It is very hard to talk about Black The Fall without talking about Inside. The second you load up the game it is obvious. Inside plays through the story of a strange young boy in a red shirt running through a dystopian world. It’s full of puzzles, rather disturbing moments (involving pigs) and lots of flesh. For the 3 hours I played it the game was wonderful: The animation was smooth, the story was strange but fun and the puzzles were just challenging enough to be fun but never to hold you in place.
Black The Fall is obviously trying to emulate this hard. The bleak style, the 2.5D world and the dystopian story all hark to the developers playing far too much Inside. But the attempt is somewhat mixed with some moments being wonderful homages and others being poor and frustrating facsimiles.
You play as a nameless worker, trapped in a communist dystopia where everyone except you seems to have their government mandated tracking backpack to control them. By luck, the door to your workstation breaks, and thus begins your breakout. You must travel through a communist hellhole to make your way to safety. Along the way you meet an abandoned robot who quickly becomes you unlikely companion and facilitates your escape.
It becomes hard to describe this game as anything other than an Inside clone. You trudge through various areas, slowly pushing your way further and further completing small puzzles and platforming sections along the way. Platforming ranges from simple ‘jump across the gap’ areas to more complex stunts requiring you to follow shadows and avoid the various machines working away which may crush you. Puzzles are the more complex of the two, usually involving you trying to sneak past guards without getting shot down by turrets. This can involve blending into the world by jumping on a bicycle when the light passes, to using other humans as your fodder.
The human control (again, also in Inside) sees you using a simple laser pointer to direct your pawns to where they need to go. You can get them to activate controls, walk around and blindly march into gunfire if you feel macabre. It deviates from Inside in that the pawns do not follow you around blindly, rather you direct them to blindly go where you want them to go which a welcome twist, if not entirely unique.
All this is done in another huge homage to Inside. The world is bleak, dark, and full of noisy machinery and broken concrete. Lighting is at a premium, especially in the underground sections near the beginning, and is used to great effect in puzzles and platforming. It is a very satisfying moment when you see a bleak area in the background and manage to get there after a few minutes of traversal.
Now there is nothing wrong with homage of any kind, in fact I applaud it if done correctly. But it is fair to say while Black The Fall takes good steps towards that, it falls short in a number of places.
Firstly, the controls are nowhere near as precise. Inside had fluid, simple animations which made predicting jumps and managing pace much easier. Black The Fall has far less fluid animations. They feel clunky and disjointed, and this caused me to screw up a simple jump plenty of times. Given teething time you will grow accustomed to them, though you will have to push through the first several failures first without giving up in the game.
The puzzles are also far less well designed. While these are in a minority, some puzzles give you no clues for moving forwards, expecting trial-and-error mentality from the player. While the respawning is quick and usually pretty close to where you were sometimes you will be locked behind a puzzle with no simple answer.
A puzzle I met half an hour in was typical of this. You enter a dark area and walking in your vision turns to black from the darkness. You can hear the sound of steam blasting through pipes, and being in contact with this steam will kill you. However you have no way to know where the steam is. As such, I died multiple times, putting the game down twice in frustration before finally figuring out what to do.
With this, there are still a few bugs and niggles lying around mostly in the audio. You will find that sounds cut out if they play too long. This will likely be patched soon though and never caused me any real grief.
Black The Fall doesn’t do a bad job at imitating Inside by any means. But small polishes are missed, and as such the final image is rather a platformer as clunky as the original Oddworld games. It is not a bad experience if you desire for more gameplay harkening Inside. But it does not equal or surpass it. Inside earned a 9 from us, and Black the Fall earns itself a 6, making something to scratch the itch for now.