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Fade to Silence Review – More than a Frozen Waste

Fade to Silence Review – More than a Frozen Waste
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Platforms:

Sony PS4, Microsoft Xbox One, Windows PC, Steam

Game Name:

Fade to Silence

Publisher(s):

THQ Nordic

Developer(s):

Black Forest Games

Genre(s):

RPG

Release Date:

April 30th, 2019

Fade to Silence by Black Forest Games

With a 57% Metacritic rating and only two and a half stars on the PlayStation Store, it’s safe to say that Fade to Silence hasn’t been a critical success.

That’s a shame, because despite some legitimate criticisms in regards to controls and pacing, it’s a unique and immersive combination of grim action horror and unforgiving survival simulator.

Fade to Silence game screenshot, frozen apocalypse

You Can’t Please All of the People All of the Time

The reason for the game’s icy reception – pun intended – might be an attempt to do too many things at once without innovating or perfecting any of them enough to stand out for mechanical reasons alone.

For starters, there’s the combat. Slow, heavy and melee-focused a la the Dark Souls series, complete with the ubiquitous dodge roll.

(Side note: enough with the dodge rolls, game developers; admittedly, it looks cooler than just dancing out of the way of a blow, but at this point, it’s overdone to the point that it’s distracting.)

But a paucity of enemy types, weapons and techniques relegates the fights to a side aspect of a game that focuses more on survival anyway. If it’s complex clobbering you’re looking for, there are plenty of other games that do it better.

Fade to Silence game screenshot, combat

It Takes a Village

The survival aspects are harder to find fault with. Because it’s set in a frozen apocalypse, good firewood is as precious as food – which consists largely of parasite-ridden reindeer meat and tasteless roots, contributing to Fade to Silence’s mood of consistent, abject misery – and both are in dangerously short supply.

The combination of two primary survival meters – hunger and cold – provides a more realistic but still unforgiving sense of constant danger than the all-too-frequently used approach of making your character starve to death after an hour or two without a snack.

As your scavenging forays expand to wider territories and you encounter other survivors and better crafting materials, Fade to Silence progresses into a sort of subsistence village scenario that IGR editor in chief Indie-Game-Freak compared favorably to Don’t Starve.

Still, there’s a lot of grinding involved, and the pacing is slow enough that more casual survival game fans might lose patience with the constant ferrying back and forth of twigs, roots and bits of scrap metal.

Fade to Silence game screenshot, exploring

Frozen Wasteland, Frozen Wonderland

For me, though, the sense of hardscrabble drudgery interrupted by occasional moments of terror made Fade to Silence so compelling, even if it was frustrating, too.

That’s thanks in large part to the game’s aesthetic, an icy post-apocalyptic hell populated by fungal monsters that owe less to H.P. Lovecraft than Clive Barker or John Carpenter’s The Thing, all missing limbs and jagged claws and crimson skin and wormy tentacles, occasionally exploding in pulpy suicide attacks that spread sickly polyps across the snow.

But even without the monsters, Fade to Silence is an endless array of bleak but contemplative moments: a brief vision of beauty as the sun rises over rusted out telephone towers, the hypnotic rhythm of boots crunching over frozen rivers. If Skyrim is as much a hiking simulator as a fantasy RPG, then Fade to Silence is a hiking simulator by way of Norwegian black metal.

Fade to Silence game screenshot, dark forest

Don’t Fear the Reaper

Of course, all these skinless fungus monsters and supernatural blizzards didn’t just occur out of nowhere.

There’s a whole overarching theme happening here, explained via flashbacks and creepy voice-overs from what seems to be your nemesis, a robed Grim Reaper figure called The Eclipse that is also a floating island made of tentacles and car parts. His occasional appearances and taunts add to the game’s oppressive mood, a gothic, post-Dark Souls take on the cruel narrator of browser game Loved (or animator Bugs Bunny tormenting illustrated Daffy Duck in Loony Tunes episode “Duck Amuck”).

Fade to Silence game screenshot, encounter with The Eclipse

Despite a lot of the usual cliches – your main character has an adolescent daughter and a man-bun, in keeping with tradition – Fade to Silence does a solid job revealing the story through the game itself, and doesn’t go out of its way to hold the player’s hand with either the narrative or the mechanics.

As shocked as I was the first time The Eclipse killed me by dropping a tentacle-encrusted sedan on me from miles above, I appreciated that the game didn’t pause the action for a 10-minute “Beware of falling auto parts” tutorial message. (The game does feature a survival manual accessible through the pause menu for more important details.)

Fade to Silence game screenshot, The Eclipse overhead

A Frozen Matrix

And the story itself is increasingly bizarre, with seemingly unrelated elements slowly weaving themselves together to reveal an apocalypse even stranger than the initial mix of “ice age infected by spreading supernatural evil.”

Particularly noteworthy is a reincarnation system – not quite perma-death – with each death leading to a different experience. This even extends to legacy game elements: even starting a new game from the beginning isn’t quite a reset to a blank slate. Doing this well even in a procedurally generated game is no mean feat, so it’s all the more impressive given Fade to Silence’s carefully designed environmental maps.

Finding answers to some of the questions posed by the game’s plot – which honestly could be boiled down to “What on earth has happened and/or is happening?” – are are a compelling enough reason to keep pushing past the grind even if the stark beauty of the landscape isn’t, especially when it moves past The Dark Tower and The Road comparisons into Stranger Things territory.

Fade to Silence isn’t easy, and at times it isn’t even fun. Then again, find me a frozen supernatural sci-fi apocalypse that is.

Fade to Silence is available via the Sony PlayStation Store, Microsoft Store and Steam.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

Watch the official Fade to Silence trailer below:

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