Falling (and grabbing and climbing) with style
There’s a special place in my heart for games that sneak up on me. Human: Fall Flat came out of nowhere similar to how Devil Daggers dropped into my life. Last month I played just enough to write a small preview, and I actually finished it pretty soon after that. But life gets in the way sometimes.
That doesn’t mean I haven’t been thinking about navigating my little Goo Boy through perilous puzzles for the past couple weeks.
Human: Fall Flat (PC)
Developer: No Brakes Games
Publisher: Curve Digital
Released: July 22, 2016
“Goo Boy?” you ask, incredulously. You’re right, conveniently-constructed voice of a hypothetical audience, I should back up. Human: Fall Flat is No Brakes Games’ take on a physics-based puzzler that tasks you with navigating a little doughy-man-boy (physically genderless, but referred to as Bob in-game) through strange dreamscapes. You’ll specifically be using his arms to stick/grab/climb everything. This leads to scenarios that look like the Pillsbury doughboy is shit-faced and trying to walk home in the middle of the night but got sucked into an alternate, perplexing universe.
Human begins with simple puzzles and the makings of a story. Picking up small walkie-talkies in the first couple of levels brings up what looks like projector screens that provide a voiced tutorial. From the outset, the disembodied voice seems to want to tell a tale of human nature, uttering statements such as “Humans will press any button in their way to progress” as you do just that to go through a door. What’s incredibly odd about this is that the voice completely disappears a couple of levels in, and all traces of a narrative vanish. Upon finishing the game, I earned an achievement called “The End?” and thought that maybe I had missed a bunch of story stuff, but after finishing it again it looks like there isn’t. This isn’t a huge complaint, but it does make the game seem a bit underbaked.
Puzzles are really simple in the beginning, but ramp up like any good brain-teaser should. First you’ll just learn how to manipulate your gooey arms, pressing switches, placing crates on buttons, and pushing and pulling objects. Just when I thought that the whole game would be too gimmicky and only focused on the novelty of using your arms, I was doing things like standing on top of trains and grabbing columns to walk backwards and move the train.
What I really appreciate is that there are multiple solutions to almost every puzzle. In one room, there was a pole on the floor and a barred room that I ignored, instead looking to a gap that prevented me from reaching the exit. I used the pole to vault across but later realized that you could wedge the pole into the bars and bend them apart to wiggle through. In a medieval-themed dreamscape, I was able to place rocks in a fully-functioning catapult to breach a castle wall and then go on through. With some clever hand motions, I could have just as easily catapulted myself over the wall.
Perhaps my favorite example of these types of outside-the-box solutions is when I absolutely, dreadfully fucked up a puzzle that was supposed to let me use an object as a trolley to descend to another part of the map. Determined to try to push ahead without reloading, I grabbed onto the trolley cable and slowly climbed across it like monkey bars (keep in mind I was hundreds of feet up, and though fall damage isn’t a thing, it would have reset me). This was terrifying in the best way, and actually made me want an Uncharted or Tomb Raider with manual climbing because it was so deliciously tense.
Even climbing up ledges in this game is a difficult treat. You have to jump, use both hands to grab the top of the edge making sure to get most of your belly up there too, and then look down to push yourself up. That sounds involved and complicated but it had to be in order for Human to be so fun. There’s also co-op throughout the entire game which adds to the physical comedy aspect, and suddenly everything becomes an opportunity for dick-ish sabotage. It’s great.
There are both small secrets and achievements in every level that make exploring worth it, which led to me playing through twice. Later levels involve craziness such as sailing, using a rowboat (which is infuriating and maybe the worst part of the game), driving a motorboat and a dumptruck, and fueling a power plant with harvested coal. These activities are fun but can be very aggravating. That can be said for all of Human, though; using your arms is usually painless, but it can also lead to bouts of frustration when you can’t make Goo Boy do exactly what you want him to do. But that’s really part of the fun, innit? It’s tough to say whether or not it’s an entirely successful mechanic since it’s fundamentally based on being difficult.
An abrupt ending that doesn’t have much of a climax and some moments of fist-clenching frustration keep Human: Fall Flat from the upper echelons of puzzle gaming, but it’s still something I plan on going back to with friends. Plus, it lets you draw on your character, leading to the butt you see in all of the screenshots. Apparently, I wasn’t the only one who thought this was hilarious. This one was for you, Laura!
[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]