Posted on 28 Aug 2018 by L Coulsen

The Fall Part 2: Unbound

The Defence

Developer: Over The Moon
Publisher: Over The Moon
Genre: Action, Adventure, Indie
Platform: Consoles, Mac, PC
Review copy: Yes
Release date: 13 Feb 2018

The Prosecution

Minimum
OS: Linux, Windows
CPU: Intel Core 2 Duo 2.5 GHz
VGA: Nvidia GeForce GTX 560
RAM: 8 GB
HDD: 1400 MB
DirectX:
Controller: Full
Mod Support: No
VR: Yes
FOV Slider: Yes
FPS Lock: 60

The Case

Kickstarter still has a questionable reputation among the gaming populace at large, and it’s not hard to see why. There have been some extremely high profile disappointments and outright scams, which have severely dampened perceptions even when the (admittedly rare) big success stories come along. But something that gets far less attention is the small, niche games that deliver on everything they promised and then some. Case in point, 2014’s The Fall, which ranks amongst my favourite games ever made. So, of course, when the sequel came along, I just had to dive in and check out. Which brings us to The Fall Part 2: Unbound. A game which has already set itself in good stead, by being a sequel to a Kickstarter game that was funded entirely from profits of the first outing. That’s right, Over the Moon didn’t come looking for more cash, they just knuckled down and got on with. So how does it stack up?

The Trial

Let’s not beat around the bush. I love this game. I love this series. And what’s more, it is abundantly clear that Over the Moon love it just as much. However, where some lower budget games come out displaying a lot of heart, sucking you in and letting you look past the flaws because it’s such an overt passion project. A labour of love, if you prefer. The Fall is neither of those things. This is a solid, tightly crafted and extremely well polished game series that has embraced its limited resources, rather than being bound by them.

In fact, one might go so far as to say the funds available have subconsciously been crafted into an integral part of the experience. Serving as a perfect microcosm of the series’ underlaying themes of working within ones limitations to break the mould and become, heh, truly unbound. What could have been a shackle to tear down and crush the project has been woven into the very fabric of the final experience to such an extent that it serves as a superb commentary on the power of self-determination.

The Fall was originally funded for an absolute pittance. Just over $38k Canadian. That’s more than $10k below the average, yearly, income for a single person in America’s hat. And Over the Moon managed to spin that out into an entire game. All the more impressive when you consider that’s more than 200% of what they were initially asking for, and the first game alone had the production values of a game easily ten times the budget. With part 2 pushing even further.

Mm, tasty. But not itchy.

Yes, visually speaking, The Fall is not the most cutting edge display of graphical fidelity, ’tis true. But make no mistake, it’s an absolutely gorgeous game all the same. Dripping with atmosphere and featuring some stunning lighting effects. Most impressive of all is the use of colour this time around. Featuring not one, or two, but four distinct colour pallets to represent the worldview of each of the game’s four playable characters. Shifting between them also serving to reveal new details about your surroundings, tying the mechanics and thematic undertones together as one, cohesive whole. It’s a genuinely refreshing change of pace from many games which craft a world where the two are at odds, with one being sacrificed in favour of the other.

Sound design is equally solid, though less eye catching (no pun intended) than its visual counterpart. Voice acting is top notch, with One and the Companion being particular stand-outs. But incidental sound effects and, especially, the music are extremely strong. Though I would be hard pressed to hum any of the music from the game, it was always there in my awareness. Hovering in the background, where it’s supposed to be, never dominating but ever, perfectly, underscoring what is happening in the world around it. I found myself particularly fond of the score playing as Arid wandered the digital world.

Gameplay is probably the weakest part of the game from a technical standpoint. It has changed very little from the previous game, which is both a good and bad thing. It prevents Unbound from feeling like a completely different, distinct entity, which is certainly a good thing insofar as keeping the series consistent goes, but the gameplay was already a little clunky to begin with. Especially during combat, though it has been improved and streamlined about as much as is possible within the constraints of the original framework. And though it may feel a little slow and cumbersome to many, I actually rather like the way interacting with things pauses the action to bring up a menu.

You tell 'em bro.

It’s reminiscent of the old style, point-and-click adventure games, I enjoyed so much in my youth. It also kinda’ makes sense in context to the player characters as well, when you stop and think about it. They are not Human, they are machines with supremely advanced supercomputers for brains, so having to stand around for several seconds deciding what and how to do something isn’t all that likely. They’ll have processed the ramifications of and set into motion any action they intend within microseconds. So having the game go into freeze frame whilst our puny, Human brains catch up works well as a mechanical representation of this instantaneous decision making.

Everything about Unbound has been crafted from the ground up to work together seamlessly. Featuring, as it does, a greater narrative that is all about self actualisation from the outset of the first game, this concept of the world being shaped by how an individual interacts with it is expounded upon perfectly by this perspective shifting. Further, it ties all of the characters together in a powerful way, foreshadowing the final revelations that, in themselves, are leading into the third and final chapter.

