Black The Fall seemed to come from nowhere, with the debut title from developers Sand Sailor Studio offering a haunting adventure that certainly bares some resemblances to the incredibly popular title Inside from Playdead. Whilst it might be a little difficult to believe, it almost seems more mature in a way; gone is the almost innocent imagery of a young boy venturing across a deadly landscape, with an adult now taking the leading role. It makes for an experience that feels the same, yet has an identity of its own. This isn’t a clone, but instead a game that touches upon similar issues in its own original way. There is one vital similarity that Black The Fall definitely shares with Inside though – it’s an incredibly atmospheric adventure that’s certainly worth your time.
Most of Black The Fall’s narrative isn’t really made clear to you, with a lot of it driven by ambiguity. You can certainly make your own assumptions based on what’s shown to you in the opening though, with the futuristic dystopian setting and oppression placed upon humanity obvious. The protagonist has had enough of his routine of hard labour in an almost slave-driven factory though and decides to escape it all, sending him on a deadly adventure that showcases the inhumane side of this new desolate society.
There’ll be lots of things about Black The Fall that will remind you of Inside, but it’s the overarching plotline which felt the most familiar. Nothing is ever made perfectly clear to you as to what’s going on and whilst I won’t spoil anything here, there’s certainly plenty of disturbing imagery that’ll leave you with a lot of unanswered questions. You certainly won’t forget the things you see in Black The Fall quickly and it makes for a compelling experience.
Black The Fall’s ambiguity within its narrative carries over to the puzzles too, with plenty of cryptic enigmas thrown your way that’ll leave you constantly scratching your head. It could actually feel a little frustrating at times when you feel like you’ve exhausted all possible ways to solve a puzzle to no avail, yet there was never a time when something wouldn’t eventually be clearly obvious and you’d be celebrating the satisfaction of solving each perilous conundrum. It’s a compliment to the developer’s puzzle design skills that they’ve managed to make simple scenarios feel so clever, ensuring the player is both challenged and entertained with every obstacle that comes their way.
The puzzles become even cleverer when you unlock the laser pointer: a device that allows you to control other characters as well as the machinery in the environment. It had an Abes Odyssey sort of feel to it, with different characters across the environment used to unlock pathways or help solve puzzles for the protagonist. It even tied in well with the game’s narrative, showing that freewill might be something of the past in this new future that the world seems to be living in. However you look at it though, it’s just another neat way in which the game keeps challenging you within its puzzling. You haven’t just got to be aware of what you’ve got access to but also what others around you have too, meaning you’ve got to think outside of the box and use everything you can see to your advantage if you want to succeed.
Besides the constant puzzle solving, there’s also a lot of platforming segments in Black The Fall. They actually reminded me a little of those found in classic titles like Another World and Flashback with their focus on quick jumps and climbing obstacles around you across a 2D plane, which can only be a good thing in my eyes. However, it could be a little tricky to get used to it all at first. I was mistiming jumps and never felt quick enough to escape the constant hazards that were in my path – admittedly though, it might’ve been the game’s early tricky difficulty to blame rather than the controls. It didn’t take me too long to get used to it though and start pulling off twitch acrobatic movements with ease.
Whether you’re used to the controls or not though, you’re going to die a lot. Black The Fall is a tough game and one wrong move or moment of hesitation will often lead to your death. You’re exploring a cruel little world and the odds are stacked against you – however, each failure won’t put you off trying again. You always know there’s a way to progress and it’s just a case of finding out how. The satisfaction of completing a segment that caused plenty of deaths before certainly outweighs the frustration of constantly failing, whilst the game’s short loading times ensure you’re put straight back into the action with minimal fuss each time you do meet your end.
It won’t take you long to complete Black The Fall, with the game easily beatable in around three hours. Those three hours are thoroughly entertaining though and will keep you hooked in. It never outstays its welcome or have you growing bored of the tricky puzzling and deadly platforming, but instead keeps you excited at what’s going to happen next. If anything, I’d have liked the game to be a little longer – not because I wasn’t satisfied with what it offered, but because I would’ve liked to have seen more of it.
The whole aesthetic of Black The Fall is incredibly dark and depressing, with the sullen tones and dystopian setting coming together nicely to create an incredibly haunting atmosphere. I don’t think the developers have gone out of their way to paint a pretty picture with the desolate environments, yet I couldn’t help but to find myself in awe of it all. Much like Inside, the almost unbelievable state the world finds itself in will intrigue you and keep you in suspense of what you’re going to see next. It’s great world design and something I really appreciated about the game; who would’ve though that such horrendous sights would be so appealing?
Whilst the comparison to Inside is an obvious one, Black The Fall also manages to establish its own identity as an original adventure through a dystopian future. It also happens to be a thoroughly entertaining one too, with the game offering a thrilling experience thanks to its perplexing enigmas and tense platforming sections.
The desolate setting and ambiguous narrative hooked me in immediately and whilst it had a few moments of frustration, I simply didn’t want it to end. Whether you’re a fan of these puzzle-platformers across desolate futures or not, I’d certainly recommend giving Black The Fall a purchase.
Developer: Sand Sailor Studio
Publisher: Square Enix Collective
Release Date: 11/07/2017
Format(s): Playstation 4 (Reviewed), Xbox One, PC