Black the Fall is a fairly short platformer, mostly monochromatic but with splashes of other colours like red and yellow where emphasis is needed, featuring a lone worker using platforming to escape from his life in a dystopian, industrial, people-used-as-parts-in-a-machine hellscape.
The problem with making a game that’s easily comparable to Inside — in terms of the look, the mechanics and some of the themes — that comes out now is that Inside itself only came out a year ago, received praise from everywhere, and became hugely recognised to boot. 2017’s answer to Inside is still Inside itself. So your game had better do everything better than Inside did. Sadly, Black the Fall doesn’t quite manage it. And I thought the praise for Inside got a bit excessive.
The premise for Black the Fall is more compelling than Inside’s, to be fair. Black the Fall’s developer Sand Sailor Studio is based in Bucharest, and the game is inspired by the experiences their families and the people of Romania had under the (surprisingly recent) communist dictatorship there. As you escape, you pass conformity and uniformity, shown in different ways: rows of men, identical to yourself, providing power through rows and rows of bicycles stretching away from the screen; a line of workers slowly advancing through a door under the eye of an overseer; a room full of countless open coffins. And you see behind the curtain, to a forgotten back room full of old portraits, and a half collapsed building that, inside, is a sudden glimpse of aristocratic gilded splendor, while everything outside is grey.
As you go on, you get more tools to use, including a kind of robot dog, and something that looks like a Move controller with a light beam — there are some good puzzles where you must reflect its light off shiny surfaces. You can use it to control your fellow workers. You can make them open doors for you, but you don’t free them. You don’t take them with you. Maybe there just wasn’t a way to. Sometimes they collapse and start crying, briefly, and in those moments I wondered what, to them, was the difference between Black, the protagonist, and one of the shouting overseers with guns.
But though Black the Fall has some very good ideas, there is a lack of precision in some of the execution. Controls and new systems, for example, are worked into the environment as signs, almost like the ones you see in workshops, showing you it’s a bad idea to touch the giant sander directly with your hands via a stickman showing perturbation that he touched the giant sander. This is a great concept, but sometimes the angle or a bit of scenery obscures the image, so you have to do more squinting and trial and error than you’re prepared to.
Likewise,some of the controls can frustrate your efforts. Black operates on a single invisible line through the game. You never need to turn; Black apparently knows where he’s going and will make the turns himself as he reaches them. But you can make him go backwards and forwards or up and down, and sometimes it seems like the controls are working against you. The jump is hard to gauge (and in a game with platforming elements it needs to be easy) resulting in a couple of puzzles relying on more luck than judgement. Black can climb up, but not down, and sometimes isn’t sure which bit of a ledge he should be grabbing. It becomes frustrating, getting stuck in a loop of reloading, getting spotted by a camera, getting shot, reloading again…
Listen, as dystopian and mostly monochrome platform puzzlers go, Black the Fall isn’t bad. But I can’t tell you it’s great either.
Developer: Sand Sailor Studio
Publisher: Square Enix
Available on: PlayStation 4 [reviewed on], Xbox One, PC
Release date: July 11 2017