Black The Fall Review

Black The Fall is the latest entry in the atmospheric puzzle platformer genre, initially popularised by modern classics Limbo and Inside. While it doesn’t quite live up to the standards set by its obvious inspirations, this tale of one machinist’s escape from a dystopian, oppressive Communist regime does offer some unique twists to what is rapidly becoming an oversaturated genre.

Like many games of its ilk, Black The Fall takes painstaking care to create an immersive, memorable atmosphere. Its stark, high contrast colour palette, consisting almost exclusively of aggressive reds, rusted browns, and various shades of grey serves as an effective visual metaphor for the harsh, soulless existence the inhabitants of its world must endure. Character models are deliberately simple and mostly similar, invoking a sense of depressing homogeneity and cynical disposability of the oppressed population.

This cold, minimalist aesthetic carries over to the sound design, as well. The score is often nothing more than ominous and hypnotic single note drones, occasionally broken up by rousing renditions of an Eastern Bloc national anthem that is more frightening than it is uplifting. Sound effects are harsh, metallic and robotic, and even the few sounds that characters make range from laboured and despondent to menacing and sinister.

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Unlike other atmospheric puzzle platformers, which often have a jarring disconnect between gameplay and atmosphere, Black The Fall actually utilises its sound and visuals as storytelling and gameplay devices. Following the narrative requires paying attention to visual clues in the environment, as there is no dialogue or cutscenes to speak of. This is an intelligent choice by the developers, as it reinforces the feeling of Black, the protagonist, being just another cog in the machine. It also keeps engagement with the story high while playing. Ultimately, however, the narrative doesn’t have the same lasting impact as its inspirations Limbo and Inside, which stick with you long after you finish playing.

Gameplay consists of a combination of stealth, precision platforming, and puzzle solving, which for the most part is well-designed and functional, if not particularly ground-breaking in terms of mechanics. However, the aforementioned interplay of atmosphere and gameplay really elevates Black The Fall above a lot of its genre brethren, making what is ultimately fairly stock-standard gameplay feel meaningful. Although the actual solutions are mostly obvious and involve standard tropes (timed doors, traps, etc.), puzzle solving regularly requires taking advantage of (sometimes fatally) other workers to pass environmental obstacles or avoid the watchful eye of the oppressors.

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Workers are programmed to follow orders given by a laser pointer (which you get your hands on fairly early in the game). As a result, often your fellow oppressed workers are reduced to simple means to an end; tools and distractions at best or cannon fodder at worst. There is no way to complete the game without using your fellow man: Escape comes at a price. The result is progressing through the game evokes an unsettling combination of emotions. The standard sense of pride you get as a player when you succeed in any game is there, but it’s tempered by pangs of guilt as you leave Black’s comrades behind to the very fate he has decided to escape from. It’s an extremely effective design choice, as it adds a layer of much needed depth to what is otherwise rather generic gameplay which in-and-of-itself isn’t especially engaging or unique.

Black The Fall is ultimately an interesting take on the puzzle platformer that successfully manages to breathe life into a genre that has started to feel samey. While it won’t stay with you long after you finish it like the early landmark titles, it is definitely a ride well-worth experiencing in the moment.