Human: Fall Flat Review

Over the years, physics-based games have strongly defined a genre that revels in the spectacle of crumbling environments and goofy falling animations.  Human: Fall Flat seeks to embody this appeal through puzzle solving with a bumbling, generic character appropriately named Bob.  You are tasked with controlling Bob through an environment littered with puzzles to reach an exit, where he will then literally fall into a new location.

Graphically, little is done to endear the player to the world outside of Bob’s customization options, which include silly hats and outfits.  Everything about the visual design looks like an early development concept, and the static visual flair leaves something to be desired; however, there are some dynamic visuals created through physics.  Swinging wrecking balls, shattering glass, winding up catapults, and rowing a boat are just a few of the many activities that are simply entertaining to watch.  Unfortunately, the music reflects the generic nature of the visual design by evoking memories of Minecraft whose somber, inoffensive soundtrack was almost unnoticeable.

Human: Fall Flat progressively introduces new ways to play with the physics of the world, and some levels in particular offer a number of inventive mechanics.  I was impressed when I discovered that Bob could pry open iron bars and break locks.  In the same level, I used a hook to create a makeshift swing to cross a gap, and wound up a catapult to fling rocks and Bob himself at a wall.  While Bob is extremely clumsy, he possesses the ability to climb ledges.  I appreciate that the climbing is intuitive, and requires a pull-up motion with Bob’s arms.  While it is the only ability Bob is capable of outside of jumping and grabbing, it consistently works as intended.

These mechanics offer moments of satisfaction as you traverse the environment with a physically inept character; however, the same satisfaction cannot be obtained by completing puzzles.  Many of the puzzles are incredibly obvious, and while a few are relatively complex they’re too static to be rewarding.  There were many moments where I conceived a solution to the puzzle, but Bob’s clunky controls did not allow me to position objects in a way that they realistically could be.  As a result, it was frustrating to figure out some of the solutions, because I already had a viable one in mind that the game arbitrarily decided could not be done.  Human: Fall Flat claims to be open-ended and unscripted, but it’s actually quite the opposite.  There’s one way to do things, and the objects are restricted to satisfy that one solution. 

Despite my early positive impressions of the physics, it became evident that Bob’s interaction with his environment is incredibly limited.  I did appreciate, however, the inclusion of red herrings to the puzzle solutions.  Some puzzles require every object in the room to complete, while others will have objects and contraptions lying around that are completely unnecessary to progress.  This inclusion gives some degree of rational thinking beyond simply jamming every available piece together, although they are not as frequent as I would have liked.

It feels as though standard abilities are provided to the players that are intrinsically disconnected from the open-ended, physics-based environment.  You won’t solve puzzles with physics mechanics in creative ways.  Rather, you use the previously established tools over and over again.  Eventually, it is made clear that one’s resourcefulness in this pseudo non-linear environment is unimportant.  Rather, the game becomes an exercise in forcing the sometimes awkward mechanics to operate as the designer intended.  I had hoped that the concept would lend itself to a great deal of creative freedom.  Instead, attempts at ingenuity result in blatantly obvious sequence-breaking.  Clipping objects together is somewhat common, and it’s easy to go off the beaten path, only to find that there's nothing to see or do.  Upon replays, I can say that the construction level is most emblematic of this problem, as there are countless opportunities to climb above many of the puzzles and explore, yet there is no purpose in doing so.

There are also a handful of bugs in the game that may force you to restart a section of the puzzle.  Luckily, they don’t waste much time and checkpoints are frequent, but the nature of how objects interact can sometimes produce strange situations.  This is a potential flaw of all physics-based games; however, these problems can also provide a benefit.  Unintended situations can result in unconventional puzzle solutions as long as the game allows you to make use of them.  Unfortunately, Human: Fall Flat retains the frustrations of finicky objects and controls, but the design is too linear to allow any degree of flexibility when things don’t match up exactly as intended.  This isn’t so much a physics-based puzzle game as it is a puzzle game that happens to have physics: a distinction that is made clear by the priorities in exact puzzle solution over organic interaction with the objects.

Human: Fall Flat enthusiastically proclaims its commitment to unscripted creativity, but in reality, it’s reading from the teleprompter.  As a linear puzzle game, this is an enjoyable experience, but it offers little of what makes physics-based games enticing.