It’s not often that games have something to say to the world rather than just creating an experience that’s fun and memorable. Yet, the developers behind Black: The Fall used their title to not only craft an excellent experience, but also to give a warning to society and the direction that it’s headed, while providing some interesting historical context. It’s not a game that just encourages you to think through each situation, but to think through real world events and wonder how bad things could get if the wrong people are in charge.
Black: The Fall is a flawed game, but there was something about its dark, dystopian design that had me hooked and always ready for more.
I’ve seen this game get a lot of flack for essentially doing what Inside did. I won’t delve much into that discussion, as I’ve never played Inside. Instead, I’ll be looking at the game purely on what it does rather than the inspiration it grabbed.
Black: The Fall puts you in the shoes of the worker for a factory run by murdering, cynical dictators. After being there for presumable years, it’s your job to escape and acquire true freedom. However, what’s subtly brilliant about the game is that it never tells you that this is your objective. Everything you learn about the world around you is communicated through the obstacles you face and the details in the environment. The only thing the game ever tells you is how to control your character. After that, you’re left to put the pieces together on your own.
While the story is very typical for games involving tyrannical rulers, I have to praise Black: The Fall for taking the approach that it did. This philosophy in how the story is presented is also true in the gameplay. While you learn how to walk, run, jump, use a laser pointer, and use a robot spider dog as your companion, there’s more to the game than that. Black: The Fall is a puzzle game through and through, but you’re never directly told what you can interact with. Your job as the player is to search for ways to beat the challenges that halt your progress. It’s that sort of design that made the game feel more authentic in many ways.
Rarely do you see games have as much political commentary as Black: The Fall. The difference here is that the game never outright tells you (as I stated before), but shows you through the scenery. You’ll be running through some dark streets where the citizens shut themselves in and look inches from death. Soviet flags drape the corners of many rooms you go through. Couple that with the killer robots and guards, and it’s not hard to see what happened to this world.
That said, none of these messages would work well if the game looked and sounded horrible. Thankfully, it doesn’t. Not only are the visuals so bleak (in a beautiful way), in stark contrast to the red hat and white light of the player character, but the audio is so intense and well-designed, I wouldn’t be shocked if veterans from Oddworld: Abe’s Exxodus worked on it.
Each portion of the game has something to say in the background while you’re solving puzzles. If you’re paying attention, you’ll catch it. Furthermore, the game plays around with camera angles to make the game feel much more dynamic. While it’s a fairly cheap strategy, it kept the game from getting stale. The big complaint I have in this department is that the game was so dark that I had trouble making out platforms to use or puzzles to solve. It got agitating when I had to erratically find my around with no indication as to where I was going or what I was doing. The character animations could’ve used a bit more work too.
While the visuals are quite good, it’s the audio that really stood out. There’s one segment where all of your sight is cut out and you only have sounds to rely on. If the audio wasn’t very good, then the portion wouldn’t work. However, Black: The Fall nails this aspect of the game. You always get a sense of where stuff is happening all around you. You can feel the footsteps of a killer robot, sense the hissing of a steam pipe, and hear the subtle creak of a camera searching for you. I strongly recommend playing with headphones.
One thing that may turn people away from Black: The Fall is how short it is. The game can be beaten in no more than two hours. That said, it didn’t bother me all that much. The game is just long enough that it doesn’t overstay its welcome but feels like a complete tale. It’s how the journey is given that makes the title worth its price tag.
System reviewed on: Nintendo Switch.
Disclaimer: A review code for Black: The Fall was provided by Sand Sailor Studio for this review.