When I saw the trailer for Fade to Silence, I was intrigued. Of course, the song “Where is My Mind” has always been compelling but, beyond the background music, I was impressed with the portrayal of a post-apocalyptic world covered in deep snow with a red, gloomy sun. I also came away with some reservations, primarily because of the demonic narrator that reminded me of every other generic evil being that doubts and conspires against the protagonist with all the subtlety of a butter knife to the eyeball.
In some ways my initial impressions were right, and in some ways, they were very wrong. My first surprise came before I had even reached the opening sequence. The interface prompted me to choose a difficulty mode, but the choices were not what I was accustomed to: “easy” and “survival.” I stared at my options with dismay.
Normally I settle on the default game mode, but here the default was set to “survival,” and I usually do not play a game on that kind of grueling difficulty unless I’ve already played through the game once and decided I really wanted a challenge. This should be said with the disclaimer that I do not identify as a “hardcore” gamer. Although I’ve played games my entire life, I am more interested in discovering and completing new games rather than doing speed runs or dedicating thousands of hours to reach the top of competitive rankings.
It is quite possible that if you are the type of person I just described, you might appreciate the survival mode of Fade to Silence. I felt like I needed to at least give it a try, so let me summarize my experience of survival mode before I move on to reviewing the game more generally. If survival mode doesn’t interest you, feel free to skip to the next section. First of all, you have a limited number of lives in survival mode. When you use up your lives, the game basically begins anew, with the only caveat being that you accumulate something called “boons” that give you little boosts so you can get back to where you were before you died a bit faster.
The boon tree is similar to skill trees in other games like Horizon Zero Dawn or the Witcher 3. You choose which boon you want to unlock, and by unlocking it you gain access to additional boons that are attached to that tree. Some examples are starting out with lots of firewood, which saves you time from having to go out and collect a bunch after your death, or starting out with your wolves and sled so you can travel faster instead of having to go to the first outpost to free the wolves (more on outposts later, they are one of the main missions in the game).
Even with the boons, however, this mode is alarmingly difficult. I probably died about a dozen times and didn’t even get to the point of cleansing the first outpost, of which there are six, with each one getting progressively more difficult to cleanse. Not only that, but in order to progress in the game, you need to cut down trees, hunt deer, and mine ore. Without firewood you will freeze to death, without hunting you will starve to death, and later in the game without ore, you will die very quickly to monsters because your armor and weapons will not be powerful enough.
Gathering all these resources and building the respective workshops in your refuge to craft items from these resources is a time-consuming process, and for me, losing all of that work when I died was downright infuriating. Especially if I died because my potions simply healed me too slowly and I ran into a monster unexpectedly while I was low on health. Ultimately I decided that not only would I not be able to write this review in a remotely timely manner if I decided to continue with survival mode, but I would also probably start ripping my hair out. It was after this realization that I switched to “easy” mode.
Easy (Normal?) Mode
The vast majority of the hours I spent playing Fade to Silence were spent in what the developers decided to call “easy” mode. At the very least, I would call the naming of this difficulty deceiving, in particular, because it suggests that it was designed for players who just want to enjoy the story and coast through the game without much of a challenge. That is definitely not the case with Fade to Silence.
Even in easy mode, there were some enemies that, unless I timed my dodges and attacks perfectly, would kill me in 3 hits. There were also times where the Eclipse (a giant ball in the sky that floats around the world and drops rubble and tentacles on your head) would be above me while I was fighting an enemy and crush me before I had time to react. Certainly, the lack of permadeath made my deaths a lot less infuriating, but it was still a frustrating experience because it would send me back to my refuge and force me to travel great swaths of the world to get back to the place where I was.
Traveling great swaths of the world of Fade to Silence could have been a far worse punishment if the graphics in the game had been less appealing. The environment of the game did not fail to deliver, with jutting mountains glowing bright against a backdrop of dark oranges and reds of the sunset over the post-apocalyptic landscape. It is clear the developers took advantage of the beautiful rendering that Unreal is capable of.
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about the monsters you encounter in the environment. While some are quite challenging to defeat, none of them appear particularly original. Tentacles are a popular theme, along with red vines and giant worms/centipedes that sprout and attack you from the ground. Shadow monsters, fireball spitting monsters, and monsters with obscenely large claws are some of the common sights in the world of Fade to Silence. Some of the monsters are a little more creative than others, but none are anything I haven’t seen before.
While fighting these monsters and taking in the sights, Nash, the protagonist I controlled, would also meet quite a few other characters trying to survive the wilderness. Sometimes they even came directly to my camp to introduce themselves, but other times I found them fighting monsters and helped them out. With each of these characters, you have the option of making them a companion, in which case they move into your refuge.
To decline the help of companions is not wise in Fade to Silence, as they are a tremendous help with managing your camp. Not only can you assign them to go gather supplies like wood and ore, you can also make them build things like workshops and medicine huts, to craft better supplies when you go out into the wasteland. Although you do have a small crafting menu of your own, so you can craft some supplies even when you are away from your camp, your companions can craft far more advanced supplies.
Thankfully the crafting menu was also pretty intuitive, especially in comparison to games like Fortnite, which I gave up pretty quickly after struggling to build so much as a wall before getting sniped in the face (I’m certain they have probably improved it by now, but in the early days it was quite terrible). On that PS4 you simply click the giant rectangle in the middle and get a radial menu where you can select the ‘construct option’ and then choose from a right-hand pop up of options for what you want to build. Your view of the refuge becomes aerial and the building turns from red to green when you have found a place that it can be built. After that, you simply go up to the semi-transparent construction site and hit ‘X’ so you can select which of your companions you want to help build.
