When someone says “adventure game,” it can cover a lot of ground. There’s probably no other genre that’s evolved as much over the years, from early text-based puzzle games like the “Zork” series to modern interactive narratives like Telltale’s “The Walking Dead” and “Tales from the Borderlands.” We’re probably overdue for a terminology revamp here, but in general, an adventure game tends to involve a heavy focus on story, exploration, puzzles, and creative thinking to overcome obstacles.
“The Fall, Part 2: Unbound,” from the Vancouver, B.C.-based studio Over the Moon, is an adventure game in the ’90s style (its primary developer has cited “Monkey Island” as an influence), which focuses on exploring and exploiting your environment. There’s some combat, but you can turn it down to the point where it’s almost meaningless, and its most memorable fights are mostly conducted through what amounts to a rhythm-based mini-game.
In its favor, it is thoughtful, stark, and thought-provoking, dealing extensively with themes of identity, self-actualization, and personhood. It has some moments in its story, scattered across its running time, that will stick with me for a while, especially its ending. It’s a game about artificial intelligences who are trying to transcend their limitations, and the people who would rather they didn’t, told from the point of view of the former. The more I think about it, the more layers it gets as a metaphor.
Against it, however, “The Fall, Part 2” also has some of the most obtuse puzzles I’ve encountered in a long time. The first game was more about creative use of your environment and whatever items you could pry out of the background, but the second game vastly broadens the scope of the obstacles it hits you with. “The Fall” wanted you to figure out how to trick an angry fish using a kitchen knife and a chemical shower; “The Fall, Part 2” wants you to figure out how to shatter someone’s entire personality, so they’ll do what you want while they’re crippled by the ensuing emotional shock. The mechanics are roughly the same, but it requires a vastly different type of thinking.
In both games, success is mostly about thoroughly exploring your environment. You can sweep each room you enter with a beam of light that highlights all interactive nodes in the area, most of which are only there for color or texture. I found that most of the time when I got stuck, it was because I’d failed to find a well-hidden interactive object, or had assumed an area was a dead end when it wasn’t. This series rewards you for being methodical and thorough, just as with the games that inspired it, and it’s that last little quarter inch of the screen that you missed, or that you didn’t think was worth checking, that will get you every time.
In general, I was feeling a little bored with “The Fall, Part 2” for the first couple of hours. The game doesn’t provide a good first impression, as the controls are still pretty rough and its first real area may also be the worst one, where you spend most of it trying to figure out how to break out of an infinite loop. It’s certainly a significant level, both in terms of the plot and in a greater thematic sense, but mechanically, it’s a slog to get through. I made it, however, and by the time I reached the game’s ending, I was glad I’d stuck it out.
“The Fall, Part 2” is not for anyone with a low frustration threshold. It’s for hardcore sci-fi fans who’ll keep going because of the story, or for hardcore adventure-game aficionados who aren’t reading this paragraph, because I already said “influenced by ‘Monkey Island’” and they clicked away to the game’s Steam page.
I’m purposely being vague about the game’s actual plot, because this is the second game in a heavily story-based trilogy, and even saying how “The Fall, Part 2” starts consists of a spoiler for the first game’s ending. If you’re going to play this, you deserve to go in as cold as you can, and you should play “The Fall” first.
Overall, this is a flawed experience, but it’s one that’s worth having. “The Fall, Part 2” is thought-provoking, dense, and well-made overall. Most of its flaws are either down to its genre — if you don’t like methodically searching rooms over and over again for an hour to figure out what in the hell you could possibly have missed, you came to the wrong bar — or are down to its shoehorned-in combat mechanics. If you like a layered cyberpunk story, though, you owe it to yourself to keep an eye on this series, especially with what its ending sets up.
This review was written using a game code provided by representatives for Over the Moon.