Parkour game Aefen Fall raises an interesting dilemma. It’s a very buggy, sometimes downright broken game. Yet it’s been released as final, not in Early Access. So this is bad, yes? Well yes! They’re charging £5 for it, and even state they don’t have the facilities to fix it. Let’s get up in arms! Except for one little detail: it was a student project.
That it was a student project is quite extraordinary. Aefen Falls is actually, when it’s working, really good! Parkour games are few and far between, and the most famous – Mirror’s Edge – endlessly ruins itself with awful, incongruous gun battles. Here’s one set in what the game calls a “Dieselpunk” London, that’s huge, incredibly well designed, and replaces silly guns with magic powers! As you zoom around the dystopian city you can freeze time on particular objects, and conjure bridges beneath your feet to traverse extra-big gaps. These are great ideas for a free running game!
Built in Unreal, it’s visually very impressive, an entire storyline told out in its environment, with some manner of totalitarian leadership having outlawed alchemy, policing this with diesel-driven hulking robots. You, an alchemist, are trying to get about the city without a) falling off, and b) getting caught.
In another excellent twist, the game entirely narratively justifies failure, which is almost never thought about in gaming. Instead of falling to your death, on missing a rooftop or billboard, our character claps his hands to create a portal beneath him, letting him fall back to the last (generously placed) checkpoint. (The only issue with this feature is his deeply odd habit of saying “It was short,” every other time, which makes no sense and quickly becomes pretty irritating.)
All of this I would be overjoyed to report, if only it weren’t on sale as finished. Oh, and only an hour long.
This really does present a quandary. This is the work of a team of nine students from the French animation and game design college, RUBIKA. Aefen Fall is their graduate project, and it’s a fine piece of work to present to future employers. Heck, on the basis of this, if I were a Gabe Newell type I’d be pulling a Narbacular (as no one else calls it) and hiring the whole team to my studio to develop this as a full-length game. Goodness knows we need a decent Mirror’s Edge-a-like, and they’ve clearly got the chops to pull it off, given the time, facilities and money to do it. But, all that said, should they be selling this for a fiver?
I honestly don’t know. They’re up front that it’s buggy on the store page, and they go so far as to say they won’t be able to fix it all in the Discussions on Steam. That’s hardly surprising – they’re a bunch of recent graduates, all gone off in different directions, looking for jobs in the industry. Which again means, is it reasonable to release an unfinished game for money bearing this in mind?
OK, I’ve decided. No. They shouldn’t have. They should have, as is the case for the vast majority of student projects on Steam, released it for free. Or if they want to make some cash, at least pretend it’s in Early Access like everyone else putting out an unfinished game. In fact, what they really should have done is put it on Itch and let people pay for it if they thought it deserved it. I’d have been very happy to throw a few quid their way to reward some really impressive work.
I’m kind of hoping they’ll listen. Not least because it’d get what’s essentially an interactive CV into the hands of many more potential employers. Or better, and gosh I would love for this to happen, get it noticed by a publisher who’d be willing to fund them to complete it.
So this has become my bit to try to get that to happen. I really can’t recommend spending five pounds on this. It’s hugely impressive, and when it works it’s sublime. But it very often doesn’t, there are optional routes (among the 500 in the game) that simply don’t work, and I had multiple issues with clipping into the rooftops and having to restart at the last checkpoint. And yet at the same time this looks incredible, it has decent voice acting and some really neat ideas for a monstrously underserved genre, and some really stunning environmental storytelling.
In another universe this got picked up by Valve and became the next Portal. In this one, it’s a buggy release on Steam that I feel shouldn’t be priced. Or at the very least, be in Early Access. But gosh, it’s impressive.