All I Ever Wanted
HIGH Ambitious is good.
LOW The pseudo-3D platforming section.
WTF A man feeds poison to orphans… FOR SCIENCE.
In many games, it’s sometimes possible for me to predict how things are going to pan out based on the beginning. Mechanics, characters, and level design all give a strong indication of how things are going to go, but Fade to Silence had me questioning my feelings right up until the end credits. Black Forest Games are ambitious with their direction, but that ambition doesn’t always translate to successful outcomes — and yet, their work is likely to feature prominently in my top ten games of this year.
Fade to Silence starts with a man named Ash underneath a dark, floating apparition claiming that it’s won. Ash then wakes up and finds himself in a frozen wasteland with only a burning torch. The remains of his village are on fire and sinister, twisted creatures are trying to attack his daughter.
FtS is a third-person action title with a focus on exploration and survival, featuring meters for hunger and cold to monitor at all times, and a crafting system that (hopefully) helps stack the odds in the player’s favor.
Ash soon meets other humans, and they’ll join him in trying to survive the frozen environment. At this point, FtS becomes a base-building and light resource management sim, requiring the player to keep the headquarters heated, morale high and food plentiful in the stash room. Penalties for falling short on any of these factors include permadeath, with the player having a limited number of resurrections per playthrough before the campaign must be restarted from the beginning with some stats and bonuses carrying over.
It’s not just a roguelike, though. Each follower develops a relationship with Ash over the course of the adventure and at certain points there are conversation trees to navigate that give more insight into each of their backstories. There’s also a co-op multiplayer element thrown in where other players can be invited to help to fight some of the tougher monsters in. With all of these elements taken into account, it’s a lot.
The problems started when I scrutinized the disparate elements on their own, and not as a whole.
For example, the combat is poorly thought-out — it wants to be Dark Souls, but it fails to capture the nuances of stamina-based combat and committing to attacks, and instead offers sluggish button responses and constantly being overwhelmed by creatures who can strike at a distance, whether it’s by warping, shooting or grabbing.
The crafting system is complicated, and while that initially feels good, I was later entirely reliant on my followers to build certain items and stuck having to return to base to find out if they had completed their work before I could progress further, reducing my personal efforts to time-killing busywork.
Likewise, the cold and hunger management was exhilarating when trying to find shelter in an impromptu blizzard, getting my health bar halved by frostbite and struggling to muster enough firewood to keep myself warm. On the other hand, there were times when it was easier to die and resurrect (removing the penalties accrued) than to continue engaging with those systems.
I could criticize other elements in Fade to Silence, but somehow, they coalesce into an extremely compelling tale of survival when looked at holistically.
The combat is clunky, but that lends itself to an awkward kind of desperation. Having to constantly return to base makes it the only truly safe haven in the game, and as the village grew, the sight of it filled me with a relief like seeing home after a long journey. Even the repetition of failing and restarting made sense once I realized how big the adventure was. I had to die a few times but on each revive I was able to get much further.
The exploration is rewarding, as well. Finding a new hunting ground, purging an outpost and unlocking a sled drawn by wolves, or finding a collapsed train station destroyed by years of frost made me want to get further into the game, and I always seemed to be on the verge of a new breakthrough or discovery.
At this point I want to say that I’ve made a compelling argument for why Fade to Silence isn’t perfect while still worth taking a chance on. However, the thing I haven’t mentioned yet is that… it’s buggy. Really buggy.
I partial list of issues I encountered:
§ I took a follower on a mission with me to fight an annoying monster, only to have the follower permanently disappear and vanish from my roster completely.
§ Hard crashes on loading screens and in-game that caused me to lose progress.
§ If I stopped at an outpost and saved and exited the game, when I came back all my villagers would be freezing to death no matter how much firewood I had.
§ Extreme delay during combat leading to monsters getting me into an infinite knockdown loop and killing me.
§ Ash would sometimes get locked in place, requiring me to exit to the main menu and reload my save.
§ Followers didn’t always obey commands to craft items, meaning I would have to return to base and reissue the same commands.
§ At scripted moments monsters would attack my base, except some would get stuck and never make it, requiring me to scour the area for them to end their siege.
§ On multiple occasions I crashed my sled into a rock and got stuck in the rock’s geometry.
§ In multiplayer, it was necessary to completely stop the sled or else the second player would suffer huge amounts of damage when getting off.
The bugs were so numerous and frequent that I became numb to them and accepted them as part of the experience, and for those bugs that were avoidable, I made avoiding them part of my play routine.
As maddening as this all sounds, I still wanted to keep playing Fade to Silence. There was something enticing there, and the exploration and the mood made it stand out beyond anything I’ve experienced recently. It’s glitchy, bewildering, addictive, and strives for greatness. I strongly recommend it, even though I’m sure it will infuriate almost as many as it enraptures.
Disclosures: This game is developed by Black Forest Games and published by THQ Nordic. It is currently available on PC, PS4 and XBO. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher code and reviewed on the XBO-X.Approximately 42 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. 1 hour of play was spent in multiplayer modes.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is Mand contains Blood, Strong Language, and Violence. It completely earns its rating with liberal swearing throughout the title and themes that involve killing children, murdering loved ones, and so on. This is utterly inappropriate for early teens.
Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: The game is playable without sound, although due to its buggy nature, being hit by the in-game ‘trash moon’ is a common occurrence as the visual cue is often missing. Also, other visual cues are delayed (or missing) and will impact the user’s experience. Text size cannot be adjusted.
Remappable Controls: No, this game’s controls are not remappable.