STAFF REVIEW of Human: Fall Flat (Xbox One)

Wednesday, May 17, 2017.
by Adam Dileva

Human: Fall Flat Box art It’s odd. On one hand I absolutely love physics based puzzle games, as I enjoy the challenge that comes with solving problems with physics and gravity in a game, but on the other hand, usually these types of games become so frustratingly difficult that I usually end up giving up before it’s finished, Human: Fall Flat is no different.

Human: Fall Flat’s premise is a quirky one, as you play an ordinary guy that controls as well as someone who’s constantly drunk. You don’t walk in a straight line, you barely have use of your arms, yet you’re tasked with solving increasingly difficult physics based puzzles as you progress. If you were a fan of the game Octodad, you’ll have an idea what to expect, as doing the simplest tasks will take patience and many attempts since you don’t have full control over your limbs.

You play as Bob. Bob is a simple human without any special abilities or powers. He’s plain white (though can be customized in the options to add a little flair and clothing) and resembles how you would make a human being out of clay or playdoh. Bob has a problem though, as he can’t walk straight nor use his arms very well. I’m not sure if he was out on a crazy bender the night before or something, but Bob needs your help traversing to the end of each stage, something that sounds simple, yet is anything but. That’s the essential mechanics to the game, getting to the end, but you’ll need to test your patience when trying to get Bob to do exactly what you want.

While Human: Fall Flat is a puzzle game at its core, the real challenge is the controls, but it’s done purposely, as the poor controls were a conscious design by developer No Brakes Games. You’ll need to master how Bob controls each of his limbs, as you’ll need to run, jump, climb, pull switches, swing across caverns, and more. Bob’s limbs seem to be made of Jell-O at times, as your arms and legs can go veering off in inhuman directions at times, which results in hilarity and frustration.

The most unique mechanic has to be that each of Bob’s arms are controlled individually with each of the Left and Right triggers. Oddly enough though, you don’t move your arms with the sticks, but instead they will go where the camera is facing. So, if you want to grab something above you, you need to look straight up and hold the triggers down to hold on, the same goes for grabbing things below you by having to look at the ground. It’s a very odd control scheme, one that will take you a handful of hours to become accustomed to. Even when you become proficient at certain maneuvers, like climbing or swinging, knowing what you need to do and executing it are two completely different things.

Bob can pick up small objects and move them where he likes, but the heavier the object the move effort it will take to move, usually requiring some problem solving beforehand. A good example is when I had to move a beached motorboat but only had two logs to move it with, as the boat itself was too heavy to push. So I moved the logs in front of the boat to act as a rolling ramp. After a good half hour of repositioning and swaying back and forth I was finally able to get the boat into the water as I originally intended.

The hardest part about the controls is that you don’t always know exactly where you’re trying to grab since you need to move the camera in the direction where you want to move your limbs. This makes grabbing smaller objects, or specific spots, a patience test of trial and error. The camera can sometimes fight you as well. There was one puzzle where I needed to use a long candy cane stick to swing across a pole, but the top of the stick wasn’t always in view, making for a lot of guesswork in a puzzle that required precision. Even worse is when you need to rotate a crank to a catapult or two independent ores from a rowboat.

Early in Bob’s adventure you’ll find small remotes that will play videos for you, giving you a tutorial of sorts, which is how you learn the basics like climbing onto ledges. Climbing is another great example of a simple task, but not always easy to accomplish because of the camera related controls. To climb a ledge you must look up to raise your hands, hold the triggers, then jump and hope your hands grip onto the ledge you’re aiming for. You then need to move the camera downwards while still holding the triggers, thus pushing your arms down and your body upwards. Don’t forget to let go at the right moment though or else you’ll fall down and have to reattempt it all over again.

One great thing about a game that supports ragdoll physics is that there’s usually some hilarity involved when things happen to your character that probably shouldn’t have. Case in point, in one puzzle I got Bob’s head stuck between some bars, unable to get free, so the result was his body flailing around while I laughed historically at his misfortune. Sure, I became frustrated once I realized that I was going to have to redo a whole puzzle section all over again, but there are small moments of humor littered throughout, usually unintentionally.

Nearly every object you see can be manipulated in some way if it’s free to move and not too heavy. The physics within are serviceable but also allow you to solve puzzles in numerous ways, like building a ramp, catapulting rocks or yourself, and other imaginative ways to solve what blocks your path. A friend and I were playing our own game simultaneously and a handful of times we both solved puzzles in completely different ways.

Levels start out small and grow in size and difficulty as you progress. You’ll think you have Bob’s limbs mastered, only to be given a puzzle that seems impossible. Each level has its own theme, with my favorite being the castle level. You’ll need to swing across gaps, knock down walls with a crane, drive a boat, and even launch yourself in a catapult. The levels are varied and will constantly have you wondering how to progress. Even when you do figure out what you’re supposed to do, actually executing your solution is a whole other game. Fun can be severely dampened when Bob’s limbs don’t do what you’re trying to accomplish for the tenth time. The best example of this is the Water level, which I won’t spoil, but it wasn’t long after that I raised my arms in the air in defeat, unable to progress any further without my controller being thrown out the window.

On one hand, Human: Fall Flat is hilarious, engaging, and will give you a ton of laughs, especially when you solve a puzzle in an unorthodox way, probably not the way intended by the developers. On the other hand, frustration can set in quite easily when you’re reattempting the same puzzle a dozen times without making any progress. I get that the controls are purposely quirky, as that’s the whole gimmick, but it’s also the source of most of the frustration as well.

Human: Fall Flat was a rollercoaster of a ride, as one minute I was laughing hysterically, then cursing shortly after. Sure, you’ll feel like a genius when you solve puzzles in a unique way, or by accident, as you get those “Ah-ha!” moments, but prepare to resist the urge to destroy your controller shortly after when Bob won’t do what you want him to do because his arm is stuck behind his head. It has a steep learning curve, and even once you understand how to play, the game will constantly challenge you every step of the way, by design and arbitrarily. At the end of the day the game is worth the play, as long as you know its flaws head of time, and then you should enjoy seeing Bob moving in awkward and hilarious ways.

Overall: 6.6 / 10
Gameplay: 7.0 / 10
Visuals: 6.5 / 10
Sound: 6.0 / 10


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