Fade to Silence is a game with lofty ambitions. Black Forest Games have created a harsh survival action-adventure game set in an unforgiving post-apocalyptic world, but can it make enough noise to stand out in a crowded genre, or will it go quietly into the night?
You play as Ash, a natural-born leader who must endure the harsh wasteland in order to survive. Ash, along with his daughter, Alice build and maintain a camp at the southernmost reaches of the wasteland. Ash must also contend with a demonic entity called the ‘Inner Voice’, which corrupts the world and everything within it.
Right from the off, players are given the choice between permadeath and exploration mode. The former is hailed as the ‘true’ experience, while the latter disables achievements and the levelling/skill system. I’d recommend that everyone choose exploration mode on their first few runs, as grappling with the game’s challenge whilst also trying to learn its systems is definitely too much of an ask.
Across both difficulties, the basic gameplay loop revolves around balancing survival and exploration. Ash must cleanse areas and landmarks of the Inner Voice while also providing enough supplies for the camp. Throughout the journey, Ash will meet survivors who’ll join and aid your camp. Each survivor has their own skills, quirks and personality traits, and you can use their individual strengths through a fairly basic follower management system.
While traversing the world for supplies, Ash encounters a number of demonic entities that will attack on sight. Combat is one of the areas that Fade to Silence falls short. Ash is cumbersome and slow to control, making combat a chore rather than an activity you would actively seek. This is made worse by encountering enemies that only have one or two telegraphed attacks, meaning fights never feel particularly dynamic or exciting.
Ash can evade and counter enemies, but getting the timing right can be tricky when Ash feels so sluggish. It’s a shame that combat is such an integral part of the gameplay experience and a main driver of expansion in the world, as it’s just not that enjoyable.
As you build and develop the camp, each of Ash’s followers gradually opens up about their past in a series of dialogue segments. The writing isn’t fantastic, but it’s a nice idea that adds weight to a world enveloped in darkness and the downfall of its society. Each character has their own distinctive personality, so finding out what makes them tick creates a better sense of just what it is that Ash is fighting for.
Survival plays a big role in Fade to Silence as Ash must manage his hunger and temperature in order to survive. Fire, and by extension the firewood that feeds it, is one of the most valuable assets in the frozen wasteland, which is why you will spend a lot of your time farming for wood. While exploring as Ash you are able to mark areas for the other survivors to farm for you by first hunting a deer or chopping down a tree. Once you have enough survivors you are able to task them with collecting materials, ensuring your camp always has enough in storage.
Collecting materials will also allow you to build and upgrade your camp, adding things like kennels, crafting workshops and potion brewing stations to your campsite. This will also improve Ash’s available arsenal making him more adept in combat, hunting and gathering. There’s a degree of satisfaction to be found in successfully getting the camp to a point of self-sufficiency while you push on with exploration and defeating the Inner Voice.
A dynamic weather system will put players through their paces as they battle blizzards in the wasteland. Temperatures plummet, forcing Ash back to the safety of camp or into a temporary shelter than can provide some warmth and respite from the storm.
Personally, I think the permadeath mode is too big a challenge for players in a game that doesn’t feel balanced enough. The combat all too easily leads to death through the unpredictability of the parrying system, and odd bugs where Ash might clip through the environment when sledding with dogs are simply painful. I spent a little while with the permadeath system, but I ultimately had more fun exploring the wasteland at my own pace and getting to know each one of the survivors.
The inclusion of a co-op mode helps balance the difficulty, as you and a friend can tackle the wasteland together. Taking control of your survivors, a second player can join Ash on expeditions providing some offensive backup or some extra pockets to carry you salvage across the world. It’s a nice idea that adds a social element to the game, but I found the netcode to be a bit too unpredictable while playing with a friend.
Fade to Silence isn’t the best looking game I’ve played recently, but it does have a unique art style that sets it apart from other survival titles. I found performance was a bit choppy, even while playing on a PS4 Pro at 1080p. Performance was also significantly affected during co-op with frame drops and stuttering happening regularly.