In 2014, developer & publisher Over The Moon had released The Fall, the first part of an intended sci-fi trilogy which tackled an AI’s interaction with its environment in pursuit of overcoming a threatening predicament. It received favorable reception when it came to its story, but also had its share of complaints about its gameplay. Closing in on 4 years later, The Fall Part 2: Unbound continues the story while promising to be improved over what came before. Does Unbound break free from past problems or is The Fall in need of a complete overhaul?
Unbound immediately picks up where the The Fall ended, with the player-controlled AI named Arid being ejected from the body suit she was confined to into a network of intricate connections. For players unfamiliar with the The Fall, you will be asked if want a recap of the events which took place in the first game. The details presented are enough to get you a decent understanding of what’s going on. There are instances where traces of plot details from the first game emerge which would leave a more profound impression for those who have played it, but Unbound still leads players into discoveries that welcomes even newcomers. If the idea of artificial intelligence being able to adapt or rewrite itself while developing morale interests you, there’s enough here where it never feels convoluted if this is your first entry.
Booting up with the network, Arid is soon able to break free from her current position and take control of her body laying lifeless as it is. Here, players get their first taste of the point & click interactivity which then soon adds player movement and exploration. The Fall Part 2: Unbound is actually touted as a point & click meets Metroidvania that feels fresh. What needs to be cleared is the Metroidvania elements take a backseat… like on a bus. While the exploration segments resemble Metroid in its own way, the scope and depth pale in comparison and is there mainly for pushing the plot forward. Those looking for a Metroidvania experience should look at the finer offerings currently available on Nintendo Switch. However, those looking to scratch that itch of classic point & click puzzle-solving with a compelling narrative and unique characters will find plenty worthwhile here.
The network Arid finds herself trapped in serves as the main hub for her to access new areas. What first drives her is the fact that she’s been infected with a virus by someone who is known as the “User”. Arid isn’t actually allowing herself to be the “used” as she creates a set of rules aimed at one goal being to save herself from the infection and to find the User. Now entrapped within the network, Arid is able to find other AI who act as hosts which she is able to access in order to gain answers. It’s these hosts which provide the bulk of the gameplay as you’ll be taking control of different sentient and each one is played within their own designed world space. Typically when Arid attempts to connect to a host and other computer systems, the virus attempts to destroy her. It’s these little combative scenarios that do add fresh action to the point & click adventure genre to change the pace every now and then which feel like nice little diversions, but ultimately feel like mini-games; enough there to have fun with it, but shallow enough to not be a full game. The controls here are still clunky, but satisfaction in it can easily be found.
Reasons for such is that shots from your gun feel nice and viruses exploding make you feel somewhat cleansed. What surrounds that only gets the job done, if only a bit underwhelming. Each combat scenario is over relatively quickly. They happen when you are already inside the network or the network itself will pull you back in briefly when you are connected to a host. As the story progresses you will naturally gain a couple of abilities for combat and these are minor upgrades that don’t need to be searched for. You will slowly get introduced to a few types of viruses who attack you in different ways and often platforms will be there for you to dodge attacks or to find your ground to shoot back. Walls for taking cover from certain attacks will also be found in certain areas.
Arid has virtual health bar known as “System Integrity” which doesn’t recharge until she’s defeated every virus. Taking a certain amount of hits will take restart you back to the point just before fighting them takes place. Displayed under her health is “Energy”. Every jump, shot or counter uses it and depleting her energy will not only take a few seconds for it to automatically refill, but will leave Arid vulnerable as she’s limited to only walking. Jumping is performed by pressing B and shooting is done by pressing ZR. At a certain point in the game she will learn a stronger shot which is done by pressing R and can instantly kill a virus, but also can be shot once before needing some time to recharge. Further into it she will gain the ability to absorb a virus attack by pressing X. This then allows her to even stock up on virus-killing shots or counter right away just as she gained it. Pressing L allows Arid to lock onto viruses, but it isn’t always precise and is possible to target the wrong enemy. Viruses are for the most part invulnerable to your attacks, but have readable patterns and change in color when they are susceptible to damage. Clearing these viruses will get you back into the adventure.
