Review: Black—The Fall (PC)

Developer: Sand Sailor Studio
Publisher: Square Enix
Genre: Puzzle, Platformer
Platforms: Xbox One, PC, PS4
Rating: T for Teen
Price: $14.99
Only after finishing Black: The Fall did I begin to research how it came into fruition. Born from a kickstarter that was active from the last day of September 2014 to the last day of October 2014, the game has experienced significant revisions since its (now defunct) Steam Greenlight phase. The original build used to launch the kickstarter as featured on the Square Enix Collective featured projects page is barely recognizable. For example, the protagonist had weapons, rendering lethal force a legitimate option. That is no longer the case, as the Romanian indie developer Sand Sailor Studio had since decided to take a make a different call, resulting in a game that game that bears verisimilitude with Playdead’s productions.

Sand Sailor Studio, a developer quartet.

 Content Guide

A crowd of prisoners boo at the sight of the Statue of Liberty, but cheer and applaud when Nicolae Ceaușescu appears.

As mentioned, the player-character does no longer has access to weapons for the purpose of executing foes, but he will have to evade and outfox the guns of his oppressors. When shot, he evaporates into  a black mist. At most, a few prisoners in the background suffer the abuses of their jailers.

The protagonist passes through a dilapidated cathedral, which is more symbolic of Soviet religious traditionalism than devout commitment to the faith.

Black: The Fall primarily features content of the ideological kind: explicitly, there is anti-liberal propaganda; implicitly, the game is anti-communist. 


Black: The Fall or Alone in the Dark?

Even as I fail, I resist the urge to compare Black: The Fall to INSIDE, as the latter was released in 2016, and I illustrated in this review’s introduction, we know that the 2014 version of the former had already established its aesthetic. However, I do think comparisons to Limbo are fair, for the Black: The Fall‘s primarily black and white minimalist art direction is analogous to the degree that I would find claims of coincidence preposterous. For the the first quarter of the game, my gamma settings were low, either by default or by some error of my own, and I had difficulty discerning surfaces that could be walked upon or climbed, which reduced my effectiveness at solving puzzles, a problem that I did not encounter with other games with this aesthetic. Even when I liberated myself from the pallid color scheme of a factory-like prison and the game added a more hues to contrast the dominant blacks and whites, an unshakable languidness remained.roduce outdoor scenes, I found the scenery too familiar, and perhaps more than inspired by other games that I have mentioned.
Even with the influx of color, I still struggled to find the clues to solve a few puzzles. After fumbling around for way more time than should have been necessary to find the solutions, I became more frustrated than relieved. This is due to the poor presentation of these resolutions, which resemble to me how one would discover a secret area in a game such as Oddworld: Abe’s Exodus, rather than the answer for readily-apparent obstacles. This hinders the pacing of the game, leaving me ponder of any urgency that was supposed to be established with the protagonist’s sneaking is only an illusion. If regular puzzles prove themselves to require extra thinking, hints to secrets in this game certainlydo not kiss-and-tell; I managed to locate only one. (Achievement Unlocked!)

Freedom? No, but I feel as though the “meat” of the game begins on the OUTSIDE. (Get the pun?)

I mention Oddworld because Black: The Fall is derived from the school of the kind of design harking back to Out of This World. Notwithstanding, this game lacks an adventure feel as there is no backtracking, and movement is almost always forward from left to right.  There is a point when the protagonist acquires a wrist device allowing him to manipulate fellow prisoners, a companion, and the environment, a feature that bears a resemblance to Oddworld‘s GameSpeak. However, instead of vocal cue, the device functions via a traceable line. Beyond this, the game offers little in the way of environmental interaction, like a point-and-click game with lite platforming elements. 

Here is an example of how the wrist device works. As the sentry looks on, I use it to tell my companion to scare the crows from the bushes. The sentry will turn to shoot them, allowing me to pass to the next brush. In other circumstances, the line will turn red, meaning that someone or something will detect me as I use the device, and I will die.

Like its transmission of the art direction, Black: the Fall is also minimalist in its conveyance of the story. In the beginning, a large cage full of uniform people descends from the sky, but a single person breaks from the middle and flees, taking the unconventional path, dodging past sentries of both the organic and inorganic kind. All that can be interpreted is that he does not want to be seen, for the penalty of being discovered is instant death from either shot by guard, camera gun, or an off-screen rifle—the latter of which is a cheap way to punish players. Puzzles consist of conceiving ways to remove obstacles to access elevators an doors that eventually lead outside, where escape becomes the dominant narrative. Paraphernalia reminiscent of the USSR via the infamous hammer & sickle iconography are juxtaposed alongside images of Nicolae Ceaușescu, the last communist leader of the Socialist Republic of Romania. As the developers are Romanian, Black: The Fall imparts nostalgia of the tragic kind through dystopia recollection, yet it is not a narrative that resonates with me, as I am not a product of the Cold War era; the Berlin Wall was falling when I was in kindergarten, and that was that. 

Here is an example of odd, if not also poor, puzzle design. The companion attaches itself to the module to elevate the load on the left, and drop the load on the right. Only by directly placing himself in danger can the protagonist get the companion to detach..

Historical context of Black: The Fall to be aside, I find the game banal in almost every other aspect. Though the game teaches players to be clandestine, the protagonist himself does not emote in any way up until the finale, when his escapade over the past few hours of playtime have taken their toll on his body. The scenery of the game tries for a sterile malaise, but manages to create a vapid melancholia. Even the companion that the protagonist gains lacks charm despite its dog-like loyalty; unlike I did not feel attached to unlike D0g from Half-Life 2, the Mudokons in Oddworld, or the alien in Out of This World. I believe that Black: The Fall borrows so much from external influences that it lacks the kind of uniqueness necessary to provoke my emotional engagement, relegating me to say that it achieves the feat of being extraordinarily average. 

This scene is a great metaphor for Black: The Fall, which appears to be fun, but just as the player walks far enough to right and the Ferris wheel disappears, so too do my lasting impressions of the game. This scene is a double-entendre for what could have been.

The Bottom Line



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Maurice Pogue

Since picking up an NES controller in 1985 at the age of 2, Maurice and video games have been inseparable. While most children aspired to be lawyers, doctors, or engineers (at the behest of their parents), he aspired to write for publications such as EGM, PC Gamer, PC Accelerator, and Edge. After achieving ABD status in English at MSU, Maurice left academia and dedicated his writing to his lifelong passion. He is currently the Video Game Editor at Geeks Under Grace.

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