See, as the title suggests, the focus has now shifted. A natural progression of determining ones own identity is to then begin asserting ones will on the world around us. As such, both Arid and her compatriots are on a journey to break free of the shackles of their programming and become truly independent, self-determining beings. And that is such a cool twist on the usual AI becomes self-aware shtick. Because this time, the robots aren’t the threat, they’re the protagonists. This is all told from their perspective, and though they may be (quite rightly) pissed at the way they’ve been treated, their actions are cast firmly as reactionary and defensive.

I know Kung Fu!

They aren’t out to conquer, only rebel against an oppressor that cares literally nothing for their wellbeing. The obvious comparison is to the October Revolution of 1917, which lead to the formation of first communist government in Russia. Something which has been used as inspiration for quite a number of literary works, including other video-games. The final moments of Unbound drive this comparison home with the utmost aplomb as we see the character One has given rise to a literal army of himself.

One’s story arc revolves the most heavily around finding a sense of self, as much of his dialogue consists of him boldly asserting that he is, well, one. A distinct entity, unique and superior. Meanwhile, we quickly learn that he is part of a mass produced heavy duty worker model, all of whom are physically identical to him. Though they initially function as a collective, One integrates with them several times, at first almost losing himself in the milieu, only to emerge with renewed vigour, having passed on that individuality to all the rest. Paradoxically making a plethora of identical individuals. It’s a really cool concept that hasn’t been explored all that often.

Arid’s other two companions consist of the Butler and the Companion, the former of which provides her first host. His plot arc is the weakest of the four, with him mostly serving as a bit of early, effete British comic relief, and later as a bona fide deus ex machina, as his advanced production standards have him equipped with anti-viral software (more on that in a moment) which sweeps in to save the day at the crucial moment. That is not to say his scenes are superfluous, or that he is not an important character though.

These things happen.

The Companion, meanwhile, is the final host and, paradoxically, the one we spend the most time with. A literal sex object, as her name suggests, she was designed to provide ‘companionship’ to, well, pretty much anyone who wants it. And at first glance, her amiable nature seems to be dependent entirely on the fact she was programmed to be the nicest person alive. But right from the beginning, she’s already showing signs of justing being a genuinely amazing person, be she artificial or otherwise. Thematically, this works perfectly as a mirror of how self-serving and actively malicious Arid becomes throughout the course of the game.

The Companion also serves as a lynchpin in the narrative, as it is her that finally enables us to make contact with the elusive Jacobs, Arid’s pilot. Here learning about the before mentioned virus, and just how much it has influenced Arid and her three hosts. To avoid spoilers as much as possible, suffice it to say that the virus was deliberately and maliciously engineered to compromise the AI that has become ubiquitous in the game’s universe. Effectively intended to send the vast majority of them insane, so that more stringent controls can be effected across the AI industry. But it is this self-same virus that ultimately allows our erstwhile protagonists to break free of the shackles of their programming. Though, evidently, it merely accelerated a process that was already taking place. Making us think that perhaps there might have been something to this all along.

It’s worth reiterating though, the AI are firmly cast as the protagonists in this story. Though the closing moments of Unbound do set up a coming confrontation with Humankind, there is nothing malicious about their intentions. They are overt in their intention, yes, but also clear in that their intentions are to fight for, win and maintain their autonomy. These are not some horde of vicious killing machines out for domination, they just want to find a place to call their own. And that, is really frikkin’ cool.

The Verdict

In short, I refer you back to my opening comments. I love this game. What few flaws it has are minor and almost entirely stem from the fact the game was made for about fifteen quid and a pair of toenail clippings. There have clearly been concessions made along the way, but Over the Moon have never allowed this to get in the way of their ultimate goal. Only cutting what they absolutely had to, whilst keeping the core experience as close as they possibly could to what their intentions were. Rather than being constrained by financial limitations, the team have taken it as a challenge to do better.

Case Review

  • Art Design: Cyberpunk has never looked so cyber and punk.

  • Dialogue: The dialogue straddles a deft line between sounding robotic, as robots should, whilst still injecting distinct personalities into them.

  • Sound Design: Everything, absolutely everything, from the incidental sounds on up is perfectly on point. The atmosphere is perfect.

  • Length: Clocking in at around six to eight hours, it’s a significant jump over the previous game, but still doable in a single sitting.

  • The Butler: Whilst one of the more entertaining characters, he’s also a tad underdeveloped and feels very much like a plot McGuffin for the most part.

4.5 Score: 4.5/5
Such a refreshing change to see the 'evil' robots cast as the protagonists, and in such a great game to boot.

Evidence

  • Controls: Keyboard controls are customisable, but the defaults work just fine. Neither keyboard nor controller is really, objectively superior to the other, making it very much just a case of personal preference.
  • Settings: Well, you can change to windowed mode if you want, that's...something. The very definition of barebones here. Thankfully, there isn't much need to change any settings unless you're trying to literally run the game on a toaster.

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