That isn’t the only type of combat to be had, however. The other happens when you take charge of one of the hosts and he involves in hand-to-hand martial arts. Players must ward off enemies from either attacking to the left (pressing Y) or the right (pressing A). As with Arid, more advanced enemy types get introduced like some who will block your attacks and others who will dodge them by switching to the other side, even multiple times. As stated earlier, these mini-game diversions are simple in design, but satisfying in bursts. And this one truly feels like one, too. There’s a certain timing element to this particular combat as if it were something you’d find in a rhythm game. In the build I played, the introduction to this combat mechanic displayed the wrong button inputs during the on-screen instruction prompt (listed as X & B which equate to being “top” and “bottom”) which led me to multiple deaths until I made use of what actually made sense being Y & A since they are positioned to the left and right on the controller respectively. I was told this has been fixed for launch. Overall, while combat in general isn’t as strong as the puzzle-solving elements, it does achieve a sense of purpose for actions taking place within the game’s narrative. The themes touched upon, the personalities of the hosts you meet and how it ties into the narrative is the biggest hooking point here.
There are 3 hosts to connect to from the network. Like Arid, they have their own rules and routines they follow. It’s up to Arid to bind herself to each of them and find ways to break their usual habits of what they’re programmed to do. As we see Arid grow as AI, so do we see these hosts. The three hosts you will meet all have vastly different personalities and each of their environments reflect that. Each host has a limited way of thinking and it’s up to Arid to use their surrounding to manipulate or rather break their routine by introducing them to new ideas. There are no physical objects to place in your inventory, but actually usable items that come in the form of ideas which are placed there instead. Getting AI to loosen themselves from methodical behavior and to think for themselves is an approach where Unbound has succeeded taking.
The first host you’ll take control of is the Butler, who routinely and happily serves his master and mistress without much question. What you’ll soon find out is Arid (you) sees the Butler’s situation for what it actually is. Since the Butler has one way of thinking, he perceives it the way he was designed to. Arid and the hosts can start scanning environments by pressing ZL which activates a flashlight (which look different from host to host) to guide where the player wants to point. Highlighting any of the icons marked by a magnifying glass will automatically give you the description of what you’re seeing in the perspective of the host who is viewing it. You can choose to inspect it or use an item on it if you wish, but of course that’s not always guaranteed to actually solve anything. Ironically, if you’re playing in handheld mode, a real life magnifying glass is what you’ll need since the actual box of text when scanning the environment is tiny and difficult to read. Weirdly, I couldn’t get the Pro controller to work in handheld mode and seems only Joy-Con work when the Switch is not docked. Not a deal breaker, but tabletop doesn’t seem like an option.
What’s brilliant is how Arid, her host and the environment tie in to the gameplay. For instance, Arid can convince the Butler to inspect something which will momentarily lock the Butler’s AI into that object while Arid takes control of the Butler’s body to activate something nearby to get the Butler’s attention once he comes back to his body. What may happen is the Butler will see something in a new light he otherwise would have glossed over. Of course, Arid can only travel so far during this as she is still bound to her host. At any time, pressing the Back button will bring up a grid-like objective screen which also shows the progress of your hosts understanding displayed by a line that moves upwards on its holographic silhouette. With all hosts, Arid will have frequent conversations with them and back & forth dialog makes it seem like you’re never alone even though you’re controlling one being at a time. This creates character building and as you succeed in completing a hosts understanding, the change of their perspective is apparent. In fact, all three hosts are uniquely different from each other that when playing as one you’ll have to put yourself into their “shoes” to figure out what makes sense in the environment to solve. You’ll become acquainted with how each host would see things that even later in the game during certain points it gets more interesting, such as being able to change freely between each of their perspectives when playing only as one. Each host also has their own colored on-screen filter so it makes it easier to identify which perspective you are currently using even without scanning the environment. The puzzles in general never feel obtuse and when you put the pieces together you understand that it makes sense to the context of the story as well.
The audio is okay. I particularly like the cyber sound when entering/exiting networks. Arid and the three hosts are fine when it comes to voice acting, but the others are generally hit or miss. There isn’t much to the soundtrack, but it provides the proper mood for the settings I suppose. There were some bugs I’ve come across worth mentioning and your mileage may vary. I had two dialogues try to play at once which caused my game to crash. At one point I was supposed to receive an item, but got nothing. Closing the game and starting it solved that issue. There was one section of the game that when using a particular item on certain parts of the environment under a certain perspective would crash. I was able to reproduce this crash every single time, but thankfully it’s avoidable and the developer was quick to give me steps to avoid it (hopefully it gets fixed). I had a run in with a never-ending black screen that tried to load the next screen. It’s also avoidable, but also one that I could easily reproduce. A good addition would be control settings saving your changes when in the menus as opposed to when the next auto-save is. Numerous times I had to increase my look sensitivity because the game didn’t keep track of it. Despite these occasional run-ins, I had an otherwise good time.