I have had the pleasure of playing the multi award winning dystopian puzzle platformer Black the Fall. If you look past the political undertones Black the Fall is a test of your observation and problem-solving skills. If you can’t ignore the political references then it’s basically about an uprising of an oppressed society amongst a heavily corrupted system enduring years of communism. One game developer stated “We realised that the oppressive mechanics apply to the western world today, where a lot of people feel trapped in conforming with a system they don’t believe in. With Black the Fall, we are offering an alternative course of action, where anyone has the chance to outsmart the system and escape it.” Never have I thought that games could involve so much political content.
Sand Sailor Studio is a Bucharest-based independent game development company founded in 2014. Black the Fall came about after a successful Kickstarter campaign. It’s fair to say that this type of game has been well explored by other developers with games such as Limbo and Inside. The success however of those games puts Black the Fall firmly on the shelf with those excellent titles. Sand Sailor wanted to create something to express their views so they went with the puzzler genre as this suited their agenda.
You play an old machinist who is escaping the repetitive, mundane environment of a factory. To be honest, I was met with a frustrating start, there were no hints or tips on any control instructions and it was pretty much trial and error. There was no guidance on what was friends or foe, you pretty much had to take the leap and see what happened.
Black the Fall has you feeling quite depressed at the start, the minimalist environment and the use of greys, black and murky shadows lay on you like a heavy rain cloud and you just can’t shake it off. As you make your way through each stage trying to figure out what it is you have to do, I can appreciate just how nice it would be to break free of the factory into the outside where the air is fresh and cleaner. You do sort of become a dictator in your own right. You get the use of a designator machine that allows you to control machinery and other slaves in order to progress onto the next area. Every now and again they break down and cry when you move on which gives you the occasional pang of guilt. You’re basically using the nation of people for your own gain…damn this game brings out some dark thoughts.
I do like the way that there are some subtle hints displayed in each level in the form of health and safety signs, they do come in handy but on the odd occasion you’re left with nothing and this inevitably leads to some frustration. There is no chance of any exploration because you follow a single line through each stage. On one hand, it makes your journey simpler but on the other, there’s no chance of getting around a puzzle that gives you absolutely no clue of the solution. The view point isn’t always clear and there is the odd bit of level design that obstructs or leads you to misjudge a jump or duck. There is one occasion when you’re travelling on a piece of sheet metal that is gradually getting cut off by the factory machinery, eventually you’re on a small safe platform, then a metal pipe appears, the seasoned gamer would think it’s a duck or jump obstacle, well it’s neither and I died numerous times trying to jump over the pipe when I didn’t need to!
Once you do eventually get outside the mood lightens and you’re even treated to your own companion in the form of a robotic dog. No spoilers here but given the initial mood do you think it’s all sunshine and roses after that?
Black the Fall is a brain tester and if you ignore the political tones then it’s essentially a tricky platformer that’s worth a playthrough. The dark dank environments and subject matter don’t fill you with the joys of spring like Crash Bandicoot, but that being said, Black the Fall offers a sense of achievement when you finally work out what it is you’re supposed to be doing. The political angle is something new for games and I will happily admit to missing the point a little.
If you’re a fan of the genre, then give Black the Fall a look, although if your patience is thin and you’re not fussed about political history then stay away. The game size is small enough and the loading times are lightening fast, that it makes for the perfect evening game.
Thankyou to Sand Sailor Studios and Xbox for Supporting TiX