There are many games set in dystopian futures that chill the heart whilst still providing a lot of fun. You’re usually charged with breaking down the evil dictatorship, before reuniting and saving the world. Then there are games like Inside that hint at a strange, terrifying and cold world, where you don’t know the complete picture and all you can hope for is to survive the day. Black the Fall falls between these two worlds and when it gets it right, it is truly brilliant.
One of the criticisms that many could label at Black the Fall is that it is trying too hard to be Inside. For one, both first came to fruition back in 2014, and they do have similar gameplay – but then, so does Call of Duty and Battlefield, and we never seem to worry about the thousand clones that come out of those games. It also, of course, has a different story, a different tone and some completely different game dynamics. But the big question is, is it any good?
The game is set in a bleak hardcore communist future; when strange killing machines roam the broken wilderness and cities and workers are cruelly treated by demonic-like guards. You play an old machinist whose job it is to pedal furiously on a bike, in order to power a factory production line. He plots his escape through the factory and into the broken outside world, where he meets a small robot to help him on his journey.
Black the Fall is a side-scrolling puzzle platformer, much like the award winning game I mentioned above, but it is also a bit like Deadlight and Escape Plan. You control your man via run, crouch, jump and action buttons, letting you climb, jump and hold onto platforms as you progress through the story. Stealth is the key to most sections as there are no guns or knives, or any kind of weapon for your usage. You get a special machine attachment to your arm that lets you control the workers or certain robots, getting them to open doors and operate machinery. Later on, when you happen across your special robot dog buddy, you can get it to do all manner of tricks such as turning a robot into a step to get to hard to reach places, become a counter weight or even a bird scarer. All this works and plays very well with some tricky but interesting puzzles to deal with. Some areas will take you a while to work out the solution to, but when it appears in your mind – like a flash of light – it is always satisfying. You will die a lot and sometimes things get a bit finicky, but the checkpoints are always very close to your last death, so it eases the pain considerably.
The game will take you just a few hours to complete, depending on how well you get your head around the puzzles, but it’s an epic journey that takes in a huge world and a complicated society on the edge of collapse. There are some brilliant secret areas to discover for extra achievements that hint at a larger narrative outside the main story, and quite possibly the only thing I have negative to say about the gameplay as a whole is that I did find the controls to be a little less accurate than I would like.
The story itself is a mute one – told much like that of Rime – but it tells a thousand stories through its stunning visuals alone. The main struggle of the old machinist is a complete journey within itself, but along the way you will see hints of larger narratives. A bugged church basement, a broken fairground, a bunch of illegal TV watchers deep underground. Then there is the end sequence, which gives hope, from the darkest depths of despair and mixes real life events within the game world. This is especially poignant when considering the artists and developers home country is Romania and the troubles that country has gone through.
The art style and graphical tone of the game is amazing. Character design is terrific with some gorgeous decaying backdrops that really capture the dystopian society brilliantly. Light and shade is skillfully employed, with nice background touches placed here and there around the level design. The sound design is beautifully sparse in places and then builds dramatically when needs must, building the entire tone of the game.
I highly recommend playing Black The Fall for its story and puzzle driven gameplay. The world the developers have created is amazing, while mixing fiction and fact effortlessly. The control system can be a bit naughty at times and sometimes I would curse them for it, but most of the time I was smiling. I take on board the criticism that it is too much like Inside and that at times it can be too derivative to its subject matter, but that doesn’t mean I have to agree with any of it. I don’t. I love games that are clever, beautifully designed, tell an amazing story and make you feel for something or someone.
Black the Fall ticks all my boxes. Enjoy.