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Fade to Silence Review — Struggling for Survival

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Early in the 2010s, survival games exploded in popularity. Minecraft captured the imagination of gamers young and old, combining the appeal of Lego and keeping a character alive in a cute blocky package. The Arma 2 mod turned Early Access project Day Z added realistic zombies and stealthy gameplay to the survival mix. Hundreds of copycats followed, varying in quality and completeness as developers strove to strike while the iron was hot. Audiences quickly became oversaturated with mediocre options, and most players moved on to other things. Now nearing the end of the decade, Black Forest Games aims to bring the survival genre back into the zeitgeist with Fade to Silence, a tough-as-nails survival game set in an icy post-apocalypse. While a great deal of ambition is evident in the game’s exploration, combat, base building, permadeath, and story elements, a lack of cohesion between these ideas leaves Fade to Silence a disappointingly disjointed experience.

The game opens with menacing smoke monster hovering tauntingly over protagonist Ash’s corpse. “I’m not finished with you yet,” the monster breathes, black tendrils sinking into cold flesh. The man gasps, alive once more with an eldritch presence inhabiting his mind. The cycle has begun once again. Ash is caught in a loop of rebirth, trying with each life to clear the world of the red-tentacled blight that smothers it. Along the way, he will need to recruit followers, gather resources, rebuild his base, and, most importantly, keep warm.

Goals start out simple in Fade to Silence. Once the camp has been reclaimed from demonic creatures, Ash needs to find basic supplies. An Inner Vision ability highlights collectables with an outline, colour-coded for foraging, gathering spot, or monster nest. Chopping down a tree in a thicket or shooting a deer in the hunting area will claim that region for your camp, allowing followers to forage there once Ash has made some friends.

The greatest enemy in Fade to Silence is the cold. Health will slowly drain when not holding a torch, and freezing for long enough will reduce Ash’s maximum health. The fantastically cruel dynamic weather system will create blizzards at the most inopportune times, requiring Ash to immediately find shelter to avoid becoming a popsicle. Keeping warm can be slowly improved by crafting better clothing, and a fire can be lit in most of the ramshackle buildings dotted around the map. The weather systems are harsh but fair, keeping the pressure to survive high even when the player is otherwise well-equipped. Incoming blizzards are brutal, but clearly signposted, and the foolish player who leaves camp without a torch is asking for death.

Once Ash has obtained enough basic supplies to last for a while, finding followers to join him at his camp becomes imperative. Ash, for some reason, lacks the wherewithal to build structures himself, and followers are also a great help in gathering resources. Followers consume resources, and recruiting too many too fast can result in in-fighting at the camp. Such fights will reduce morale, with a depressed camp shirking most of their duties. A total of eight companions can be recruited, most of whom will need Ash to complete a quest for them before joining the cause. These quests vary greatly in difficulty—Gani’s object puzzle is pretty straightforward, but the bonfire Jin builds attracts many monsters for a tough battle.  

Combat feels slow and clumsy in Fade to Silence. Ash can swing at enemies with a quick or strong attack and dodge with a roll or block. While the attacks are fairly standard fare, Ash has an extremely restrictive stamina meter, requiring him to back away after two or so hits. Thankfully, the enemies are often equally clumsy, giving Ash more of a fighting chance. If they do hit, however, they hit hard, and the wiser option is often to run from the eldritch horrors than to risk losing a life.

Ash’s deaths come quickly and from many sources; freezing, starvation, monster attacks, blizzards, meteor storms. Fade to Silence features a modified permadeath mode: when Ash expires, so does a Flame of Hope. Lose all three and the character returns right back to square one: map unexplored, base reduced to rubble, no followers. The only boost the next run is given is an option chosen at death at the Circle of Torment perk tree, such as starting out with a large amount of firewood, an extra Flame of Hope, or a structure like the dog-sled hut already being built.

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This permadeath mode contradicts the enjoyable gameplay loop created by building up the base, recruiting followers, and little by little becoming stronger. Ash dies far too easily for so much to be lost with his death. Two difficulty options are built into the game, with the easier one excluding the permadeath, but changing difficulty wipes the current save game, increasing the challenge of trying out different game types to determine what the player prefers. The ‘Exploration’ difficulty also makes survival, combat, and collecting items much easier. Fade to Silence would be much better served if it had modular difficulty options. Let the player turn off permanent death but keep the harsh winter conditions on, or keep the harsh death mode on but make other aspects easier.  

After watching the game’s spectacular release trailer, Fade to Silence‘s dated graphics come as a surprise. Much of the dynamic lighting and detail from the trailer is not present in the Playstation 4 version, and the human characters appear to have used too much botox before the apocalypse occurred. Slow down is common, particularly when in a large building or more than three enemies are on screen. The game does feature some nice details; the monster design is interesting, all smokey apparitions with burning cores; and the snowy landscape is appropriately foreboding, but by and large Fade to Silence looks like it could run on a PlayStation 3.

Sound design fares much better, with the crunching snow, Ash’s chattering teeth, and the snarl of a beast all evoking a cold and merciless atmosphere. The voice acting is rather cheesy, but in a pleasing way. The monster residing inside Ash’s head makes delightful snide remarks as Ash adventures, admonishing him for being generally terrible at surviving while inadvertently giving him gameplay advice. This creature would make an excellent cartoon villain.

