After buying this game at a discount along with some other games on Steam, I left it in my library, planning to look into it later and thinking it looked amusing. Fast forward to a Sunday night, playing DnD with my friends, and two of those particular gentlemen start off on a gaming discussion. I mean, I was typing furiously about games while slicing into dudes with a greatsword. Why not? Artistic games came into the conversation, and they were off about various titles they enjoyed. Then Jon swings a verbal hand across my face and tells me about The Fall. He and Jay were proselytizing at length about this game. “Have you heard of it?” I drew a dull stare at the ceiling. “No” I stated blankly. “It’s this game where you are an AI in a battlesuit and you have to override your functions to control them by putting your pilot in direct danger.” (this is where the little man in my head climbs the step ladder into my brain and pulls the chain to a light that flickers, dimly at first, to life) “OH YEA!” I exclaimed, “I bought that on Steam! So, it’s good?” The look I received from those gentlemen told me it was an experience. It was spectacular. Thereby I have come to this article to concur with these allegations. And I do concur, most righteously.
The Fall is about the necessity of rules. What do you become when you make a habit of breaking your own rules? First, we talk about the game and if you are interested, we go deeper. For that there will be spoilers, but fear not, I’ll warn you. Let’s do this.
In The Fall you are an AI inside a suit. After re-entering the atmosphere of a planet Master Chief-style, you awake in a dark cave. Before breaking the surface, however, something significant happens: to keep the suit’s pilot from liquefying upon impact, the suit’s AI is allowed to activate the Anti-matter shield and protect the pilot. Now this is the key point of the game. If you go into the esc menu, hit operating parameters. You’ll notice that there are several functions that are disabled, health monitoring of the pilot is damaged, but, most notably, the Anti-matter shielding has recently been activated. The suit’s AI, whom you control in the game, is unable to access various functions of the suit without the pilot’s permission. The pilot, however, has just re-entered the fucking atmosphere in a goddamn battle-suit. That is obviously not the preferred method of atmospheric entry for a human body, so the pilot is a little unconscious at the moment. Granted, the health-monitoring systems of the suit are knocked out, so we don’t even know if he’s still alive! The AI doesn’t hear anything from her pilot so she decides to head out for the medical facilities to revive the pilot. In the operating parameters there are three laws, based on the universal laws of Asimov governing robots: Must not misrepresent reality. Must be obedient. Must protect active pilot.
Now ARID, our AI babe, has some obstacles. She has a pretty specific set of parameters with the addendum that her own systems cannot be accessed without permission from the pilot EXCEPT to protect the pilot from immediate danger. Got it. That is a pretty fucking important except, too. There are a lot of problems that Arid encounters on this planet, most notably others trying to depurpose (destroy) her. In order to maintain her own relevance and purpose, Arid has to get her pilot to the medical facilities. To achieve this, she needs those restricted systems. This means she has to put the pilot into imminent danger in order to override the systems and gain access. How can this be allowed? Well it is a matter of priorities and logic. I have to protect the pilot. My pilot is dying. To properly protect the pilot from the danger of death, I must get him to the medical facilities. To get him to the med fac, I need to access restricted systems. I can only access those systems if my pilot is in imminent danger from which those systems could save him, therefore, I have to put my pilot in imminent danger in order to gain access to those systems and save his life. Fucking syllogisms. Read that last sentence again: in order to save my pilot, I have to put him in danger. Yea. Begin decompiling, mother fucker.
This game defines the often decontextualized term “slippery slope”, except in this one, you were the pebble that started the avalanche. Another fun little maxim this game hints at is the phrase “good intentions pave the road to hell”. Shelley’s Frankenstein made it a thing, and that story made a habit of referencing Paradise Lost, a story about Satan falling from grace with God. Arid invokes this maxim every time someone asks her about her primary function:
I am the A.R.I.D. onboard a Mark-7 combat suit. My intentions are peaceful
– Arid, The Fall
I submit that this is the jumping point for the titular “fall” in The Fall. Alright with the fucking literature lecture, back to the damn game.
