There are many pitfalls in the survival/crafting genre, and Fade to Silence stumbles right into a few of them. At times, it seems like the game pulls out a shovel and starts digging so it can have something new to trip into. Yet there’s something compelling about the mixture of flaws and ambition that blends together in a way that makes Fade to Silence work – for the most part.
The game begins with a strong intro sequence, hinting and nudging at the kind of progress you will eventually reach by tearing down an outpost your character had previously built. Forced to start anew, you must brave an icy hell as you slowly advance the story, meet other survivors, and establish safe outposts.
Like most games of its kind, Fade to Silence stresses basic necessities like food, shelter and fire. You can hunt, chop down trees, mine, and collect various other resources to prepare for the long term. Weather effects can force you to take cover, and the world itself succeeds in being compelling. Exploration can lead to the discovery of other survivors, who under specific conditions, can be recruited to assist your survival efforts.
The survivor system was more in-depth than I was expecting. Survivor bios include backstories, skills, morale levels, and proficiency levels, such as woodcutting and hunting. This differentiation makes certain survivors more adept at specific jobs, and you can either let them do as they please, or assign them to tasks you think will yield the best results. Like you, these survivors also depend on the resources you collect, so while they can be helpful, they will demand resources to keep them alive and healthy. The AI is acceptable, and while they will occasionally have some blunders, particularly in combat, they often do what you need them to. If you find the AI frustrating or simply want a change of pace, the game also offers co-op, which allows a friend to take the role of a follower to assist you. Aside from looking after survivors, death carries a rather hefty penalty. On a Survival Mode, you are given limited lives. If you use up these lives, it’s game over and you’ll have to restart from scratch, with the exception of a few permanent upgrades.
The story itself has some intrigue, particularly with short flashbacks that occur during rest periods, and the ever-present monstrous voice in your head. Unfortunately, the voice acting and dialogue are quite weak. It’s not a deal breaker, but some changes to the delivery and script would have gone a long way in keeping things together.
Technically, Fade to Silence is a mixed bag. It looks detailed and runs well, but there are some occasional hiccups. I didn’t encounter anything game-breaking, but there were several moments of clipping and getting stuck to objects. Luckily, none of these issues necessitated a restart, but they left me in a few compromising situations.
Irrespective of the plot and characters, the key selling point of Fade to Silence is its atmosphere. The frozen hell has enough variety to keep your interest, and there are some unexpected surprises. For example, I decided to hunt my first deer at night under the cover of both darkness and tall grass. I got into position and took aim. Just before I fired, a blinding white light covered the entire area, scaring off the deer. Looking up, I noticed a shining, monolithic sphere orbiting around me. This kind of imagery, combined with the eldritch infestations and monsters, do a lot to freshen up an otherwise uniform white landscape. The added mystery with moments like this propelled the game’s tone very early on. There were a few nice surprises later, although they lacked the impact of taking advantage of my obliviousness at the start of the game.
While a lot of elements in Fade to Silence really contribute to the atmosphere and survivalist feel, its combat actively harms the immersion. There is a stamina system, light and heavy attack options, blocks, dodges, ranged attacks, and a lock-on. On paper, the core functions for a decent combat system are here, but the execution is painfully mediocre. The light and heavy attacks are stiff and offer essentially pointless differentiation in overall damage. The lock-on forces you to move at walking speed, which means the best tactic is to remain unlocked to retain your speed, and then attack – which automatically activates lock-on anyway, ensuring you won’t miss. The blocking mechanic is ineffective against the enemies it would be most useful against, and the dodges feel really stifled and clunky. Using a bow is probably the most satisfying way to engage in combat, but it’s naturally more resource-intensive than melee combat. The enemies themselves don’t help matters either, with most of them being dull in both design and function. The few interesting enemies are simply frustrating to fight unless you’re geared up to a point where they’re no longer a threat anyway.
The core problem with the combat is that it ultimately doesn’t contribute to the sense of dread that the rest of the game does. The environment, tone, lighting, effects, survivors, and resource gathering all do this well, yet it’s completely undercut by the combat. This mechanic simply crosses the line from stressful to annoying. Whenever I fought an enemy, I would be looking forward to killing it so I could get back to the more interesting parts of the game. No combat and harsher environmental conditions would have actually made for a more compelling experience, but Fade to Silence goes for a middle ground that doesn’t fully commit to either. Hunger, for example, is surprisingly lenient, and I would have preferred if it took on a greater role, as opposed to just including what amounts to dull obstacles. The necessity of creatures in a game with a blatant eldritch theme is understandable, but the poor execution just serves to undermine the elements that actually work.
Fade to Silence is a true survival game that I want to like a lot more than I do. A passionate team has cooked up some tasty scraps in this frozen hell, but I’m forced to share the meal with irritating company. The ideas are great in theory, but too many elements end up in the realm of mediocrity. Nothing ruins the game, though, yet it is also prevented from being something more. The end result is a survival experience that’s simply enjoyable, but I can’t commend it beyond that.