Delivering a sequel must be one of the hardest things for an artist to do. There is typically less pressure in the first installment, because often your audience initially experiences the property with no expectations. In the case of the game The Fall, director John Warner admits the indie title had an abysmal launch in 2014. Over time, The Fall earned enough critical reviews and praise to be included in some key promotional bundles, inevitably turning an underperforming property into a cult favorite. Now developer Over the Moon has a lot of hype to live up to with their sequel, The Fall Part 2: Unbound, and I am one of those fans who’s been waiting quietly with bottled anticipation.
The first chapter of The Fall ends with a tremendous twist that makes players question every aspect of the story that’s just unfolded, and while I’ll attempt to avoid unnecessary spoilers, it is important to recap the narrative to see what extent that Part 2: Unbound compares in quality. The first part of The Fall begins with a cut scene of a futuristic figure plummeting from the sky toward the surface of a planet. When the figure crash lands, his exoskeletal “Mark 7” suit begins running a diagnostic to check for vital signs. We immediately learn that our protagonist is not a person, but a female-voiced AI within the suit named A.R.I.D., and her mission is to save the pilot the diagnostic says is unresponsive inside. As A.R.I.D. races against the proverbial clock to save her human superior, Col. Josephs, she must navigate a bleak Metroidvania landscape littered with dead bodies, strange creatures, and cyber-organisms with malfunctioning AIs. Though the point-and-click adventure puzzles and combat sequences aren’t necessarily complex, the strength of the game is the richly written narrative, and the unexpected revelation at the end of the game has left many Sci-Fi/horror fans excitedly anticipating the next chapter.
The Fall Part 2: Unbound begins where the first chapter left off: A.R.I.D. is now separated from her body (the Mark 7 suit) and must traverse a mysterious neural network to find a new host before her existence is eradicated by an unknown “User.” This new direction showcases some of the big changes between the first and second game. While The Fall existed within a dark Limbo-inspired landscape, Unbound tasks the player with jumping between that dystopian setting and a more open and fantastical digital space. While showcasing a new setting is typically ideal in a sequel, I found myself missing the harsh, self-contained setting from the first game which was perfect for establishing a claustrophobic survival-horror tone. While the setting of Unbound felt less stifling, it also felt like the stakes were much lower than before.
Another big change is the controls. While a notable shortcoming of The Fall is the sluggish combat, A.R.I.D. seems much more uninhibited in Unbound with an added jump button and faster speed. And although the controls were nothing to write home about in The Fall, the close-quarters combat led to some tense standoffs with hordes of cyborgs. In contrast, most of the battles in Unbound, including the final boss battle, are against “viruses” i.e. squiggly clouds. While the battles in the sequel are less clunky and restrained, they also felt inconsequential and tacked on to the story. I certainly died plenty of times while fighting the floating blobs, but I never felt the sense that any of it mattered like it did the first time.
The biggest criticism I have of The Fall Part 2: Unbound is its narrative structure. The genius of the first chapter is that though A.R.I.D. is initially presented as an emotionless character, her adherence to measured rationality establishes her as a compassionate (even human-like) protagonist as she attempts to reason with malfunctioning AI causing death and destruction around her. Her character is disembodied in Unbound, and understandably, her story seems much more fractured and unfocused in this installment too. To help fulfill her new mission, A.R.I.D. takes over the bodies of three new robotic allies: a mechanical butler with a strict protocol; a cyborg who has learned to value individuality through art and meditation; and a “companion” model programmed to put the needs of others first. Though these characters are all intriguing additions to the story, the execution results in a disjointed narrative that lacks the urgency of the first chapter. While A.R.I.D. learns an important lesson about allyship and reciprocity in the end, Unbound lacks the urgency I felt in The Fall because the story is so much more existential.
My other big criticism is that the puzzles are much more convoluted in Unbound. I can understand the urge to make the puzzles in a second game more complex, but while I felt like I was looking for appropriate clues in The Fall, my time with Unbound felt like I was just mindlessly clicking on objects until I stumbled upon the right order. While tasks in The Fall seemed simple, like finding a key or restoring power to an elevator, things seem much more arbitrary in Unbound. For example, near the end of the game I was tasked with clicking on a series of objects—one of them was a hallway? Near the climax of the game the puzzles became so florid that I just read through the Press Walkthrough like a script, yet some of the directions were incorrect. I don’t mention this to criticize the proofreading of Over the Moon’s marketing department, but to point out how random many of the puzzle solutions are.
While The Fall Part 2: Unbound undoubtedly has more polish and pastiche, the sequel fails to live up to its predecessor as a complete Sci-Fi narrative that can stand on its own. Though there are aspects to the sequel I found disappointing, I still believe The Fall is a game series that survival/horror fans should experience.