The game launched as part of the Square Enix Collective, which is used to showcase indie talent often funded via Kickstarter and voted for by community members.
Built by Sand Sailor Studios, Black the Fall will struggle to escape comparisons to last year's INSIDE from Danish developer Playdead. But does Black the Fall simply live in INSIDE's shadow? Or does this puzzle platformer break free and stand on its own?
Design and setting
Black the Fall is a dystopian puzzle platformer with stylized but detailed 3D side-scrolling environments. On Xbox One, I experienced no crashes or frame rate issues on my journey with Black the Fall, which runs at a fairly steady 30 frames per second (FPS).
Black the Fall takes place in a Soviet-inspired dystopia where people slave away on strange machines and doing menial labor. Your character decides enough is enough, and takes it upon himself to escape.
Players of Playdead's Limbo or INSIDE will be familiar with the flow of the game. Each section is gated by a puzzle, intersected with the occasional set piece that gives the game world its character through passive visual storytelling. Some of the scenes include citizens worshipping a politician on a giant, fuzzy cathode-ray tube TV, while screaming in terror at an image of the Statue of Liberty.
Black The Fall is a little lacking in subtlety with its imagery. Communist hammer and sickles are portrayed as the game's big evil, while overweight, drunk guards roam around beating citizens, who are preyed upon by gun-toting CCTV cameras.
But there are some clever design aspects, such as the garbled text on signs, which seems to hint that the game is in fact some sort of dream or nightmare, and there is the occasional easter egg to find, including a "Play Dead" achievement and a Larian statue, both of which reference different game studios.
For what it might lack in nuance and originality, Black the Fall makes up for with some tremendous atmospheric treatment, environmental detail and eerie neo-noir electronic music. Black the Fall manages to squeeze quite a lot of variety out of its settings, which take place across abandoned factories, demolished cities, run down slums, and post-war no man's land. The collision of Cold War-era Soviet imagery and sci-fi tropes like giant bipedal robots and 1984-style industrial-scale surveillance is a familiar one, but it's executed well in Black the Fall. And it's all inspired by real-world tales from those who suffered through Soviet Romania.
As far as visuals and story telling goes, Black the Fall never quite reaches as high as some of the other artistic puzzle platformer games out there. But it makes a solid, admirable effort.
As noted, Black the Fall is a puzzle platformer, and it tends to revolve around logic problems rather than reactive ones. Occasionally, you will be called upon to make some precise, reactive moves, but it's a little rare across this two to three hour journey.
The puzzles in Black the Fall are well thought out and satisfying to complete. I just wish there were more of them. Every now and then, I found myself legitimately stumped, which made it feel all the more rewarding when I finally figured out the solution.
Many of Black the Fall's puzzles throw unique mechanics into the mix that are specific to that event or moment. I can say with confidence that nobody will find Black the Fall repetitive in the slightest, because it really does deliver a wide variety of brain teasers for you to try and overcome. And that's even when you disregard the melancholy backdrops and detailed world design.
About half way through, you'll run into a robotic dog-like companion, who adds another layer of complexity to the puzzles. The dog is cute but fickle, and he's easily led astray by enemy mobs who will hack into him remotely if you let them. Some of the puzzles revolve around guiding the dog to perform actions that are either out of reach or too dangerous for the player, adding further variety.
Black the Fall isn't the most unique or ambitious title in the puzzle platforming genre, but it's a welcome and impressive first effort from Sand Sailor Studio.
The game's setting and story are a little heavy-handed with its message, which some might feel is a tad preachy, but there is a lot of detail and impressive art to be found throughout Black the Fall.
- Rewarding, varied puzzles.
- Great artwork and detail.
- Lacks originality.
- Quite short at two to three hours.
Black the Fall might not hit the same level as the games it tries to emulate, but it does a damn good job of trying. I thoroughly enjoyed myself and found the puzzles to be varied enough to hold my attention, and difficult enough to be persistently rewarding. If you're a fan of puzzle platformers of this type, I think $14.99 is a reasonable price of entry for a game as detailed and well-made as this, but at two to three hours, it did feel a little short.
Regardless, Sand Sailor Studio is definitely a developer worth keeping your eye on.
Jez Corden a Managing Editor at Windows Central, focusing primarily on all things Xbox and gaming. Jez is known for breaking exclusive news and analysis as relates to the Microsoft ecosystem while being powered by caffeine. Follow on Twitter @JezCorden and listen to his Xbox Two podcast, all about, you guessed it, Xbox!