Fade to Silence is often unintentionally funny. With the strange button binding on console of R1 to both crouch and jump, Ash will often bounce around when trying to hunt a deer. Ash’s daughter Allie skips non-stop, even when complaining about how tired and starving she is. Followers will continue a conversation with Ash’s corpse. Some of the most enjoyable moments of the game are these weird occurrences, and perhaps embracing this silly tone would make for a better product.

Fade to Silence contains many interesting elements, but they simply do not combine well. The mix of a meditative base builder with clunky combat and the stress of permanent death results in a gameplay experience that is certainly unique, but unfortunately not enjoyable.

OnlySP Review Score 2 Pass

Reviewed on PlayStation 4.

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Review

American Fugitive Review — A Grand Tale of Theft and Auto

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American Fugitive gameplay screenshot 1

The original Grand Theft Auto rocked the virtual world with its violent gameplay from a birds-eye view perspective back in 1997. Once the series moved to a third-person, 3D perspective with Grand Theft Auto III, few gamers looked back and few developers attempted to replicate the original style. More than 20 years later, Fallen Tree Games has become of those few with American Fugitive.

Players control Will Riley, a man convicted for a crime he did not commit and filled with the desire for revenge. Once he has escaped from prison, Will must find old friends—and meet some new ones—to run errands and discover the person who killed his father.

The game is played from a top-down perspective in a 3D open world. More reminiscent of Chinatown Wars than the original Grand Theft Auto, the camera adds a level of complexity to American Fugitive, as players often will not see what lies beyond the edges of the screen. While a behind-the-character perspective would, at times, not go amiss, players will eventually grow to familiarise themselves with the camera, respecting the callback to classic open world titles.

American Fugitive gameplay screenshot 2

The open world itself is also reminiscent of classic titles, with simplified designs regularly complimented by the detailed art style. The game’s animated, cartoon design scheme is fitting of its fast-paced action gameplay, always managing to keep the player on their toes and keen to discover more. Technically, the game plays almost flawlessly, with no significant performance issues to disrupt the player while they explore the map.

Players can explore the rural open world of Redrock County on foot or in a vehicle. The vehicular gameplay may take some time for players to familiarise themselves with, with some overly slippery mechanics leading to some unfortunate collisions, though fitting to the game’s tone. Thankfully, most environments in the game are destructible, so sliding off the road—if the player follows the road to begin with—does not often lead to disaster.

Despite beginning the game as a seemingly innocent man, Will doubles down on his criminal actions once he escapes from prison. Akin to Grand Theft Auto, the player can hijack cars, kill civilians, and attract the attention of police. Most residential buildings in the game can be robbed by the player, often leading to tense confrontations with the homeowners or police, so players must continue at their own risk.

American Fugitive gameplay screenshot 3

The ‘wanted’ system in the game works similarly to Grand Theft Auto games, with players accumulating up to five stars depending on their behaviour. The stars often accumulate a little too quickly, however, with additional stars regularly added simply for evading police. Oftentimes, the player may possess a full wanted level—complete with large police vans and circling helicopters—within a minute of committing a minor offense. While this over-the-top gameplay design is fitting to the pace of the game, it may lead to frustrations within the main story missions by bringing the player’s progress to a halt.

The missions are also reminiscent of those in Grand Theft Auto, tasking the player with a wide variety of tasks to keep them busy while the story evolves. While many of these missions may seem disconnected to the main narrative structure, they are unique and regularly keep the player entertained, ranging from simple fetch quests and car robberies to full-scale shootouts. The game’s fast-paced gameplay and lack of loading screens also make the poorly-placed checkpoints bearable, especially when the beginning of missions require the player to drive to a certain location.

American Fugitive‘s storyline is simple in design but entertaining enough to keep the player engaged. The game’s ‘cutscenes’ exist in the form of text atop character designs; while some simple voice acting would elevate these scenes with more dramatic tension, they are short enough to maintain the player’s attention and continue the missions at a fast pace. Players will find themselves surprisingly engrossed in the story, wanting to see it through to its full conclusion.

American Fugitive gameplay screenshot 4

Accompanying the fast-paced gameplay and narrative is the game’s music. From slow, explorative themes to fast-paced tracks, American Fugitive‘s original score is reminiscent of some of the best soundtracks across different media—from television’s True Detective to video gaming’s Red Dead Redemption 2 and The Last of Us. Each song accompanies the gameplay nicely, ramping up and down as the player makes the appropriate actions, and, along with the expert sound design, add the auditory sprinkles atop a visual and narrative treat.

American Fugitive, simply put, is fun. Fallen Tree Games has added its own unique twist to a classic gameplay formula, and utilised a simple but engaging narrative and a beautiful original score to maintain the player’s interest until the very end. Despite a few minor flaws in gameplay, the game stands strong against its competition. Players looking for a fast, fun, and mature sandbox game should not miss American Fugitive.

OnlySP Review Score 4 Distinction

Reviewed on PlayStation 4 Pro.

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