Horror and survival games traditionally run the gambit of either showing their hand too soon or not at all. The buildup of tension can be spoiled either by a premature climax – please, act like an adult – or the lack of a crescendo altogether, and it’s a balance not easily achieved. LonePlanetStudios’ The Falling Sun may do an excellent job when it comes to building up the suspense between jumps, but the question remains as to whether or not it will be able to deliver a lasting scare when it releases from Early-Access.
The events of The Falling Sun take place in the forests of post-WW2 Burma. While the Japanese Axis forces retreat from an archeological research site, the British Allied powers move forward to secure the location. When an armored battalion goes missing on site, the player, a young British lieutenant, is tasked with discovering their fate and reporting back. As he makes his way through the jungles, caves, and research compounds strewn about the island, the young Allied fighter soon realizes he faces undead monsters crafted from Axis science and ancient Burmese artifacts. His only option is to escape the compound and survive long enough to find safety. While this isn’t a far cry from the plot of any Wolfenstein game, it’s still nice to see zombies without the usual “oh it’s just a virus” plot hole cover.
The entirety of the game is played from first-person perspective (including the oddly Disneyland-ride-esque scene transitions) and the layout possibilities of the otherwise empty screen seem to be completely underappreciated. There’s no status bar, ammo count, mini-map, or list of objectives, and while the only collectible items I found were story-related notes and ammo (maybe?), it would still be nice to see how many bullets I have left to spare on the ambushing mutants. While not having anything on my screen except my own two hands may be a bit more immersive or realistic, it likewise contributes to the unfinished state of the game.
The Falling Sun’s level construction is perfectly laid out for some truly effective jump scares, even if a handful of them may not be fair the first time around. The balance between corridor design and set pieces does an excellent job of distracting players, only to reward them with a flesh-eating mutant around the next bend. This is, sadly, where the scary portion of the game ends unfortunately. Once you map out where the choreographed jumps will be, shooting down the ambling semi-dead becomes little more challenging than double clicking to open up a folder, and all of the built up tension and fear becomes lost.
While a lot can be said about visual appearance, even more can be said about what the game doesn’t want players to see. I understand we’re stuck in a cave or trouncing through a jungle at night, but the fact that I had to hug walls and stare at ceiling contours to find my way through three quarters of the game’s maps makes me think The Falling Sun is trying to hide some graphical downgrade from me. It also doesn’t help that the flashlight provides little more light than a gassy bit of flatulence from Pikachu and does little more to light the way through the blockily-designed corridors.
The audible aspect of the game was also somewhat hit or miss. I found myself hugging corners and whipping around to catch sight of whatever made a ghastly moan, only to find that the sound itself was laughably limited to a directional anchor. This promotes a sense of surround sound immersion, sure, but just because I turn ninety degrees doesn’t mean I shouldn’t hear the wind howling down the tunnel I’m standing in. The voice acting is well done, however, and the mutant screams and moans, though often repetitive, are more than enough to put you on edge the first handful of times.
The Falling Sun does a stellar job of setting the stage for an overall spooky adventure. The appropriate set pieces and constant paranoia creates an eerie environment I wouldn’t want to find myself in alone, but the question becomes one of efficiently utilizing the building tension throughout each level. With not but a handful of easily put down monsters (minus the occasional wave), this indie horror title currently lacks any bite to go with its mutant bark.
The Falling Sun currently comes with two acts of the storyline and a Survival gameplay mode, and while the former may run a little short, more acts will supposedly accompany the game when it frees itself from Early-Access. You can check out several minutes of story mode gameplay above, or browse through a few more screenshots below.