There is a backstory to Black The Fall, but you would be hard pressed to know what it is unless you read the store page. Something about Communism, and escaping with an abandoned robot. However, one look at the screenshots, and you will see the one thing that Sand Sailor Studio wants you to see: Other games you had a good time with.
Black the Fall is a reasonable attempt at creating the mute, and bleak world that games like Limbo and Inside achieved. While it’s great to look at, and has lots of detail, it unfortunately stops there. The few situational plot building moments are a great appetizer, but you never really get the next course until the end.
Something that both Limbo and Inside did well was to build a story using the environment. Each reveal was another sentence in the script. Black the Fall gives you little of that, the few reveals end up as little more than atmosphere. You feel like you missed the real movie, and are stuck in a low budget sequel.
The beginning of the game has you in a factory that is worthy of the title: Black, and expect to fall – a lot. Much of the platforming is simple, but interspersed with hidden pits of instant death. It just feels unfair, and I feared the whole game would consist of this cheap tactic. Thankfully that’s not the case, and before long you break out into the open.
You first meet the promised robot shortly after exiting the factory, a nice touch considering the punishing pitch you just trudged through. It has little in terms of personality, but you grow attached quickly as it’s the only ally you have in the game. Beyond following you around, the robot serves multiple purposes that will become apparent as you progress.
You are given a gadget early in the game that manipulates the environment in different ways. It opens doors, moves elevators, and commands the non-combatants of the world such as your robot. You are occasionally left without it for stretches at a time, but eventually it returns as a staple for most of the progression. How the gadget works is not immediately obvious, so pay attention to the signs posted in the various opening rooms – they’re your only tutorial.
The meat of Black the Fall is in the puzzles, and much like the aforementioned games that it emulates, they are manipulation based. You get a simple set of rules, with which you must make X fit into Z by way of Y. Limbo and Inside did a fantastic job of this by making the problems difficult, but fair.
Black the Fall does not.
On more than a few occasions, the solutions involve an exact recipe; With exact locations, and inconsistent factors. Through trial and error, you are expected to fail your way to victory by guessing which one inch spot you need to stand in to trigger the solution. Unfair and unpredictable elements such as this feel like cheap difficulty-padding, and leave you to guess rather than solve.
The rest of the puzzles range from simple to head-scratching, with most tipping towards the latter category. The first few factory puzzles will be a litmus test for most, and aside from a few exceptions, they only get harder from there.
Much of the landscape sails by in the background with little fanfare, which is insulting to the artists that spent so much time on it. There is precious little to capture your attention as you barrel on to the next puzzle. This is where the devs could have added something to make the game more engaging, build an interesting world, and insert more story or background. You know nothing about your character, and ultimately don’t care because there is no connection to him. A simple subplot involving yourself and the robot rescuing each could have injected some much needed heart, but it remains a missed opportunity.
The ending is abrupt, and feels undeserved. There is no multi-layered puzzle room or climax beyond pressing a button and watching what is essentially a cutscene. I had erroneously thought that the game was about to continue when I was treated to an interactive credits sequence instead. Now you get clever with exposition?
Black the Fall is a shallow, and sometimes frustrating experience. The broken puzzles and lack of story bring down what could have been a memorable adventure. The game is entertaining for most of its four-hour playtime, but Limbo and Inside fans will be more forgiving. Despite my objections, it’s easily recommendable on sale, and I hope to see a more refined sequel in the future.
- Atmosphere is thick, rich, and chocolatey
- Puzzles can be challenging
- Scenery is varied and changing
- Story is almost nonexistent
- Characters have no personality
- Some puzzles are borderline broken