Black the Fall

You say you want a revo­lu­tion? Jump to it...

APC Australia - - Downtime games -

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.

Phil Iwa­niuk

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