Black The Fall Review

By Rebecca Smith, 3 months ago
Black The Fall is Sand Sailor Studio's first title, but while the studio may not be familiar to you, the game will certainly bring memories flooding back. Its dystopian world, monochromatic presentation, environmental puzzles, platforming elements and constant threat of death will likely remind genre fans of Playdead's Inside. The latter title's influence is more than obvious on several occasions despite the fact that the former began development first. Whereas the message offered by Inside is debatable, Sand Sailor's title is intended to be a rebellion against an oppressive and corrupted system, deeply influenced by the four decades of communism endured by the studio's native Romania. In this, it definitely succeeds.

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This interpretation of a Russian communist dystopia is as bleak as you can imagine. The residential areas are dark and drab and the featureless multi-occupancy concrete buildings have little to tell them apart. Closed shop fronts fall into disrepair. Propaganda posters litter the street and TV broadcasts try to convince people why this is best. Those who don't wish for this lifestyle are prevented from leaving by secure checkpoints. This approach to the game's setting is an exaggeration of the conditions through which even Romania had to suffer, but for Sand Sailor it's an appropriate way of driving home how miserable the Orwellian lifestyle was, especially as similar conditions exist in certain countries today.

Most residents cower behind covered windows while a brave few despondently wander the streets. They have no quality of life but these are the lucky ones. Hundreds of factory workers carry out their daily monotonous tasks in a nightmarish scenario. The strange red aerials that are strapped to their back receive signals from their captors that direct them to the machine they are to operate. Many pedal bicycles all day long to power the factory machines. What purpose these machines serve and what the factory produces is a mystery that's never solved, but what is clear is that none of the workers are meant to think for themselves, nor are they meant to escape. Armed security cameras, lasers and guards all stand in the way, but our nameless protagonist isn't going to let that stop him. By choosing to step away from his bicycle, his aerial turns white and his bid for escape begins.

Oppression takes many forms, some of which are dehumanizingOppression takes many forms, some of which are dehumanizing

Perfectly timed crouching, sprinting and jumping are all important and the platforming sections are very responsive on the whole, although unintended double jumps to my death were a mild source of frustration. However, the main focus of the gameplay is solving puzzles that allow the protagonist to progress further through the dangerous landscape. The ability to interact with some of the machinery throughout the game is vital, but the main way of solving a puzzle is to use a laser pointer that you steal from a guard early in the game. This is used to summon fellow workers to operate machines that you can't reach before abandoning them to their fate once the exit opens up. Like the establishment doesn't care about you, you don't care about anybody else either.

The majority of puzzles only have one solution and failure to find that solution will result in death in many gruesome ways. The game's checkpoint system is very forgiving, so you never lose much progress if the worst scenario happens, and it will... often. None of the puzzles are mind-bending but trial and error often plays a vital part in finding the correct solution. When you're stuck, it's often a case of missing something with which you can interact, or not quite interacting with something in the way that is needed. There's always a sense of satisfaction when you finally work out the solution and can move one step further away from the factory, even if it took several attempts to get there.

You'll become extremely familiar with that laser pointerYou'll become extremely familiar with that laser pointer

Once outside the factory and the confines of the town, the open countryside is brighter. The landscape may still be scarred by the remains of industry, or the sad reminder of a civilization that once was, but the additional colours offered by the bleak rays of sunlight offer a sense of hope. Away from the workers you may think that the pointer becomes redundant, but they are replaced by a surprisingly chirpy abandoned robot who also responds to laser commands. As well as the ability to operate machinery, he doubles as a portable platform to help the protagonist to reach higher ledges. Aside from this minor deviation, the core gameplay never changes across the whole 2-3 hour experience. This may sound short but any longer in such an oppressive atmosphere would feel like the game was outstaying its welcome.

Unfortunately the only bug that was experienced was when a puzzle was solved in an unintentional manner. As the protagonist happily sprinted down the road to freedom having dodged the security cameras at the checkpoint, the screen faded to black before he found himself in a completely unrelated and confusing scenario. It turns out that the character was meant to interact with an object back at the checkpoint, something that had been completely missed. Doing this skipped an important cutscene and the whole explanation for the following scenario. At least the game had the ability to put me back on track, even if it didn't make sense at the time.

Your robot is the only hint of enthusiasm in this abandoned worldYour robot is the only hint of enthusiasm in this abandoned world

Finally, the game's achievements can all be earned in a single playthrough. In fact, you can earn all of them before the end of the game, although with the end coming a mere five minutes after the last achievement unlocks, you would be cheating yourself if you didn't go the extra mile. Four of them are unmissable achievements for reaching certain points in the game. Of the remaining ten, five of them are for finding hidden safe havens where civilians have gathered away from the eyes of the cameras. They're difficult to spot on your own but there are already comprehensive guides on TA to help with these. The other five are for completing optional actions in the game, the most tedious of which is to sit on the very first bicycle for around 10-15 minutes until the ticker counts down to 9000. Ignorance is indeed bliss.

Summary

Black The Fall is an exaggeration of an Orwellian communist lifestyle but it's one that successfully drives a point home. This dystopia is bleak, it's miserable and like the anonymous protagonist, you don't want to spend any longer in it than you need. Bearing this in mind, the game's 2-3 hour length seems perfect. The platforming is responsive and the puzzles just challenging enough to make you think while not outstaying their welcome. There may only be one way of solving each puzzle, but then this fits in well with the restrictive regime that the game is depicting. It's a game that is worth experiencing once, even if it's a world to which you never want to return.
3.5 / 5
Positives
  • Suitably intimidating atmosphere where danger is very real
  • Puzzles are not too complicated but not too easy either
  • Doesn't outstay its welcome
Negatives
  • Puzzles only have one solution and the game breaks if you don't use that solution.
Ethics Statement
The reviewer spent three hours being vaporised by steam, pulverised by turrets and smacked around by guards in an attempt to defeat the oppression of communism. She managed to earn all 14 achievements in the process. An Xbox One copy of the game was provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review.
Rebecca Smith
Written by Rebecca Smith
Rebecca is the Newshound Manager at TrueGaming Network. She has been contributing articles since 2010, especially those that involve intimidatingly long lists. When not writing news, she works in an independent game shop so that she can spend all day talking about games too. She'll occasionally go outside.