I wish I could say all of the user interfaces in the game are as intuitive as the crafting menu, but unfortunately, I would be lying. One of the most frustrating interfaces in the game is using your sled, which should be desirable in most scenarios because it helps you get around the world much faster. The problem with sledding is that the wolves are a bit difficult to control, and the landscape is filled with boulders and trees and other blockades that often cause the sled to glitch out, forcing you to “replace” it by hitting ‘R1’ and walking around with the sled in front of you until it turns green, allowing you to hit ‘X ‘so you can finally place the sled back down and continue with your business. There were times when I got so frustrated I just gave up on using my sled and decided to continue on foot.
While on the subject of traversing the world, another thing I thought bizarre about Fade to Silence was the lack of a mini-map. This resulted in having to pull up the full-screen map a lot more frequently than I wanted to, even when my destination was nearby I found myself getting disoriented and needing to pull up the map again and again. There is the ability to drop a marker, but it was still a bit annoying to go back and forth within these menus.
So, this far into the review, you are probably thinking, when am I going to talk about the story? Well, one reason I left this to the end is that the story is told in a lot of different ways, from random dream sequences to bits of dialogue with your companions, and strange orbs that are all over the world. The other reason is that I did not actually get through the entire game, for reasons which I will explain later. For now, back to what I did learn about the story. Each companion has their own background that brought them to your camp, and as they grow to trust you they start to divulge more information about their past. Through these stories, you learn things, such as the fact that there is a cult which worships the Eclipse (floating ball of wreckage in the sky).
Many of the stories the companions share are about the world in the present and are incredibly grim and disturbing. Though some of the companions are a bit of a stereotype (Asian master of meditation, angry butch fighter), they still felt compelling as characters. The stories they told were delivered very convincingly by the voice actors, which made them much more powerful. The game writers did not shrink back from subjects like infanticide and torture, so for those who find this type of subject matter to be triggering, I recommend staying away from this game.
In contrast to the companion backgrounds, the dream sequences are very different and are very brief. They only happen when you go to rest, and they usually don’t last more than 15 seconds. The graphics in the dream sequences are completely different from other visuals in the game and are often reused so you sometimes aren’t sure if you are seeing the same dream sequence or a new one.
I liked the concept of the dream sequences but was disappointed with how little information they divulged. Even after playing the game for 8 hours, all I knew was that there was a mysterious facility called GIPA which had a particle accelerator that seemingly malfunctioned, causing a rift in the time-space continuum that somehow led to the apocalypse and demons swarming the world. I was very eager to learn more behind this mystery and had been journeying from outpost to outpost, diligently cleansing the demonic possession of each one with my Nash’s mysterious power. I didn’t even stop to think that no clear mission had been delivered to me via the UI since the beginning of the game when I had been instructed to gather wood and “unearth the secrets” of the past.
The reason I assumed that the goal of the game had been to cleanse the outposts was 1) the outposts stick out like sore thumbs on the map, as bright red areas 2) they have giant tentacles sprouting out of them, 3) when you get near them you do get a mission prompt to “cleanse” the outpost. I could have sworn I even heard the music getting more dramatic as I approached the contaminated crystal of the sixth and last outpost I needed to cleanse. However, when I completed this feat, literally nothing happened. There was no cut scene aside from the usual one that had occurred when I cleansed all the other outposts. There were no additional flashbacks or dream sequences. I was simply plopped back down in front of the crystal and nothing changed. The worst part is I don’t know if this was another bug, of which I encountered many, or if there was actually something I missed.
The bugs in this game truly impeded my progress and made me question whether Fade to Silence was really ready for release. Even after downloading two updates, I still experienced a number of strange behaviors in the game. The first thing that happened was my companion disappearing after complaining about the freezing temperatures. I thought at first they simply abandoned my camp because they were mad I was letting them freeze, but there was no notification of this happening in the UI, nor was there anything hinting at this behavior built into the game from the survival guide. I was even more dismayed when this happened a second time after Nash went to rest, with a different companion.
Some of the other bugs I experienced were also quite frustrating, for example when your companions die they become corrupted and must be cleansed. A lot of times they died in the refuge, but once I cleansed both of my fallen allies, there were still demonic tentacles left as though I still had another person to cleanse. Bugs like this were quite rampant throughout the game. Another example I encountered was the inability to interact with new companions when they arrived at camp. Sometimes no menu option would appear even when I stood right next to them, and other times the companion would literally be invisible. If I listed all of the bugs here this review would get unwieldy, but it left a clear impression that the developers rushed the game to release.
My biggest beef with Fade to Silence is the fact that the story did not end at the point that all signs had led me to believe it would end, but the other issues I listed were nothing to shake a stick at either. I think if the developers had spent a bit more time working on the story, especially improving the dream sequences, as well as squashing out the glaring bugs, I would give the game a much higher score. That being said, I did mention earlier that two updates were released during the week I played this game, so there is some redemption in the fact the team seems keen on fixing these issues.
There are also many things to appreciate about the game despite the bugs, including the beautiful environment, the detailed crafting system, and the interesting characters. There are some features I didn’t even get a chance to try, such as allowing your friend on another Playstation to play one of your companions, turning the game into a co-op experience. Black Forest Games had an ambitious vision, combining many genres of games like survival, horror, and city building into one cohesive experience. I commend them for this but hope, for everyone’s sake, that in the future they will spend a bit more time in the quality assurance stage before the release. I also plan on revisiting the game in a few months, and may even update my score depending on the improvements I see.