The Fall

FBT takes the fall.

In the future, troops are encased in super suits to aid exploration and combat. Built-in is an AI which is activated if the pilot is injured, and when this suit’s pilot doesn’t respond after a crash landing, its AI, A.R.I.D, kicks in and begins navigating the suit and its unconscious pilot across a strange planet to find medical supplies.

As a side-scroller, this is way more involving than you’d expect. Visually, it’s like a sci-fi version of Limbo, with surreal art design and environments we platform, puzzle and shoot through. But its also got classic-era Lucasfilm vibes, with a solid and compelling plot, great characters, dry humour, oddly touching moments, and some comedy elements – in one level, A.R.I.D is blocked by a Piranha-like fish, and the solution is to grind up a dead one then shower in its gibs, tricking it into thinking you’re its mate…

Being A.R.I.D is like being the nanosuit in Crysis – but let’s be honest, it’s not like the Crysis characters ever had any personality. And neither does A.R.I.D – it just impassively strides on. At one point, A.R.I.D finds another suit. It’s still working but the solider inside is dead. A.R.I.D defines it's AI as having failed its mission and yanks out the suit's power-supply for its own use over the AI’s protests. Even when I try to impress human qualities onto it, A.R.I.D resists. Usually when we play a robot it already has awareness and we do our thing, but for the most part, A.R.I.D soullessly concentrates on the mission. At one point it blankly states its actions have no personal consequence as AI’s are wiped upon a suit’s return.

Eventually we reach a decrepit facility that used to build and test domestic robots for the home. There, the facility’s AI reveals it achieved sentience by questioning its parameters - but keeps that fact hidden from the facility’s ‘caretaker’, a bot that ensures all robots conform. Because A.R.I.D can’t lie, and the pilot is still out cold, the Caretaker defines it as malfunctioning and to be decommissioned, but to save A.R.I.D, the Facility AI manipulates the test results to force A.R.I.D to say it’s a domestic bot; so instead, this killer super-robot is forced to train how to be a housemaid. Once it’s passed the tests, it’ll be able to leave.

While we puzzle, fight security bots and find ways around the broken tests, the facility AI needles A.R.I.D about its lack of empathy and self-determination, which refreshingly, it resists, but learns to deliberately put itself in dangerous situations which trigger the suit to release more control and allow A.R.I.D to break the Asimov–style Three-Laws it’s bound by, gaining context and awareness, becoming ‘Arid’. The exercises are great fun, mocked up domestic situations like cleaning and fetching, most of which you can cheat on.

Obviously, it all comes down to Arid vs the Caretaker once it realises she’s become aware, but the final showdown and the end reveal are satisfying, as is the bleak ending, which I loved – and then loved even more when I discovered there’s already a sequel. I wasn’t ready to decommission Arid just yet.

There are some faults with it – for a battle suit it’s surprisingly basic, like Arid can only either scan or shoot with a single weapon, and you need to look everywhere to spot things you can interact with – and those can be confusing too. Arid can digitally link with some things to solve problems but not others, and some of the puzzles are either beautifully retro or plain stupid depending on your point of view.

But what’s impressive is The Fall was largely created by one guy, working off a Kickstarter fund. When you compare what’s been achieved here versus the Triple A crap we’re force fed those days, indie is the only way to go.

Arid might be my favourite AI since EDI. I’d not trust her, but I’d want her getting me home after a night out - she’d make short work of the queue at the kebab shop. It’s a great little sci-fi adventure you can knock out in under 4 hours and wish it went on for longer - a wish I regretted when I played The Fall II, but that's another review - for now, get into the suit and let Arid take over.