Games Review: Failbetter’s Fallen London

April 20, 2014
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I’m a PC Gamer who works from home. And I work from home on my PC. Where my games are sitting, looking up at me with puppy-dog eyes. Do you see now? Do you see the continual temptation that is my life?

As a result, I’m constantly on the lookout for a game that doesn’t take too much of my time, can be totally absorbing for short periods of time, but can make those short periods feel much longer. I’m always trawling through awful Facebook games and mini-games in search of a quick fix that doesn’t eat into my day. There’s a lot of trash out there. There’s some shoddily crafted stuff, there are games more infuriating than pleasurable, and there are hundreds where you have to pay to get to anything worth playing, but I’ve finally found a free-to-play game I like enough to share with you all.

Failbetter's Fallen London

It’s called “Fallen London” and it’s a browser-based text adventure by Failbetter Games. What that means is that it’s like a bigger, more advanced version of those “Choose Your Own Adventure” books you read as a kid (“If you want to go left, turn to number 78”), and a little like a text version of the classic point-and-click adventure games like the Broken Sword and Monkey Island series.

London has Fallen. Underground. A LONG way underground, to a vast cavernous world known as the ‘Neath. Somewhere around here, in this literal underworld, there is Hell – devils come to visit London by train. There are Rubbery Men, with squid-like features. There are pickpockets and anarchists, priests and detectives, poets, homunculi and the undead.  You drop into this dystopian land and choose your own path – to fame, to fortune, to infamy, to power; it’s up to you. On the way, you raise your levels in Watchful, Shadowy, Dangerous or Persuasive, giving you access to more quests, or “storylets”. What your character does and whom you associate with is up to you, making enemies or friends with any of 19 (or probably more) factions.

Failbetter's Fallen London

Most decisions you make cost an Action Point, and lead to the text that explains the consequences of your actions in beautifully composed prose. Perhaps your skills rise, and perhaps you earn some of the local bartering currencies, which include secrets, rumors, and rats on strings, or perhaps you fail and acquire more Scandal or more Nightmares. Each storylet and object has its own pretty little artwork, often dark and moody, and will lead to more and more choices.

Finally, those Action Points I mentioned refill at a rate of 1 every 10 minutes. What does this mean? That you play a bit and then, by necessity, put it down and get on with your life. It’s a nice little reward for an hour or two of work, and in each session you can really get somewhere with the story, which is hugely entertaining. It’s not addictive in the all-consuming sense, because there are safety mechanisms built into the design to stop you frothing at the mouth. Unlike Angry Birds and its ilk, the options to pay for further storylets or action points are discreetly positioned, not thrown in your face, and it’s pretty easy to patiently wait for those actions to refill.

Failbetter's Fallen London

The game is FREEEEE, and now stands at a whopping 3254 storylets and over a million words – more than War and Peace. And, if your creativity is inspired by the game design, there is scope to write your OWN adventures and make them available for the public. Also for free. I’m sorely tempted.

And next month, Failbetter games are releasing a full-length 2D-and-text adventure set in the same universe as Fallen London called Sunless Sea, so there’s never been a better time to submerge yourself in this world.

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