Fade to Silence
I got a special thing for Eurojank games. For those who don’t know, the term refers to games of European origin (duh) that are a bit rough around the edges when it comes to polish and presentation but offer deep nuanced gameplay beneath it all. Yes someone once made up the word and we’re sticking with it. Titles like Gothic, S.T.A.L.K.E.R, Drakensang, Precursors, etc fall into this category. They may not be much to look at and may not be for everyone, but there’s more to it than meets the eye. Black Forest Games’ Fade to Silence has all the makings of one such game. Ambitious yet uncanny, interesting yet unsure. The only way to know for sure was by playing through from the very beginning right to the end. After spending 25+ hours in the game and beating the main story, here is what I think of Fade to Silence.
Story & Narrative
A competent storyline, let alone even a basic one is not something you’d find in a lot of survival games these days. Fade to Silence is an exception. Since the game is mainly a single player game, there is a fully functional storyline present. You play as Ash, he has a daughter and they’re both trapped in a post-apocalyptic world which is basically hell’s refrigerator. You wake up in a ritualistic tomb and is greeted by Red Skull from Avengers: Infinity War except that this one doesn’t have a face. After some brief exposition that leaves you scratching your head, Ash is left to fend off himself and his daughter against grotesque monstrosities and survive the icy hell however he can.
Who left the fridge open?
Right, you’re as lost as I am as to what the hell is even going on. Don’t fret as Fade to Silence tries it’s best to explain how our modern Earth became a frozen wasteland and what’s the deal behind the shadowy apparition and Ash. The game presents the player with short dream sequences and dialogues that fill in the void and it’s up to the player to piece them together to form a cohesive story. In the end, it concludes in a twisted manner which may not be everyone’s cup of tea and leaves you with many questions. It’s not an amazing story or writing by any means and it’s unlikely that you’ll care for any of the characters. Sometimes you even feel like they could have done more with this unique backdrop. But the presence of such a storyline is much appreciated and it serves its purpose to form this much-needed backbone to this weird and macabre world.
Gameplay & Mechanics
Fade to Silence is primarily a single-player survival adventure that takes place in a sizeable landmass ravaged by an icy apocalypse. Like any other game in this genre, your main purpose is to find resources in the environment for the main character to survive and keep his base of operations running, all the while overcoming hazardous weather conditions and dangerous enemies. When you start a new game, you have two options. First one is the Exploration Mode, which acts like the easy difficulty where you will be awarded a set amount of resources every day based on how many hunting and gathering grounds you have claimed but achievements are disabled. Then there is the Survival Mode which features depleting resources and merciless weather conditions. There’s also limited lives with permadeath. To balance this feature out, there is a system called the Circle of Torment that enables you to collect permanent perks during one playthrough and carry them over to the next one if you run out of lives. These include retaining base fortifications, supplies, sled, followers, etc. But no need to fret as there are plenty of opportunities for you to gain extra lives throughout the game. Later on, you’ll even be able to craft these.
Video Games-1 Science- 0
With the general features out of the way, let’s get into the many layers of the game.
A survival game that isn’t an MMO
Fade to Silence can be described as The Long Dark or Frostpunk if it was developed by Piranha Bytes. Fade to Silence’s core mechanics are influenced by the said games and features level design, clunkiness, and combat reminiscent of games like Risen and Elex. In order to survive the frozen hell, you have to keep a tab on your hunger, cold meter, supplies like food, firewood, lumber, and metals while upgrading your base and equipment to fend off periodic enemy attacks. The game world is split into 5 regions littered with supplies, wood gathering areas, hunting grounds, mineral ores, mini-quests to recruit companions, demonic infestations, and enemy strongholds. Since supplies are finite, the game sometimes forces your hand to go out and push further into dangerous territories in search of metaphorically greener pastures. Yeah, and there’s no hand holding, which is a plus in my book.
Since the main focus is on the single-player campaign, there is hardly any heavy grinding or artificial extension of gameplay involved. From beginning to the very end, Fade to Silence features a very organic difficulty curve that welcomes even the most casual of players. By the time I was finished with the game, I still had two or three fortifications and a few upgrades to be completed but that didn’t make the final hours frustrating or overly difficult. So players in search of a truly balls-to-the-wall survival game might be disappointed. Still, careless gameplay and unchecked spending of resources can still land you in tight spots every now and then.
A survivor is you
The real star of Fade to Silence is the harsh open-world. The world is teeming with supplies, enemies and frigging reindeers. Each time before going out, you have to make sure that Ash is well equipped to handle the threats that roam outside. The biggest enemy you face will be a harsh and unpredictable climate. Having a watchful eye on the cold meter will make your stay in this apocalypse much more pleasant. There are sudden temperature drops, blizzards, and an icy hurricane to watch out for. So it’s vital to make sure you have access to heat sources and shelter to tide over the adverse conditions. The survival mechanics in Fade to Silence are well balanced to not become an annoyance during the length of the campaign. If used wisely, you’ll always have easy access to resources and crafting components. Even during moments of forlorn hope, the game gives you a narrow thread to hang on to. You can craft items on the fly (including campfires) and even get access to a sled for easy navigation of the frozen tundra. Like someone once said, nature is unbridled yet forgiving.
