The Fall II Unbound

FBT takes another fall.

In The Fall, battle-suits included ‘A.R.I.D’, an AI designed to take over if the pilot got into difficulty. Relentless in reaching help for her pilot, ‘Arid’ broke the AI Laws shackling her and eventually became self-aware – which was good, because then she could express genuine surprise at discovering her battle-suit was empty all along. What did it mean? Let’s find out…

Picking up immediately after, the suit – well, its head – has been wired up to a network where Arid’s being infected with a virus by an unknown ‘User’. Finding a way to travel through the network, Arid takes over other AI-controlled suits she finds, forcing them to do her bidding as she races to stop the User and save herself; now that she really is a ‘self’.

The three AI’s that Arid encounters are a C3PO-style AI within a Butler-bot, stuck in his programming to serve long-dead masters, ‘One’, an AI in a battle-suit that has gained ‘oneness’ amongst the other drones, and ‘Companion’ who runs a pleasure bot. Arid doesn’t really stop to consider their circumstances or programming, and largely just coerces, tricks or outright forces them to help as she tries to discover why the User is trying to infect her with an AI-killing virus – but she also realises she's part of the problem; she infected the other AI with both the virus and her autonomy… And that’s where The Fall II should have faded to black with a ‘to be concluded’. But no, we’re only half done. Oh boy…

It’s fun for the first half because Arid, as a new consciousness with no emotional depth, didn’t consider the other AI’s ‘feelings’ or worth. Its great/horrible watching her manipulate or torture the others to reach her goals. To cliffhang it there with her discovering her empathy would have been great; not that the second half isn’t equally compelling - now understanding sympathy and responsibility, Arid escapes back into the network to undo the damage before the virus causes an AI Apocalypse – but The Fall II is an epic 10 hours, and that’s 5 hours more than we can comfortably stand. It’s ironic that Arid develops self-preservation just as we start to lose it.

A lot of the niggles from the first game are actually magnified in this expanded sequel, almost as if the developers took the criticisms and turned them into challenges. To reveal the story you need to do a lot of guessing and clicking, guessing and walking (well, ambling since the Bots walk about as fast as my Gran), guessing and getting annoyed. And that’s a shame because when you’re not annoyed, you’re amazed by what The Fall II is trying to do.

It is compelling; in the first game we were Arid the hero, sort of, now we're basically the bad gal. What is identity, why a need for purpose, how do we value ourselves; all those elements feed into Arid's growth, but for a game about being aware, there’s a lot we just mindlessly do; shining a torch on things, clicking on them, not really knowing what you’re doing. Most of the puzzles are so vague it only makes sense after you’ve solved it.

And later, all three AI’s become available within each other’s Bots – so One can help Companion recognise her worth and she helps 3PO make choices, and that’s great but its agonising getting there. Bad enough when Arid had multiple options and things to click on that might or might not work, but now its times-three? You spend an age on one AI, coaxing out some individuality, then Arid’s display shows the Companion is one-third aware. Oh come on, no one that bouncy is that unaware of herself.

It is a point-and-click game in Hardcore mode. When we’re not clicking, we’re either lost in the Network - You’d think an AI would be a bit more logical about objectives, you don’t have a GPS, Arid? – or we’re shooting at squishy representations of the virus, which feels even more tacked-on this time around. We also have One doing a streetfighter side scrolling battle with the drones, but that gets tiresome quickly – until he trains Companion to do it and she batters all her abusive johns. That was good.

The other issue is the original had a great sense of mystery and otherness about it. It delved into what consciousness means while we watched Arid doggedly try to find help while never questioning why she was doing it. This is one of those sequels that decides to go deeper and expand on the original's precise premise, but in doing so gets a bit bloated. Problem is, it’s a side-scroller, so play-wise it’s not really got anywhere to go – only the story can expand, but to give it space the game gets repetitive and that causes you to lose interest in the story, it almost cancels itself out.

The second half is worthy though, story-wise. It is satisfying to be helping this time, to have Arid actually worry and feel regret, and the subplot of human’s attitude toward automatons, and fear of AI is really well done – it’s just a shame all those charming moments are buried under so much lumbering about, clicking.

The Fall II Unbound is a rewarding game if you can persevere. It just takes a lot of patience to see it through, especially that midway point where you think it’s done but realise you’ve basically got to do it all again in reverse, but ultimately it pulls it together and left me wanting more. This was released over three years ago, but there's no word of a Part III, and it would be shame not to see it all resolved. Just hope it doesn’t take so much clicking.

Read FBT's The Fall review here