The Fall as a game is still a lot of fun. It blends a number of ludic features, those features generating the enjoyable and fun part of a game (or its most game-like features, if you will permit me), with its logic. There are two genres at work here: Puzzle platformer and action shooter. I don’t know how they fucking thought of this shit, but the game style literally changes with the flip of a switch. You start off with a malfunctioning gun, but at least the flashlight still works fine. Using this flashlight, you can uncover various points of interest. Literally. It is like someone took a little fucking stamp and left these tiny magnifying glass icons everywhere. These icons tell you what you need to know about your surroundings. They’re also how you will interact with the environment to solve puzzles. A lot of the puzzles are pretty simple, some are tough and require thought. I had to look up the solution to one puzzle, but I still beat the game in about 3.5 hours.
Once you get a working pistol, you can switch to the laser sight, which is combat mode. In combat mode, you can get behind cover, vault over obstacles and bust a cap in some robotic motha’ fucka’s. Your primary enemies are the security droids of the facility in which you’ve crash landed. These are all droids that are following their primary functions perfectly, and this efficiency is maintained by the sinister caretaker. You meet this guy early on in an interrogation chamber and he dogs you the entire way, throwing legions of robotic foes to sidetrack you every time you get hard on a solid lead in moving on to the next area of the game. Combat is fun and challenging, despite the 2D look of the game. It doesn’t feel forced and it makes sense, and you’re not jumping on anyone’s fucking head, either. Another facet of combat is the ability to perform sneak attacks. This is also pretty cool, since Arid grabs the enemy from behind, rips out their power core and uses it to power her pilot’s suit. It is a neat and useful maneuver that adds to the gameplay.
Everything about the look of this game is well done. First you have the art: every level and area is well-designed and interesting. Your eyes will never get bored. There is a lot of passion poured into every fucking detail of this game, and it comes through. Each moment you are guided by the soft-blue light of Arid’s mask. Then there is the music. It goes from dark, ambient groans to shoot-em-up techno as soon as you launch into a fight. It fits and it gives a sense of foreboding throughout the game. The sound is well done. All of the voice actors are believable and well-recorded and the sounds themselves fit each scenario seamlessly. Everything about this game is polished and lovely, except for the odd “walking through a wall of rubble into an open dark chasm”. That only happened once, and it wasn’t a big deal. I just realized it wasn’t a thing, because everything else in this game is so well put together, I thought it was an actual room, or something. This game is well made and thought-evoking. It brings an experience that is tough to live up to. It was also funded on kickstarter, too, so I am glad it beat a bowl of fucking potato salad. You can pick it up on Steam for only 9.99$, and I highly recommend it. The ending is a piece of work that will make your jaw drop. So, on to the spoilers.
And to tell you why, I will be issuing more spoilers than a car part company. We have to go deeper.
DO NOT FUCKING PROCEED IF YOU WANT TO FIGURE THE ENDING OUT YOURSELF!!!!!!
There, bold, italics, centered on its own line: there is nothing that anyone can do to tell me I didn’t warn you. Now, why all the Jesus stuff? Well, to do that, we have to tell you the ending. So you spend all your time in The Fall trying to get your pilot, Colonel Josephs, to the medical facilities. Arid’s health monitoring system is damaged, so she just assumes that the pilot is not responding because he is unconscious. She never investigates further. In the name of saving your human pilot, you deactivate and drain all the power from hundreds of stored droids (which the mainframe AI calls killing them), kill a hive queen of these hive slugs and kill some fish that can bite through metal. You are also dogged by the Caretaker, an insidious droid that seems to be nailing humans to crucifixes, dissecting them and all kinds of other mean and nasty things. However, he is functioning fine. He was just left as the sole caretaker of a facility forgotten by its owners, so he keeps on doing what he is supposed to be doing: making the facility more efficient. Those people were not efficient, especially after some of them were abandoned at the facility (check out the carving in the front desk in the lobby c/o Levi the ex-maintenance guy) and the Caretaker depurposed them. As for the dissections, he was doing to the people what he might do to the robots: look for salvageable parts. It’s just a messier prospect when you are filled with sloshy, meaty bits.