Ash and his daughter aren’t the only survivors in the world. Throughout your travels, you’ll happen upon characters that need assistance before you can recruit them to your camp. These are fleshed out people with their own backstory, skills, and go about their business to and fro the base just like Ash. Since Ash is unable to build structures and craft high tier items on his own, he’ll need all the help he can get. You can assign followers to build structures, fortifications, craft items, collect supplies and even go out on expeditions with you. These followers tone down the micromanagement of base building and make the base up and running even when you’re away. I like the fact that you can queue objectives for them to complete and don’t have to babysit them. The more time they spend with you, the better skilled they’ll be, while also improving their opinion of Ash. This in turn, enable them to craft and build higher tier items. These followers are also the means by which Fade to Silence enforces its two-player co-op mechanic. After you’ve acquired a follower, you can invite a friend who owns the game to join your quest. This drop-in, drop-out co-op is very barebones as any sort of progress doesn’t carry over to the second player’s game. Still, I’m glad that it’s there.
Janky combat: Check
I can already picture media outlets calling out the combat system in Fade to Silence as a poor man’s Dark Souls. But in truth, the combat system shares more in line with Piranha Bytes’ Risen or Elex than Dark Souls, except it’s a lot simpler. It’s slow, methodological, exploitable and sometimes unresponsive and clunky. The main culprit here is the way stamina is utilized. You can perform light attacks, heavy attacks, dodge, and black using the same stamina pool. I found the game to use up 95% of my stamina whenever I use a heavy attack (despite upgrading it) and leaves me open with no defensive options. But since the heavy attack is the best way to beat enemies, you’re better off using it all the time. Hence, all combat encounters can be summarised as performing a heavy attack to knock an enemy down, keep moving backward till stamina regenerates, do another heavy attack and repeat the same pattern over and over again. It goes without saying that this tactic made the melee combat pretty boring. Thankfully, the ranged combat is much more smooth and satisfying to pull off than melee and is just as effective against 90% of the enemy types.
If you were thinking of avoiding the game just due to the clunky combat, do note that many of the combat encounters in Fade to Silence are fully optional. You are free to run away from most encounters or exploit the enemy AI to gain an upper hand. The only time you will be truly forced to take part in combat is when clearing the enemy strongholds. To further your odds of survival, you can upgrade your armor, melee weapon, and bow provided you have the necessary parts and a forge. I also felt that there could have been a bit more variety to the enemies and your equipment. Despite the complaints, I never felt that the combat was terribly designed mostly because I’m used to such systems and to an extent, enjoy them. But your mileage may vary.
Visuals, Performance & Sound
It would be a crime to Fade to Silence to say that the game isn’t aesthetically impressive. At the same time, you’re not going to find top-of-the-line graphical prowess either. What Fade to Silence excels at is delivering an oppressive and harrowing atmosphere. From the muted color palette to the vibrant skyboxes, dynamic snowfall, blinding blizzards, terrifying cyclone to clothes dangling in the chilly wind, Fade to Silence delivers. These outshine some of the lower-res texturework, awful facial animations and blurry AA present in the game.
Some of the goodwill Fade to Silence garners with the visuals is lost when it comes to the performance. Don’t get me wrong. The game runs above 60 fps maxed out at 1080p at almost all instances in the following specs:[toggles behavior=”accordion”] [toggle title=”Minimum Specification”]OS: Windows 7/8/10 64bit
Processor: Intel Core i5-2400/AMD FX-8320 or better
Memory: 12 GB RAM Graphics: NVIDIA GeForce GTX 760 or AMD Radeon R9 270 (2gb or more)[/toggle] [toggle title=”Recommended Specification”]OS: Windows 10 64bit
Processor: Intel Core i7-3770/AMD FX-8350 or better
Memory: 16 GB RAM
Graphics: NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1060 or AMD Radeon RX 480[/toggle] [toggle title=”Review Specification”]OS: Windows 10 64bit
Processor: Intel Core i5-7500
Memory: 16 GB RAM
Graphics: NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1070[/toggle] [/toggles]
The problem, however, is the ridiculous amounts of crashes I’ve had to face. The crashing began after the 5-hour mark when I tried using one of the sleds in the game and soon after became a random annoyance. If I had to count, I’d say I went through approximately 35+ crashes during my playthrough and led to so many hair-pulling moments. There was no way to pinpoint the real reason behind the crashes and as far as I know, the frequency and interval of these crashes vary from system to system. However, the developers have been very active in the Steam Community Hub in seeing to individual complaints and are looking into the crashing issue. Aside from the this, there are your usual clipping issues, player model falling into the ground and minor bugs like companions ignoring the activity queue. But thankfully, the latter issues are not that common and doesn’t hamper the gameplay.
When it comes to sound design, Fade to Silence does a decent enough job. There isn’t a lot of music and the ones that are there are very moody, adding to the overall atmosphere. Some of the voice acting comes off as cheesy and over-the-top but that’s part of the charm. The guy who played the shadowy apparition does a great job and hearing him taunt and question your every move and decision is spine-chilling. The ambient sounds like the weather effects and miscellaneous are also very well done and nothing feels out of place.
Fade to Silence is a fun single-player survival experience if you can get past some of its rough edges. The atmosphere is amazing, survival mechanics are well-implemented and balanced, and there’s even a semi-decent story to boot. What it could use are a few patches to polish things up and fix the awful crashing issue along with adding some varied content. That being said, I do think that the release price of 39,99€ / $39,99 / £34,99 is a bit too high for the game in its current state and it’s not for everyone. If you’re like me and likes diamonds in the rough, wait for a price drop and pick Fade to Silence up.