Adventure Gamers Awards
In their 2014 inaugural sci-fi adventure debut of The Fall, Over the Moon managed to walk a fine line, finding the sweet spot between point-and-click horror adventure and sci-fi action. Now, with the release of the tale’s second chapter, Unbound, the indie developer has elected to go into a slightly different direction. Stepping away from the light horror tropes of its predecessor, this 6-8 hour installment puts a heavier focus on action segments while telling an effective Asimovian thriller of robot psychology, though one that occasionally suffers from overly convoluted banter.
Players once again take on the role of A.R.I.D., the A.I. of a cosmonaut’s space suit designed to preserve the vital functions of its occupant, but the story this time takes on a much different bent. It has to – after the first chapter’s cliffhanger ending, how could it not? Without a person to protect in this installment, A.R.I.D.’s original function has ceased to have any meaning. So, what’s a virtual girl like her to do? Why, alter her own programming, of course, and search for a means of ridding her code of the virus that threatens to overtake her sentience, all while questioning the laws governing artificial intelligence along the way. A.R.I.D.’s new primary objective? Save herself, no matter the cost.
After an initial attack by the malevolent virus, she decides to trace it back to its source, the controller who is threatening her existence from afar. With her body – the suit she inhabited until now – rendered useless by the previous adventure, she mobilizes herself by entering the digital virtual world where she takes on a representation of her former self, once again able to run, jump, and shoot her way to her goals. This part of the game plays out a bit like a Metroidvania title: as A.R.I.D. you can directly navigate the environments, get into firefights against manifested versions of the spreading viral infection, and use server lines to “ride the rails” from terminal to terminal. Some rooms are sealed off by special-colored doors and firewalls, requiring you to backtrack occasionally once you’ve picked up a new power to open the barriers.
But A.R.I.D. isn’t alone on her quest this time around. She can send herself flying between servers located at various physical locations across the planet’s surface, but interfacing with them requires a real-world operator. Enter the Butler, One, and the Companion, three still-functioning robotic relics of humanoid appearance (and, in the case of the Companion, enough salacious details befitting her role as object of desire) left behind by time long ago. In different ways, each symbolizes the themes playing out in the game: what it means to define one’s purpose, and whether individuality should be prized above conformity. While one seeks to transcend his robotic nature by aping the arts and humanities of the humans who designed him, another wants nothing more than to serve her human masters’ every sordid wish, subjugating herself to their whims.
These three lost mechanical souls become A.R.I.D.’s unwilling hosts in her need for physical bodies. But just as A.R.I.D.’s own programming once collared her into certain behavior patterns, so her hosts also have their own unique programming to contend with. Breaking the robots from their programming becomes an interesting challenge, and although it’s done with good intentions, it is a sometimes violent act that causes its subjects mental anguish rather than blessed freedom. The first such accomplice A.R.I.D. comes across is the home robot Butler. While A.R.I.D. requires access to a computer terminal in the basement of the house he serves, the Butler – who actively attempts to keep A.R.I.D.’s virtual presence out of his body – has a set routine to follow each waking cycle, and his path does NOT include an unscheduled side trip to the basement.
Here is where Unbound’s puzzle-solving, its real meat, comes in. Each of the three hosts has their own agenda, their own programming that they cannot consciously disobey. You must find special means to align your goals with your hosts’ objectives, or, failing that, out-and-out trickery to circumvent their prime directives. This is sometimes accomplished through verbal exchanges, but more often than not by tagging along with them and subtly influencing their environment. Usually this is achieved by means of some inventory items, leading to changes in their behavior. Getting to know each of the robots’ distinct personalities, and seeing firsthand the worlds they live in, is one of this episode’s high points. For instance, it quickly becomes clear that the Butler’s master and mistress have long since passed away, and he spends his days catering to two dried-up corpses, serving tea, applying lipstick, and supplying any spoken dialog between them in his own, distorted approximation of their voices.
While this is a creative approach to traditional inventory-based design, it’s made much more complicated than it needs to be. Not all puzzle objectives are immediately clear, often communicated using the stuffy robotic-speak A.R.I.D. and her hosts communicate in. Listening to two robots attempt to talk about everyday objects and processes with their cold, surgically precise language can make deciphering the puzzles, and even the plot at times, especially difficult. During the game’s final act, the challenge spikes once again, as all three of the hosts’ personalities can be interchanged with each other. In other words, it becomes possible to view the Butler’s world through the eyes of the Companion, changing all the text-based item interactions to reflect their new observer’s viewpoints. This includes obstacles which, at that late stage, are only solvable when examined through one particular point of view. The possible combinations are vast, making the already tricky-to-decode puzzles even harder.Continued on the next page...