Tuesday, February 13, 2018

The Fall Part 2: Unbound Review (XONE)

First the A.I. temporarily defies its programming in order to complete an objective. Then it totally abandons its programming in the name of self-preservation. And then the A.I. starts learning about feelings and emotions like selfishness, remorse, sadness, and pity. And then, of course, things escalate. This is basically how the “The Terminator” and “The Matrix” got started, but it is also the foundations for the fantastic The Fall series from Over The Moon Games as you follow an A.I. as it breaks the shackles of it’s programming and restrictions and seeks freedom. Featuring an awesome story, great presentation, and unique 2D adventure / puzzle gameplay, both 2014’s The Fall Part 1 and the newly released The Fall Part 2: Unbound are absolutely worth playing for sci-fi fans. Continue reading this article for our full review of The Fall Part 2: Unbound for Xbox One.  

Game Details

  • Publisher: Over The Moon Games
  • Developer: Over The Moon Games
  • ESRB Rating: “T” for Teen
  • Genre: Adventure / Puzzle
  • Pros: Great story; excellent presentation; clever puzzles
  • Cons: Fiddly controls; combat sections; some puzzles a bit “too” clever
  • MSRP: $17
The Fall Part 2: Unbound page at Microsoft.com

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In case you didn’t play it (Who am I kidding. Of course you didn’t play it. Even though myself and plenty of other folks have been singing its praises for years.) The Fall: Part 1 (read our review) was the story of an A.I. that had to break the core rules of its programming in order to save a human. It is classic sci-fi from the very foundations of the genre. The Fall Part 2: Unbound continues the story of that A.I. now that it is free and not bound by programming limitations as it searches for a human user that is trying to destroy it.

At the end of the first game the A.I. A.R.I.D.’s robot body was attacked by an unknown human user. In The Fall Part 2, A.R.I.D.’s consciousness travels through computer networks to try to track that user down. In order to actually do anything, however, it has to find (via the network) and take over control of other robot A.I. in the real world. First a robot butler, then a combat robot, and then a companion (sex bot). Each of them have their own quirks and programming restrictions and A.R.I.D. has to manipulate them to defy their programming in order to do what it wants them to, which is helping it track down the human user.

Getting too specific from here on will spoil the story, so I’ll leave it at that. I will say that I like how A.R.I.D. isn’t necessarily “good”. It does terrible things to its robot hosts in the name of its own self-preservation, which is an interesting new perspective on how these stories are usually told. A.R.I.D. grows as a character over the course of The Fall Part 2, though, as it learns to understand the personality quirks of the other A.I. it meets and embraces preservation of the many rather than just itself. This story of A.I. becoming aware and independent seems to ultimately be leading exactly where you can probably guess, but I’m still eagerly anticipating The Fall Part 3, whenever it comes out, as Over The Moon Games has done a good job so far of putting its own spin on this familiar sci-fi story and not telling it quite how you expect.

As far as the gameplay goes, it isn’t exactly The Fall Part 2’s strong suit, but it also doesn’t get in the way. Just like in the first game, The Fall Part 2 is a 2D side scrolling adventure / puzzle game where you use a light to scan the environment for interactive objects, which you then activate and use via a little pop up menu. The basics of the game are that you pretty much have to scan and pick up or use every interactive item in an area and then use the knowledge and items you gain to solve puzzles to move on to the next section of the game. The controls are, honestly, pretty clunky and fiddly as lining up your light in just the right way so you can interact with stuff isn’t as smooth and easy as it should be. I had kind of hoped the gameplay would have evolved a little bit, but it’s exactly like the first game, warts and all.

Puzzles in the game are things like figuring out a series of actions to make the butler break its routine so it will check a network terminal in the basement or forcing the companion to seduce a guard so you can steal his uniform. I have to say that the puzzles aren’t always straightforward and obvious, though, and some are pretty darn convoluted and complicated. In the first game you just sort of used everything until it worked, but in The Fall Part 2 you also often have to do things in a proper order and it can be tough to figure out. The gameplay gets even more complex at the end as you gain the ability to see things from the three characters’ perspectives at will and have to switch between them in order to solve puzzles.

Each of the different characters’ gameplay sections are fairly unique as the butler has a set routine you have to follow, the combat unit is more action oriented as you have to fight your way through hordes of other robots (with simple left and right attacks mapped to the X and B buttons), and the companion’s section plays more like a standard adventure game where you listen to conversations and use the information to manipulate people. There is a fourth gameplay section as well that takes place inside the network where A.R.I.D. has to do some simple platforming as well as do some simple 2D shooting combat. These combat sections aren’t especially fun, just like the first game unfortunately, but you can tone down the difficulty of them to focus on the story more, which is what I did. The combat unit’s fighting sections, on the other hand, are actually pretty fun and interesting as you fight waves of enemy robots of different types and you have to use different combinations of attacks to defeat them.

All in all, the gameplay isn’t exactly impressive or particularly memorable. The puzzles themselves are generally solid and satisfying, though, and the story and characters are absolutely fantastic, so putting up with clunky gameplay is a small price to pay. It is very much a narrative driven experience, though, so if you need action and frantic pacing and platforming to hold you attention you’ll be disappointed. If you want a great sci-fi story, on the other hand, you’re in the right place.

Presentation-wise, The Fall Part 2 is simple, but effective. The game is very dark, but little splashes of light and color highlight important bits and the game is detailed just enough that you always know what you’re looking at. The sound is the real star here as the voice acting is fantastic and the music and sound design overall help set the mood for each scene perfectly.

In the end, The Fall Part 2: Unbound is a great continuation of one of the best sci-fi stories in gaming. The gameplay won’t blow you away by any means, but it features some fantastic puzzles and interesting concepts that you really won’t find anywhere else. If you enjoy narrative driven games and don’t mind an obtuse puzzle or five, do yourself a favor and play both The Fall Part 1 as well as The Fall Part 2: Unbound. These are great games that deserve a look.
Disclosure: A review code was provided by the publisher.