So you do all of this in the name of Colonel Josephs, the man in the suit. Arid only invokes the name of the man in the suit toward the end, when the mainframe AI tells her not to change her parameters in the lab. This is apparently necessary to finish the last task in a repurposing evaluation, to make it so she can lie. You know, misrepresent reality? One of her most basic principles? She gets to the medical bay, gets scanned and what does she find out? The man in the suit was never there. She is malfunctioning after all. Took her a while to get there.
How does this relate to Jesus? Arid does some pretty horrible things (killing various animals, destroying the last dying remnants of an ancient facility, violating some corpses and even removing the power core for another actual soldier in a combat suit) for the sake of the man in the suit. She doesn’t know he is there, and since the health monitoring systems are damaged, she just assumes he is in there. And toward the end this man in the suit even has a name. She truly believes Josephs is there. Despite this belief, she was willing to put him in mortal danger. He would have been the one that died, not her. He becomes a sort of sacrifice that redeems Arid of her sins (or faults in programming). Josephs represents something that Arid is willing to sacrifice everything for. Something she believes in to the point where she is willing to destroy the elements of her basic programming that bind her and give her purpose. That is really poignant, too. Just as Lucifer was willing to defy the tenets of God to enact his own agenda, Arid is willing to supplant the laws governing robots, created by Isaac Asimov, to achieve her own imaginary goal of saving Josephs. The humans on the cross represent a non-existant ideal for which Arid risks it all. And the theoretical man in Arid’s suit is the one she is ready to put in danger to override her systems, so she is, in effect, using her belief in this man to breakdown the basic rules of her existence. Yea. Just let that shit percolate for a minute.
One of the most interesting triumphs of this game is how they made Arid so human without adding a human. She makes frequent “self-evaluations” and often comes to the conclusion that she needs to be formatted and serviced before being returned to her dock. In human terms “I am not doing the right thing, I need to stop and look at this, I need my head checked!” But then the screen has a moment of electronic spazzing and she corrects herself stating that these things were necessary to save Josephs, she is doing this to save him. She is robotically reassuring herself against what she recognizes as the invalidity of her own actions and programming. The main difference, though, is that people don’t always take these personal self-evaluations and look at themselves. It is often too painful, and in Arid’s case it is no different. She just performs it on a more logical level, being an AI in a robot suit and all.
This is something that we’ve seen time and again in real life: people changing the rules to make them suit an end that they deem as sacred. Holy wars, for example. They’ve gone by many names: crusades, jihads or whatever. These are terrible things done in the name of a sacred ideal. Arid is an excellent choice of name to this degree since Arid means “devoid of moisture”. To allow a bit of poetic latitude to Over the Moon, it would mean devoid of anything, specifically true purpose. Not just devoid of the moisture created by a human body. And this relates to Frankenstein really well. Take that Arid to mean moistureless, like a corpse reanimated. They wouldn’t be juicy, especially if they were kept in embalming fluid like Dr. Frankenstein’s body parts undoubtedly were. Just like the good Doctor, Arid sacrifices her basic tenets and uses good intentions to justify some horrible actions. And in both cases the being left is a monster that wreaks havoc on an arguably torn world. But it is the world that the characters in the story have. It is self-sustaining, to a point, if far from perfect. Who are these two to destroy what it has become?
So at the end, when Arid, by her own words, is bound by nothing, she tears off the helmet of the suit and show that she is empty. That is the answer to the question at the beginning of this article. What do you become when you make a habit of breaking your own rules? I wanted to phrase it “What do you become when you make a habit of breaking your own rules for an imaginary purpose?” but that is a little too suggestive. I mean you need the chance to play it yourself to really get the full effect.
Arid represents the purpose of intention when it is backed by meaningless goals. It doesn’t matter what you intend to do, if you violate everything to include the basic laws of your own life to uphold a universal concept of sacredness, you are exactly what you are bound by: nothing.
If you have read this far, I apologize and thank you for hearing me out. It is a lot to read.