.
While the puzzles and platforming are two of the title’s biggest and best mechanics, you’re also being handed a visual treat thanks to the stunning nature of Black The Fall’s art style. Sand Sailor Studio has absolutely nailed the tone it’s going for, as bold primary colours highlight the dark and bleak nature of the factory, and the sun pours light onto the juxtaposed barren wasteland outdoors. It’s a beautiful look that's simple on paper, but creates an incredibly foreboding atmosphere in practice. This in combination with the game’s soundtrack only helps to rack up the tension; tones that are never brought to the forefront linger in the background to immerse you in an eerie and menacing ambience.
Black The Fall is a special game. The prodigious range of puzzles and platforming mechanics present rival that of a game ten times longer than it, and the visual and auditory treat on offer elevates that gameplay to an incredibly high standard. You’ll witness the human race at its very worst through some horrifying imagery, but this presents itself as more of a gas to fuel a revolution. Black The Fall is a remarkable experience that will stay with us for a long time, and it's one that you must not miss out on.