I’ll be honest, I wasn’t all that enthused about Human Fall Flat when I first saw it. Its plain graphics, the physics-based puzzling, the assertion of independent arm control… It all had me thinking this was a joke ‘simulator’ game. Thankfully, it’s a lot more than that.
Those so-called simulators have, to a large extent, run their course for me. Their obtuse control schemes generally get in the way of fun as much as they initially create an early five minute burst of amusement. While Human Fall Flat does have elements of this, it’s not entirely beholden to the notion. Just the fact that moving Bob, the simple untextured character, around the world is done with the left analogue stick was almost a relief to me.
Yet that independent arm control does exist, and it’s how you interact with the unusual dreamscapes that you find yourself in. The left and the right triggers cause Bob’s respective arms to reach out and grab onto anything they come into contact with in the direction the camera is pointing. Whatever way the camera points, Bob’s arms try to follow when the triggers are pulled in.
Pressing buttons is easy, as is pulling levers, grabbing onto crates and dragging them around. It gets trickier when you want to do more complex things, such as using a plank of wood to smash a window, and the momentum you need to build up for this to work.
However, there is deliberately more advanced motion built into the game. Jumping is a simple button press, but clambering up a ledge needs you to look up, raise Bob’s arms up and leap. Get close enough to the edge and tilting the camera back down sees him clamber up the side. It’s such a delightfully childish act, like a sugar rich toddler charging around, trying to clamber up and over furniture.
It’s that progress through the world that ends up providing the game’s environmental puzzles. Early levels are fairly simple affairs, with a handful puzzles as you move from one room to the next, before falling out of the exit, plummeting through the sky and landing a few seconds later in the next area – it’s a particularly strong visual cue that strongly nods towards Bob being trapped in an unusual dreamland.
However, after just a short while, the training wheels are taken off and you’re given much larger and expansive levels. There’s always some eye catching twist, whether it’s a crashed steam engine, a catapult that can fling you through the sky to a castle, a dockyard with small sail boats – there’s even wind physics in this game! – and a large cargo ship.
Many of the puzzles don’t seem that inventive at first glance, but there’s a pleasing depth to the world design. There’s often a way to skip or foreshorten a puzzle, though you might have to think outside the box to do so, spotting the cheeky little shortcuts, the enticing path off to the side, and just experimenting with the world.
What made playing the game genuinely delightful, though, was doing so in coop. With a second Bob – I didn’t think to ask if they had a different name like Adam, Janette or Phillis – things are made much easier. For one thing, I was sat next to Tomas Sakalauskas, who is arguably the best Human Fall Flat player in the world – he’s the developer, after all – and having someone else there just gives you a little more leeway to break out of some of the puzzle and world design, or simply recover from abject failure.
When there are two of you, some of the steps needed to open doors with switches and crates aren’t needed, there’s not as much fiddling with moving platforms back and forth, and so on. and then there’s the simple joy of being able to mess around, dragging each other off the edge of the world, having a pillow fight in a previously immaculate living room, grabbing onto a rope and swinging from one part of the world to the next at the same time.
So, as it comes to PC at the end of next week and consoles later in the year, don’t consign Human Fall Flat to the same part of your mind that’s grown weary of the steady stream of simulators. It might look like one and have elements from the genre, but to mind mind at least, there’s more to it than that.