The Fall explores AI in an interesting and seldom seen way, and it's so superbly written and voiced that this tale can fully immerse you in its drama and peril. However, a stiff challenge with the combat and puzzles frequently threatens to put you off.
You are an AI construct called ARID housed within a suit designed to aid an injured human operator if they are unable to help themselves. Your operator, Colonel Josephs, is unconscious and in need of immediate medical attention after falling from the sky and into a mysterious, decrepit android repair facility full of hostile machines. Meanwhile, a creepy AI caretaker, who takes the limited parameters of his coding to the extreme, watches, taunts, and means to destroy you, with you're only ally being the facility's mainframe AI.
The Fall is reminiscent of Another World with its aesthetic and mixture of puzzles and combat. The colour palette is pale and shrouded in darkness, and the general tone is lonely and ominous. Exploration, combat, and puzzle solving makes up the core of the experience, but where it diverges from Another World is the complexity of its conundrums.
It's not just about manipulating the environment to progress; instead, The Fall takes on the characteristics of a point-'n'-click adventure game of yore by scattering objects around each area for you to collect and use elsewhere. Puzzles typically revolve around using these objects in a particular order, networking with an interface, or employing your suit's abilities in tandem with the former.
Your abilities begin locked away to limit your freewill and overall functionality – until your operator is in peril. If death is imminent, your programming allows you to bypass and activate your abilities, which come in the form of things such as wireless networking and cloaking. It's a fantastic Metroidvania-style equipment limiting technique that aptly fits the story and characters and makes you think about AI and their restraints. Often it puts you in a position where you need to purposely put yourself and your operator in danger in order to activate abilities that will allow you to proceed. It's a fascinating and cleverly implemented form of progression.
The story moves from strength-to-strength as you're forced into different situations to save your operator. What begins as a simple mission soon becomes far more complex, and as you witness more of the plight of the AI within the facility and grow more desperate to save your operator, more emotions sneak in. Meanwhile, through befriending the mainframe AI that longs for companionship and shows more human emotions, while combating the crazed, by-the-book caretaker AI, you witness the perspectives, constraints, and benefits of different AI operating within their programming's parameters. This is high sci-fi at its very best.
Unfortunately, horrendously obtuse puzzles and difficult combat can make experiencing the wonderful narrative a struggle. Figuring out how to complete the majority of the puzzles is far too difficult, while painfully slow shield and health recovery makes combat deadly. In the late game a new ability makes combat far easier and more enjoyable, but the puzzles remain frustrating throughout, whether it's because you can't figure out what to do next or you haven't found a key item because it's too dark to spot.
The Fall is a thought-provoking title with a clever narrative that explores rogue AI in a unique and interesting way. It's a brilliant story with a fantastic ending. However, working your way through to that conclusion is a chore due to the frustrating puzzles and combat. This is supposedly the first of multiple chapters to this story, and if the writing stays as strong throughout then it's going to be a tale well worth exploring, but hopefully the next title will reduce the difficulty a tad.