In Human: Fall Flat, Bob has a lot of problems.
Not only is he stuck in his own dreams that unexpectedly adhere to the laws of physics and where his only escape is to fall endlessly, but he also has the structural integrity of a wacky waving inflatable arm-flailing tube man. Poor guy. Dad-bod notwithstanding, are these the kind of dreams that Bob’s going to be feverishly recording in his journal, or are they nightmares best forgotten?
Human: Fall Flat is a physics-based puzzle platformer developed by No Brakes Games. You control a little wobbly man called Bob, who inexplicably falls into various dreamscapes. The only way out of these dreamscapes is to find the exit and fall into the next one. However, as with all dreams, it’s never that simple. Bob has to navigate his way through these strange worlds full of physical puzzles using nothing more than his chubby little legs, his super-glue strength grip, and his arms that have more leveraging power than an album of candid photographs.
Controls are relatively simple, and as a result come with both their joys and limitations. Both controller and keyboard and mouse support are available, with the controller feeling more fun but lacking some of the precision of the mouse controls. Bob can move, jump, and stick out both of his arms independently to grip things with his sticky mitts. In what felt at times a genius move and at others a farce, the angle of Bob’s arms (when “engaged”) is determined by the camera position. Bob’s arms go up when you look up towards the sky, and down when you look towards the ground. This allows for some interesting applications: Bob can for instance throw his arms up, run towards a ledge, jump and at the precise moment lower his arms, thus pulling his body up. Furthermore, Bob can grip and ungrip objects at the right time in order to throw them. When these basic principles combine it can be very satisfying, however the use of the camera angle to determine what your arms do can be frustrating and clumsy when precision and spatial awareness is a priority, and this is often where Human: Fall Flat, well, falls flat.
Now, Bob’s astounding abilities would be nothing without objects and environments to use them on. Human: Fall Flat has eight different levels through which Bob must navigate in order to find the conveniently signposted, yet seemingly unreachable, exit and thus fall into the next level. The levels have interesting themes such as a medieval castle complete with functioning catapults and destructible walls, and a coastal environment containing a variety of slightly dodgy boats for Bob to commandeer. The art direction is very simplistic, with flat textures, simple polygonal shapes, and deliberately obvious level boundaries that drop away into the white abyss below, all adding to the surreal nature of the dreamscapes and preventing the player from being bogged down in extraneous scenery when their focus should be on the interactive world and the puzzles within it. A particularly nice touch is the lack of loading screens: fall to your death, and you simply fall back onto the level as if you’re stuck in some sort of mind-melting spatial loop.
Each new environment introduces new concepts for Bob to try his hands at, but after the first few levels containing nifty in-world video tutorials, the game will give no hint as to how Bob should interact with the objects in front of him. This is where the fundamental enjoyment comes from playing Human: Fall Flat: being presented with certain tools and a world that obeys the laws of physics, you must use your own common sense to work out how this can be applied to achieve whatever objective you set yourself. For instance, if I grab these oars and move backwards, will it propel my leaky dinghy across these treacherous waves? Yes, it will, because that’s what should happen. Wait, what happens if I put myself in the catapult instead of these rocks? Well, what do you think will happen? Everything works how it is supposed to, and there’s something very neat about that.
Human: Fall Flat is a very satisfying game when everything happens how you want it to happen, but as it is a sandbox game things don’t always go your way. The fundamental problem is that the physics simulation is precise, but Bob is not. You might know exactly how to solve a problem, but the clumsiness of Bob’s little arms limit your dexterity and you can find yourself trusting in chance more than logic. There are also certain mechanics in the game that are too complex for the simple control scheme to adequately handle. For instance, there is a section involving a container ship and a crane. The crane is operated by three different levers. Bob can only interact with one lever at a time, and because the camera angle is used to determine his movements it becomes impossible to be precise with the crane. It is problems like this where you wish Bob just had more hands… and he can! There is a local splitscreen co-op mode, however the game does not make it clear at all. To enter the co-op mode at any time, plug in a second controller and hold down both triggers while you also hold down your triggers/mouse buttons. Unfortunately there are no concrete plans for an online co-op mode, although there is plenty of extra fun to be had in splitscreen, with puzzling solving taking a new dimension with two Bobs to hand.
Human: Fall Flat offers a certain amount of replay-ability in that you can revisit levels and tackle puzzles in different ways. In fact, you may get more enjoyment from simply trying to break the game and finish levels in a way that wasn’t intended, which is something that makes Human: Fall Flat stand out: the idea of going against the level design is built into the level design. However, some levels certainly feel more sandbox-y than others, and there are limits on the amount of times you’re going to want to replay a level that has a particularly frustrating section (see above). Regardless, there are numerous achievements encouraging exploration and experimentation.
For those looking for secrets, there does appear to be some Easter eggs throughout the levels. Although I only found one in my playthrough, I was rewarded with a short cryptic voice clip that suggested a thorough exploration of the rest of the levels could be in order. Indeed, Human: Fall Flat has no real story, despite an intriguing voiceover during the first level and random soft jazz in later levels suggesting something to the contrary. All in all, this game certainly exudes a bizarre dream-like vibe at every turn.
Human: Fall Flat is without a doubt an interesting little game. The dream-like tone is achieved to great effect, and the core gameplay hook is a solid one that has theoretically limitless possibilities. It is a shame therefore that there are only eight levels, which can be quickly played through in around five hours, and that only a few feel like a true sandbox. This, mixed with the occasional frustrating lack of precision and dexterity of Bob, leaves the game just short of an essential must-try experience. On the other hand, the ability to slap a picture of your own mug on Bob’s face and paint his body like a perverted street artist may swing you. I feel this feature is not emphasised enough.