Meet Bob, the faceless, speechless, boneless protagonist of Human: Fall Flat. He’s fallen into a land full of spatial reasoning logic puzzles, which he must solve in order to escape. What you’ll lack in curiosity towards why Bob is trapped in this infinite grey nightmare, you’ll be required to make up for in cunning and determination. All by using a control scheme you’ll never quite be sure is beautiful or brutal.
Touted by developer No Brakes Games as an ‘open-ended physics based puzzle game’, Human: Fall Flat literally drops you into its world and allows you to figure out its rules for yourself. But the true challenge comes in mastering Bob. You may be the most adept puzzle solver alive, but Bob tends to amble about with the athleticism of a knocked over custard. He tumbles around so often he’s managed to do something hipsters haven’t: make a hard hat look like an ironic statement. And it’s negotiating the puzzles through this walking, gawking lump of clay, that’ll have you in fits of laughter as well as feeling a touch of frustration.Human: Fall Flat is out on Steam, and Curve Digital are working on bringing the game to PS4 & Xbox One.
Here’s Bob. He’s a very simple guy, with very simple controls. WASD moves him around and spacebar makes him jump. The left and right mouse buttons raise Bob’s left and right arms respectively, and in doing so, make him attach to all objects and surfaces until the button is released. Moving the mouse adjusts his aim - angle the mouse up, Bob will look up, angle it down, he’ll reach down. But where the game gets most of its charm, humour and frustrations are from Bob’s ragdoll physics. Despite having a perfectly functioning control system, you never feel fully in control as Casper-in-a-hard-hat swings and sways with the ferocity of an anime character. A quick spin of the camera swiftly sends Bob into a delirium only over-sugared children on a tilt-a-whirl can understand. It’s more fun than it might sound, creating an enjoyable tension from the feeling you may fall off the map at any given second. Not to mention the hilarity of watching a pudgy clay man teeter off a wall as if the whole game were made just to provide video content for youtubers.
Combining Bob’s busy hands with your camera control is how you’ll navigate Human: Fall Flat’s various puzzles. You’ll have to move objects, climb obstacles, even take huge leaps across along cliff sides. Pleasingly, Human: Fall Flat allows players to learn its mechanics at their own pace. The game doesn’t hold your hand - ironic considering the main character who could do with all the support he can get. This freedom to experiment is also reflected in the levels themselves, taking pride in the open-ended design and being able to be completed a number of different ways. It’s less, “move this crate from point A to B to create a staircase to the exit”, but rather, “the door is over there, how are you going to get there”. You may take the crate and place it on another elevated platform within jumping distance of the exit. Or grab a plank from 3 rooms previous and create a walkway. Hey, there’s a bench over there. If you can wrestle it onto its side, you’ll have fashioned yourself a serviceable disability access ramp. Before long I was stringing together different elements to come up with fairly unorthodox solutions like wedging some poles behind a crank, lugging a spare crate through several rooms, “just in case” or using a fire extinguisher as a battering ram.
The levels themselves consist of giant floating set pieces made of interconnected rooms, often with little-to-no boundaries stopping you from plummeting into an endless expanse of clouds. As the puzzles get more advanced, you’re required to perform more ambitious jumps and direction changes using a character with the structural foundation of mashed potato. As such, players may feel an intense trepidation towards falling off the edge. It’s like attempting to do a lap around Rainbow Road midway through a stag night out. With how difficult it can be at times to climb, arrange structures, work the camera; the fear of losing all your forward progression does become palpable. Allow me to alleviate that, any missteps into oblivion simply sees you collide back into the level, re-joining mere footsteps away from where you just fell, with nothing reset. The universe of Human: Fall Flat is like an MC Esher sketch with considerably fewerr dimensions. Similarly, solving the puzzles in one level sends Bob falling through the clouds into the next level. A nice touch that effectively masks the game’s loading screens, allowing a sense of seamlessness between levels. After all, no-one ever considered dropping Michael out of a helicopter in GTA5 as “breaking the pace of gameplay”.
Also, scattered throughout the game’s levels are hint blocks. These completely optional blocks, when grabbed, constructs a wondrous instructional video suspended in mid-air, explaining the game mechanic for that section. Chances are, players would have worked out the manoeuvre in question, but the sarcastic script of the narrator more than makes up for it. His creeping sense of humour laced throughout Human: Fall Flat is a great offset to the obvious fumblings of a sentient pile of wet flour.
