Let’s face it, the platformer genre is over populated and it’s full to the brim with games we would, for the most part, sooner love to forget. You could almost say that because of that, it’s hard for any independently developed game to truly stand out amongst the vast crowd that shares the genre, but that’s exactly what Black the Fall does. Don’t get me wrong, there are some absolute gems that deserve the attention they’ve achieved, but for such an over-saturated category, it can often be tough to find a game that offers up unique gameplay and design. Sand Sailor Studio have undeniably nailed that with their debut game, pitching Black the Fall as a 2D puzzle platformer that I dare say will rub shoulders with PlayDead’s Inside. It’s not a perfect experience, but throughout the majority of play, it ticks all the right boxes at all the right times.
It’s immediately apparent that life in Black the Fall is far from peaceful, in fact in contrast, you’ll be greeted with dark dystopian surroundings that are populated by turrets, huge machines, and heaps of mystery and intrigue. You take on the roll of a machinist known as Black, who after years of back breaking labour, has grown tired of his desolate life and decides that it’s time to plan an escape. What follows on from this is a twisted and sinister tale that sees Black discovering just how corrupt and evil the company he works for is. Each peek behind the proverbial curtain only showcases the atrocities that Black quite rightly needs to evade and put behind him, and it only gets worse when Black makes it outside.
I was often surprised by how gritty and graphic the game became, offering up not just disturbing insights into the world that Black the Fall projects, but by how uneasy it made me feel upon each and every plot point that I met. Make no mistake about it, Black the Fall is one hell of a difficult pill to swallow, but it manages to do so with an incredibly intriguing story that will grip you long after the conclusion. It’s apologetically violent, and keeps you on your toes throughout the entirety of play, begging the constant question of who rules the world? Mankind or machinery?
This is further bolstered by the fact that humans house this small light, and although it’s confusing at first, it soon becomes clear that this light is a massively important tool for every day life. These lights enable you to operate the machinery that fills the world within, and when almost everything requires a light to operate, that aforementioned question only becomes more dominant. Gameplay is fairly straight forward, but far from simplistic. I died more times than I could care to count during the first 90 minutes of play, but it’s important to bear with Black the Fall, because once you bond with the difficulty curve it ultimately becomes a worthwhile experience that rewards your perseverance.
I felt as though the difficulty curve, although quite hard to gel with at first, was well implemented. Puzzles begin with tasks such as destroying security cameras, but it’s not long before you utilise these functions to aid you on your way forward. Using a neat tool that you pick up early on, you’ll be able to control machinery (and people) within the game, pitting robots off against one another and getting other workers to open doors for you. It sounds a lot simpler than it is, believe me, but it’s the challenge that constantly drives you towards the end game. I can only describe the robots to be like the birth child of a T-101 and Robocop, being that they very rarely give you an easy ride and will typically blow you to pieces sooner than entertain your presence.
Black the Fall does not want to hold your hand, and even from the get-go, there’s very little explanation as to how you should make your way through the world. It’s fair to say that in place of a tutorial, Black the Fall is very much risk vs reward / trial and error. Working out how to beat a puzzle is never as clear cut as you would expect it to be, and as a result, I suspect many will take a dirt nap on regular occasion. Do you sneak past this turret? Do you run for your life? Is there something else you should be doing to see yourself through in one piece? That sense of desperation and isolation is with you from start to finish, and although I have no doubt that less patient players will be chased away by this aspect, it’s one I felt suited the theme of the game very well.
As alluded to above, Black the Fall is not for the casual gamer. It’s a harsh game that’s set in a harsh environment. However with that being said, once you do get into the groove of it (so to speak), it’s fantastic. Working out all of the crazy and fun ways that you can use this dystopian world to your advantage becomes second nature, and the game never really feels stale thanks to the steady pace and new mechanics. Furthermore, the balance between platforming and puzzles is blended almost perfectly, with the game not leaning too heavily on either of those pillars.
There’s roughly four to five hours worth of playtime here, or at least that’s what I clocked in by the time the game concluded. When you take the price point into account, as well as the well crafted formula and the decent somewhat silent plot, it’s a fair exchange. It helps of course that Black the Fall is a gorgeous looking experience that treats you to a decent selection of well designed environments. Sand Sailor Studio have worked tremendously well at detailing the surroundings with few colours, which in turn, makes the colours that do stand out pitch a very atmospheric world to immerse yourselves into. This is all tied together by a soundtrack that hits all the right marks in regards to the tension that haunts you from the moment you pick up the pad, to the moment you put it down.
Black the Fall may well be tough to get into at first, due to the lack of explanation as to what you’re supposed to do, grouped with the immediate steep difficulty, but it’s certainly a game worth bearing with. The gorgeous yet dark visuals and the well set soundtrack helps to paint a gritty picture of what lies ahead in this disturbing yet wonderfully crafted experience. There’s a great balance between the puzzles and the platforming, in which Black the Fall doesn’t rest on either structure too heavily. The game doesn’t have a huge amount of longevity, lasting up to five hours in total, but the cheap price tag that comes with is a justifiable exchange when you sit back at the endgame and soak up what you’ve just achieved. This isn’t a game that’s aimed at the casual, but if you stand by it, it’s massively rewarding nevertheless.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox One. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version.