Black the Fall
You say you want a revolution? Jump to it...
Black The Fall is an intelligent and, at times, brilliant side-scrolling platform-puzzler that will prompt comparisons with Playdead’s Inside. But Sand Sailor Studio’s debut has enough character to say something new about dark futures informed by dark pasts.
It begins with a room full of people pedalling stationary bicycles, forever. In a dim and noisy warehouse, somewhere deep in the belly of a USSR-esque regime, bike wheels whirr, powering the machinery that oppresses their riders. The nameless protagonist has pedalled his last, though. He’s breaking out of this world, right under the noses of the pot-bellied guards and surveillance cameras surrounding him.
By puzzling, you understand. Many shots are fired in Black The Fall, but they’re directed at you, rather than by you. For the opening hour, you’re introduced to the visual language and the rules: being spotted by anything means being shot dead on sight, missing a jump means a swift demise, and anything orange is vital to interact with. What works best about these puzzles is that they’re often contrived so that you’re working yourself free while in extreme, agonising proximity to your captors. Sometimes to your fellow downtrodden denizens, too. Better still are the moments of revelation that dawn when the camera perspective unexpectedly shifts, or the world’s colour palette suddenly expands. It conveys a lot without uttering a word.
Then a less revelatory thing happens: the puzzles get harder, but not more inventive. The signposting gets subtler, and as it does, the oddness of Black The Fall’s 2.5D perspective becomes problematic. Sometimes, we got stuck because the Escher-esque landscapes distorted relative distances between objects, obscuring the solution. Sometimes, the imprecise movement and jumping controls let us down. Towards the game’s climax, when the cadence becomes a treacle-slow trudge from one 15-minute headscratcher to the next, we longed for earlier moments of invention like having to navigate using only sound, and the tension-relieving, puzzle-free sequences i n which we only had to run, jump and admire the scenery for a bit.
On balance, that later difficulty doesn’t sour the experience, and the solutions are never so obscure that they aren’t signposted at least a little bit. What does take the edge off Black The Fall’s obvious qualities is that, as the puzzles get harder, the thematic cohesion that worked so well in the beginning — puzzles that made sense in the game world and told the story — reaches its limit.
Latter-half slog aside, it’s an affecting and, at times, inspired debut from Sand Sailor Studio.