Get a look at Bob. On first sight, he looks like a pale Morph that’s let himself go. But if players wished to fix that (or at least the ‘pale’ part) Human: Fall Flat includes a paint editor. This allows players to customise Bob using a selection of colours, adjustable brush sizes and even uploaded pictures onto him. It’s a praiseworthy feature that adds a personal touch to everyone’s individual game experience. However, I can’t help but feel it’s a little unfinished. The mask function, two buttons that should let you paint Bob’s hat and body in isolation, doesn’t work. If you accidentally colour outside the lines into a presumed locked out area of Bob’s anatomy, unmasking the entire paint job will reveal your sloppy penmanship in all its glory. I spent an extra half hour converting an errant blue mark into a makeshift sash. Moreover, the editor could really do with a fill paint bucket and an undo button – even MS Paint has those. While it is joyful to play with a character you’ve made yourself, there is something innately broken about painting a 3D Plasticine model with a 2D circle for a paintbrush. Obsessive compulsives, stay away.
The game itself has an understated, simplistic look. The settings are large with a deliberately polygonal look like the entire game were taking place in a 3D modelling youtube tutorial. The levels have been built with a set heights and definable edges for Bob to latch onto. Perhaps the sharp edges are supposed to contrast Bob’s rounded physique; a commentary on how he doesn’t belong in this world, exemplified by his drunken stumbling like toddler high on morphine, and reinforcing his need to escape. Who can say?
The colour palette uses a lot of washed out colours, coming off a little drab. The predominant blue-grey of an overcast sky encompasses faded greens and browns seen all over the levels. There’s the occasional bright yellow dumpster and worlds slowly get more colour as your progress throughout the game, but don’t expect the eye-catching snapshots seen in fellow ragdoll plush-abuser, Gang Beasts. It’s an interesting creative choice. Having grey clouds as a principal backdrop evokes a sombre seriousness to the world, which is, again, a stark contrast to the silliness of Bob’s physics. The subdued colours, however, can’t be considered a total negative since, strictly speaking, the simplicity of it does work. The simple block colours do compliment each other. Things like the lighting, shadow, textures etc. (all of which can be tweaked in the settings) have a pleasing enough look. Nothing’s ugly. Nor stands out distractingly. It’s just dull. And it’s very difficult to have a strong opinion towards the colour grey.
Sound & Music
Now Bob (not sure if you’ve heard of him), doesn’t speak throughout Human: Fall Flat. The only speaking you’ll hear comes from the instructional video voiceover who also provides additional foreboding comments like, “…yet they can’t fly, and never will”. Much like Bob’s sense of balance, you’ll never quite know whether the narrator is on your side or not but, like Bob’s total loss of balance, his charismatic baritone adds greatly to the game’s overall humour and charm.
Unfortunately, the rest of the soundscape is where the game really falls down. On the main menu and periodically during the game you’ll be treated to a few chilling yet beautifully sublime orchestral melodies. Sometimes, without warning, piano chords, violin glides and soft flute playing fills the air exquisitely. Frequently though the songs fade away during gameplay, which leaves the world to become a very silent, sombre place. The soundscape is very sparse, 80% of the time will be spent listening to the sounds caused by your lonely avatar’s interactions with the world around him. Footsteps along the ground. Glass shattering. Dragging himself up to higher terrain. Machinery being activated. And other wholly not entertaining noises. Combined with the drab, overcast look mentioned earlier, at times the atmosphere feels almost like the solitude and disparity like that of a Metroid or Mass Effect title. A lone protagonist trying to find their way out while righting the wrongs they come across, never truly knowing why they, or any of us, are even here in the first place. Just before slamming head first into a freight train carriage. It’s an odd area to neglect considering the silly nature of Bob’s controls. I’m not saying the soundtrack should be filled with jaunty rhythms you’d only hear coming out of a circus tent, but at the very least whenever Bob falls from his graceful planetoid he should land with some sort of a splat.
Human: Fall Flat throws you into a land filled with puzzles, with a man who staggers around like a drunkard trying to walk up the nightclub stairs. Watching someone play looks like watching the punishment of Sisyphus as done by a short, pudgy Silver Surfer. And that’s where its magic happens. Clever, open-ended level design that encourages experimentation, combined with the built-in handicap of a character that bobs and weaves with every flick of the mouse. It should cause a lot more headaches than it does but amazingly there’s a fun time to be had. It’s more mind-boggling than how I’ve managed to go this far without making a Bob the builder comparison.
The game can also be played with a plug-in controller, supporting 2 player co-op. Furthermore, while at the time of writing the game is only out on Steam, the publisher Curve Digital are reportedly working on bringing the game to PS4 & Xbox One. So there’ll soon be multiple more ways to leap onto a wrecking ball with a child’s rushed Play-doh approximation of a human being. Human: Fall Flat may lack a striking colour palette and feature a soundtrack that drifts in and out more than Dory, but there’s a great laugh to be had while playing it, by yourself and with friends. As well as some solid puzzling. Have you met Bob yet? You might just like him.
|+ Fun ragdoll physics||- Unfinished paint editor|
|+ Open-ended level design||- Dull colour scheme|
|+ Multiple ways to complete levels||- Sparse soundtrack|
|+ Learn mechanics at your own pace|
|+ Humorous narrator|