I don’t remember many of my lucid dreams, but those that I do are wonderfully bizarre twists on reality, taking the familiar and then pulling the rug out from under my feet at a moment’s notice. There are more than a few elements of this in Human Fall Flat, but where Bob ought to wake up from falling out of the end of a level, he is instead trapped in dream after dream.
There’s something to be said for Bob himself, an amorphous blob of a humanoid figure, though you can happily control his direction, his little feet flail around as he stumbles and staggers like a toddler that’s been on a rapidly spinning merry-go-round for the last five minutes. His motor control in general is clumsy, to put it in the nicest possible way, grabbing in vague directions and only working in broad terms.
You’d think that he’d be an unenjoyable nightmare to control and play as, and yet it works well in the overall context of the game, the world having been designed in fairly broad and minimalistic strokes to work alongside his clumsiness and avoid too much aggravation.
The first four of the game’s eight levels are relatively brief as a consequence, designed to teach the basics of getting around the world and the physics of controlling Bob and interacting with objects. Yellow objects are dotted around the world that bring up tutorial videos, but the game’s easy to grasp. The left stick controls Bob’s movement, the right the camera, and the left and right triggers make him reach out where you’re looking and to try and grab onto things.
There’s a surprising degree of finesse and some neat little tricks to the controls, so that you can grab a long stick and point it up in the air by looking. Clambering up onto objects and over rocks is as simple as running and jumping with your arms stretched upwards and, if you manage to reach an edge, looking downward to push his arms down and pull his body up.
Of course, it always feels very imprecise and vague, and so when you have to do precise moments, the aggravation that I so often feel with ‘simulator’ games edges to the fore, and this is true of later levels. Where the first four are short, the game suddenly opens up with a huge castle, a dockyard, power station… they’re bizarre fantasy worlds, with a series of unusual environmental puzzles, but also the freedom to experiment.
In fact, you can happily skip at least a third of the puzzles in the game quite easily. There’s often some switch to trigger, some block to move or train carriage to push back and forth, but walls are often quite easily scaled and locked doors circumvented. On the one hand, you’re cheating your way past some rather well designed environmental puzzles, but from speaking to the developers previously, I know that it’s been specifically catered to.
With the ability to skip puzzles, the game doesn’t outstay it’s welcome, coming in at around 3 hours depending on how you get to grips with the controls. I had begun to tire by the end of the penultimate level, and a few occasions where I failed due to obtuse vehicle controls sending me over the edge of the world had me wanting to simply stop and walk away. When five minutes of torturously dragging a speedboat over logs to get it into the water is thrown away, it’s disheartening to say the least.
Those moments of wasted effort and the clumsiness of Bob makes exploring the world’s less inviting, which is a shame because they’re well designed, with multiple paths and options available to you in a number of places – you can fire yourself into the castle with a catapult, or simply wander over and open the front gate – and a number of secret areas to uncover, with obscure achievements in tow.
The game is a joy to play cooperatively, though, with two players and two Bobs wandering around the world and getting up to mischief. You’re given even more license to bend the rules and cheat, with all of the puzzles designed for one person. Sure, you can simply divide up the necessary tasks for getting a box onto a button to open up a door, but why not simply shove the box and jam the door open while the other player is stood on the button?
Human Fall Flat is a game that’s aware of how unusual it is and builds to its own strengths. Bob’s ungainly controls work particularly well in the invitingly designed worlds that let you play around, cheat and conspire with a co-op buddy.
Version tested: PC