There's no escaping it. Newly released Black the Fall is a hell of a lot like Playdead's highly acclaimed Inside. From thoughtful sideways scrolling puzzle mechanics to a brooding nightmare world of totalitarianism, these two games are mightily similar.
I loved Inside. I also enjoyed playing the first hour or two of Black the Fall (gameplay video above). It doesn't seem to me that this game has anything like the charm and cleverness of Inside. But let's be reasonable. Inside was one of the best games of last year.
Cristian Diaconescu, co-founder of Black the Fall's developer Sand Sailor Studio says the similarities are down to "artistic synchronicity."
"When we saw the launch trailer for Inside we were already in late alpha stage, all the content was there," he explains. “I remember feeling good about the way both our studios decided to use games as means of self-expression. It felt good to see another indie studio deciding to tackle profound and very intimate themes." Inside was Playdead’s follow-up to Limbo, which offered a similar style of play.
Sand Sailor Studio is a Romanian studio. The fraught history of that country is very much evident in Black the Fall. Between 1947 and 1989, Romania was looted and oppressed, first by the Soviet Union and then by the Ceausescu family. For decades, the country was in the grip of a police state, in which an estimated one in six citizens was a government informer.
Black the Fall is set in a factory world of massive industrialism, grinding work, barking propaganda and absolute obedience. The icons of communism are everywhere. Groaning workers yield to the tyranny of vicious apparatchiks.
I move along platforms, solving various physical-kinetic puzzles, sneaking past guards and using tools to manipulate the world. As with Inside, death is instant and constant. Puzzles are often learned through trial and error.
There is a deep gloom about this world. Its citizens are alone and they are uninterested in one another's fate. Apart from the player, they go about their lives, cringing in the face of the state's violence.
Diaconescu says the game is based on the team's memories of growing up under Ceausescu and of the memories of their families, who struggled through economic deprivation as well as political tyranny.
"Black The Fall is intrinsically linked to who we are as individuals at the studio," he says. "It’s spawned from our memories and it builds a very intimate picture of us, of our past and present."
The Ceausescu regime was overthrown in a violent revolution in 1989. In the years since, the country has suffered from many of the problems faced by former Communist regimes in Europe, including widespread corruption and civil unrest. Although it is economically disadvantaged, its political life is largely stable now, and the country is a member of NATO and the European Union, with a vibrant media and arts scene.
Diaconescu says the game is influenced by the country today, as its people come to terms with a traumatic past and a worrying future. "Illiberal and autocratic leaders are rising around the world, including America. Both Black The Fall and Inside offer a take on the chilling vibe of returning to the dark side.
"I'm glad that game studios are free to speak their minds in this way, taking a stand on things they believe in. Like musicians and filmmakers before us, we are now able to use our own medium to express our feelings and concerns about the world we live in, and that’s fantastic."
Published by Square Enix Collective, Black the Fall is out now on PlayStation 4, Windows PC and Xbox One.