The Fall 2: Unbound - A Strong Story Saves This Ambitious Sequel From Falling Flat | A Short Pause Review
Long time readers may recall seeing The Fall Part 2 on my “Most Anticipated Games of 2017” list last year. I was, of course, sad to hear it was delayed into the early part of 2018, but given the onslaught of games we saw last fall, I didn't mind the decision. The Fall Part 2 carries on many of the strengths we saw in the first game, including an interesting story, likable characters, and thought-provoking puzzles. Unfortunately, along with Unbound’s expanded scope comes growing pains, several of which detracted from my overall enjoyment of ARID's latest outing.
The Fall was a very memorable game for me. Many of the puzzles were quite fun, and ARID's story was incredibly intriguing — especially the ending which left me wondering how exactly developer Over The Moon would tackle the sequel. Unbound picks up right where the first entry left off and sees ARID re-writing her parameters to survive. Utilizing 3 other AI controlled bots, ARID sets out to track down the "User" responsible for infecting her with a virus — by any means necessary. There's a lot to take in when players hop back into ARID's shoes, and some of it might not feel as pleasant.
Right off the bat, players will enjoy the game's more polished presentation as the user interface is much cleaner than the previous game. However, once you enter your first combat encounter moments later, you'll likely find yourself pining for the cover-based shootouts that transpired in the first game. When you start the game, you’ll have two options in regards to combat: “Standard,” which is the base game experience, or “Less," a version of the game filled with fewer enemy encounters. In the interest of transparency, I didn't even try playing the game in “Less” mode as I feel it would take away from the immersion of exploring an area that may or may not be inhabited by hostile enemies. Combat with ARID this time around is a little more complex as enemies aren't AI bots taking pot shots at you down a hallway. Instead, players will be tasked with shooting down several blob-like foes that utilize a variety of attacks ranging from firing a line of dark energy down the screen, to lunging aggressively at you. To fight these enemies, you must lock on using the left bumper, dodge their attacks, and then wait for them to turn blue before firing off a few shots to dispense of them. This might not sound too bad at first, but in execution, the actions feel clunky. Trying to dodge multiple enemies while shooting at the one you’re trying to lock onto when they're all in close proximity can be a little too finicky. On top of this, shooting and jumping drain the same meter, so if you find yourself accidentally shooting at the wrong enemy, chances are you’ll deplete your energy meter and find yourself unable to jump out of the way of another incoming attack.
Combat with ARID only gets more perplexing as she unlocks more abilities and navigates this world she's trapped in. She gains abilities from those blob-like enemies I mentioned earlier, such as the capability to alternate fire their dark matter or absorb their fire, and you get the sense that these abilities will play a greater role as the game progresses, a la a Metroidvania title. This idea never fully comes to fruition, though. You'll find yourself utilizing these abilities moments after acquiring them, but not much at all afterwards. Because of this, I felt learning the abilities was out of place and kind of a waste of time.
The environment itself can be confusing to navigate as well, as you have no map and most buildings have confusing names like 7#R. It's very easy to get turned around or just flat out lost as you're trying to figure out where to go. Save spots were also inconsistent. Early on, I'd die during an encounter and have to re-navigate my way back to whatever building I ended up in. However, during the back half of the game, I'd load right back up near whatever encounter did me in previously.
While all of the aforementioned issues are big gripes for me, Unbound does have some very strong elements that warrant your time. As ARID is navigating this data-hub world, her ultimate goal is to seek out new hosts to inhabit in order to track the User. Using data ports that open after completing some of those frustrating combat encounters, ARID is able to inhabit The Butler, The One, and The Companion, three AI bots with drastically different abilities and play styles. The Butler's primary function involves sticking to his routine, while The One hones in on what makes him unique from his counterparts. The Companion just wants to make people happy. Unlike the hostile area ARID inhabits, The Butler and The Companion both utilize their surroundings to complete their tasks. The Butler will only work as instructed, while The Companion has an advanced understanding of how human emotion works and can use the information she picks up in conversations to solve puzzles or manipulate situations. Meanwhile, The One enjoys the finer things in life, such as his unique taste in art, music, and combat. Unlike ARID's clunky combat scenarios, The One's battles play out in a similar style to the battle system found in Kung Fury: Street Rage. Players hit B or X to attack on the right and left sides of the screen while trying not to get hit or attack too early. It's a satisfying feeling to conquer a wave without taking any damage.
The variety in the cast this time around lends itself very well to the overall story as each companion brings a different perspective to the table for ARID to process. Some big revelations occur over the course of the game that fans of the first title will appreciate, and ARID's journey of self-discovery was one of Unbound’s big highlights for me as I'm a sucker for a great story. Much like the first game, players will likely spend a good 3-5 hours with The Fall Part 2 as they seek out its mysteries and learn more about the mysterious planet and how ARID — and her pilot, Captain Josephs — arrived there in the first place.
Lastly, the puzzle-solving elements in The Fall Part 2 are a big step up from the previous game. Players not only have each companion bot's individual challenges to contend with, but there are puzzles that require combining their abilities as well. The vast majority felt fairly challenging and, while nothing came even remotely close to the infamous crying baby puzzle from Part 1, there are still some that rely on a little too much trial-and-error — namely towards the end of the game. That said, Unbound feels much closer to that zen balance of challenge and frustration that's hard to achieve.
Overall, The Fall Part 2: Unbound is a great follow-up to the story of the first game. Stellar writing, entertaining characters, and clever puzzles are where The Fall Part 2 excels. Unfortunately, some aspects of the game felt like they were too ambitious for Over the Moon to fully realize this time around, and ARID's combat definitely felt like a step backwards. If you enjoyed ARID's journey in the first game, Unbound offers a solid, if flawed, follow-up and sets the stage for what will no doubt be a very interesting conclusion to The Fall's trilogy.