Surviving a frozen tundra isn’t exactly the most unique video game experience, but tossing in a few Eldritch nightmares sure starts to shake things up. At least, at first.
Fade to Silence reminds me a great deal of Bruce Bogtrotter from Roald Dahl’s Matilda. Ever the gluttonous yet ambitious punk, Bruce is compelled to steal a slice of Miss Trunchbull’s – the evil principle – coveted piece of cake. Unfortunately, the scamp’s heinous crime is discovered and for his greedy sin is punished…by being forced to eat an entire 45cm chocolate cake. The cake proves a do-able task to Bruce, despite the fact that he is so enormously stuffed that he is rendered essentially catatonic, unable to move or even feel anything but the enormous load of dessert in his belly. Odd comparison, I understand, but Fade to Silence is a lot like Bruce Bogtrotter – It makes the mistake of taking too much and is punished by turning itself into a bloat of game that really struggles to move.
First released in early access in 2017, Fade to Silence is a survival game at its core, but there’s far more going on under the hood. Sure, roaming the vast frozen tundra of a post-apocalyptic world to scavenge resources is a large portion of the game, but there’s also base building elements, role-playing sections and even a combat system to sink into. Beyond all of that, what the game doesn’t tell you is that it’s a rogue-lite of sorts. I’ll get into detail on the other systems in due time, but I was very interested to learn that after dying a few times, you lose everything. Which sounds kinda okay, right? Adds another layer to the whole open-world survival thing. But to explain my dislike for it, I’ll have to talk a bit more about everything else swirling around in this blizzard of hot-messiness.
Fade to Silence is a slow game, and I mean slow. You thought Red Dead 2 was slow? It’s got nothing on this game. The problem with offering up a massive open world to the player is that it needs to meet two criteria: 1. There should be interesting things to discover and 2. It should be enjoyable to move around the space. Fade to Silence’s map, while having some interesting locales, struggles with the whole “moving” thing. Movement is clunky at best and unresponsive at worst. Even at a sprinting pace I always thought I was moving a little too slow or I was taking a too long to reach my destination. Granted, one can unlock a dog sled to move around the map quicker, but even the controls for this feel janky, with the sled not really holding its own on terrain that isn’t either flat or straight. This sense of slowness also bleeds into combat to an even worse extent, which is to say that fighting in Fade to Silence kinda sucks.
So to clarify, while surviving the frozen wilds, you’re gonna come across a series of eldritch nightmares, and to the game’s credit, they look great. Warped, twisted humanoids with obscured details and over-exaggerated limbs make for interesting fodder and there’s even some variety to the enemies with some shooting globby projectiles and others lumbering in to make your whole face resemble Thanos’s chin. These would be great if fighting them didn’t feel like an absolute chore. Fade to Silence has a very intentional combat system, one that asks you take stamina into account when both swinging a weapon or dodging out of the way and it all takes forever, especially before you start getting some good equipment. You can only really pull off one string of attacks before waiting for your stamina to refill and that single combo can, at best, take off a quarter of an enemy’s health. What results is a constant pattern of mash a button, walk back a little, mash a button, walk back a little and repeat until the thing is dead. For what I think was meant to be a strategic combat system, the whole thing just comes across as clunky; a system that doesn’t ask one to master it but to rather understand it and then tolerate it.
Much like the rest of the game, the base building elements are also exceptionally slow. While wandering around the wastes, you may find other survivors that you can recruit to your base. You can choose whether or not you want to accept or reject them, but I couldn’t find a single reason to reject any of them. A second player can jump in and take over these extra citizens for a co-op experience, but I was, unfortunately, unable to test out this aspect of the game.
Once they’re back at your base, you can start building structures to make life a little easier. Butcheries for food supplies, lumber huts to create stronger wood and allow for the production of better equipment, all that jazz. These structures take a while to build, and even after they’re completed you need to keep throwing resources at them to get the better loot, which seems like a decent time to mention that resource locations can actually run dry in Fade to Silence. Once a grove of clean trees has been cut down, that’s it, they’re gone. Gone, that is, until you die.
And this is my biggest gripe with Fade to Silence. When you die a certain number of times, you start from scratch. You can level up some features, like starting with a stash of wood or food, but everything is gone. That means you’ll have to re-explore the map, engage all the same enemies, recruit the same NPC’s by doing the same quests over and over again and it takes forever. For me, the essential part of a rogue-like (or lite) is how quickly I can get back into the action. Death should be punishing, but that should be offset by how quickly it takes to get back to a point where you feel you’ve made some progress. The experience should also change a little every time so that no matter how much you lose you always return to something fresh. That’s not Fade to Silence. You’ll have to do exactly the same things over and over again, each taking an incredibly long time, and unfortunately, the result is tedium. After I died for the third time, I gave up. Not because I was frustrated or I thought I was cheated, but I didn’t have the time nor patience to repeat everything all over again.
Look, there are other little things all over the place. The performance (on PC) is choppy, the graphics look outdated, the story is bare-boned and the voice-acting is hilariously bad, especially for the player character’s daughter. Fade to Silence is a game that was spoiled by two things: Too many cooks and its own ambition. It wants to be a long, painstaking journey where the player must struggle but eventually be rewarded for their perseverance, but no meaningful reward ever arrives. The abundant systems thrown into this cooking pot are all present and all functional, but none of them is fun.
They feel included merely to offer a sense of longevity that the game really didn’t need. To me, it seemed like there was no-one around to say “No” to ideas thrown forward by the developers and instead, every suggestion was implemented. Survival games are reaching in over-saturation where “more is more” is not the creative solution needed to bring life back to the genre, and unfortunately Fade to Silence doesn’t realise that.
Instead, it stuffs itself full of cake, gets hit over the head with platter, and is escorted out of the assembly hall in silence.
Last Updated: April 29, 2019