Fade to Silence Review
A slow and cumbersome survival slog
Minecraft released in 1.0 nearly ten years ago now, but plenty of survival games similar to it have come out before and since. We’ve been cobbling together resources to construct bases, scrounging up food to stave off the pangs of hunger, and chopping down trees to make the necessary firewood in countless standalone titles and clever conversion mods for well over a decade. Releasing a game into such an oversaturated market requires interesting new mechanics, novel ideas, or some compelling twist to make it stand out among the stiff competition. Fade to Silence is astonishingly devoid of any of these - it’s just another run-of-the-mill survival sim that’s plagued by far too many issues to make it worth recommending in any capacity.
There's a vague story operating beneath the surface of Fade to Silence that's initially intriguing, but it quickly devolves into typical apocalypse fare. You inhabit the grizzled Ash that's awoken and egged on by a mysterious creature known only as the Inner Voice. You emerge from a dark cave into a snow-covered landscape riddled with sharp black spires and fleshy creatures. That dour first impression quickly wears off as soon as your daughter runs up to you and gleefully welcomes you back as though you simply left to grab some groceries. There's a backstory to the setting that unfolds throughout cutscenes that depict the stereotypical experiments gone wrong that caused what was once Earth to crumble into the state it's currently in. It's nice to have a more overt narrative included here, but it's so paint-by-numbers that it never manages to compel with its clichés.
Fade to Silence is largely just another humdrum early access survival project that somehow managed to make it out and onto consoles in one piece. It’s chock full of your typical resource gathering, landscape traversing, and base building that all function as intended; but none of it is polished enough to make it feel like anything other than a checklist of features it’s supposed to have as a game in this genre. The controls are easy to grasp and simple, so you'll be spending most of your time sprinting around while tapping the interact button to collect anything and everything. Picking up and managing those resources is incredibly stressful and cumbersome thanks to exceedingly limited inventory space and the deficient menuing systems that require you to go several layers deep and flip between screens just to take something out of your home camp's storage. You're able to use those resources to enhance your base that'll get attacked by enemies when a meter fills up. You're able to place down defenses like ballistas in a top-down view, and you're afforded the ability to rotate and place structures accordingly. The pulled-out perspective makes placing structures easier, but wall placement is restricted by a predefined grid system that’s frustrating to wrestle with. All the genre mainstays are here, but none of them feel fleshed out enough to warrant their inclusion.
There are a couple of interesting gameplay additions to spice up the otherwise rote survival mechanisms, but they aren’t executed well enough to save Fade to Silence from mediocrity. As you explore, you’ll come across other survivors that you can recruit into your settlement. There are only a handful of them to find, but they’re required to build structures that grant you access to higher-tiered craftables. You can also send them out to collect resources, but the results of these expeditions are so difficult to pin down that you’re better left doing most of the foraging yourself. What are supposed to be complex individuals that you grow to care about are actually just soulless NPC’s that spout canned dialogue.
The game actually has a clearly-defined structure which is a welcome change of pace for the genre, but it’s not enough to keep the pace from slowing to a crawl. There are clearly-defined regions on the map, and each one has an outpost that must be liberated before moving onward. Doing so nets you an extra life that lets you avoid the main difficulty’s permadeath and grants you access to an incredibly useful fast travel point. Clearing out these outposts isn’t very entertaining since it involves taking out fleshy nests by mashing the X button in quick time events and smacking enemies about, but it’s nice having notable climaxes amid the monotonous woodcutting, deer hunting, and ore mining that most of the game consists of.
Fade to Silence’s combat is abhorrently underwhelming. You’re required to partake in the game’s clunky melee combat system to dispatch most of your foes, and none of it feels satisfying. The stiff and incessantly reused attack animations make both quick and heavy strikes feel clunky to use, and there’s a completely misplaced stamina system tacked on in a feeble attempt to balance things out. Heavy attacks use a huge chunk of your stamina bar, but there’s nothing stopping you from doing an attack that you don’t have sufficient stamina for as long as your bar isn’t depleted. As such, you only have to wait for your stamina to refill a tiny bit before unleashing another heavy attack which you might as well use exclusively since it knocks back your foes in addition to dealing more damage. There’s a dodge roll and a block/parry system, but they’re rendered completely useless given that you can chain together heavy attacks indefinitely. You’ll have to craft better armor or a more powerful sword in order to have a chance against the tougher enemies that’ll one-shot you otherwise, but even those fights become trivial once you do. Every enemy encounter devolves into a mind-numbingly repetitive series of events that’ll have you avoiding combat because it’s more tedious than it is treacherous.
The handful of enemy types you’ll encounter during your treks across the frozen tundra are reused ad nauseam, and they pose little threat given how remarkably limited their movesets are. Their designs are neat - bright red bits protrude from their rotted and spiny flesh that makes them stand out against the overwhelmingly white environment - but none of the enemies are fun to take on in combat. The AI is robotic in its movement and determination - once an enemy spots you, it’ll immediately begin moving in a straight line toward your position until it is within range, upon which it’ll immediately initiate an attack. There are the obligatory projectile enemies, melee-focused fighters, and big bosses; but they’re all so unsophisticated and brazenly reused that none of them feel special despite their neat visual designs.
The surprisingly striking enemy designs are influenced by Fade to Silence’s post-apocalyptic setting that shows ample promise, but it goes completely underutilized. The third-person perspective gives you a good view of dilapidated structures and hollowed-out homes of a civilization past, but none of it proves as interesting as it seems. The snow-covered buildings are left nearly empty and show no signs of their prior inhabitants which would’ve gone a long way in making this setting feel more lived in. The game’s intriguing monsters and unique ideas (like the spherical masses of junk that hover above the landscape) are equally uninteresting after initial exposure. It’s all neat for about an hour upon which the shiny veneer withers away and all you’re left with are baron structures and annoying obstacles.
While the game’s apocalyptic world is intent on making you feel discomfort and dread, the atrocious voice acting and stilted cutscenes make for cringe-inducing hilarity that causes unfathomable amounts of tonal inconsistencies. While things start off well with a monologue from the shadowy Inner Voice, the game begins showing its true colors as soon as any other character begins speaking. The voice acting is full of chipper optimism, and your character’s daughter Alice frequently approaches you at base camp to skip around and lightheartedly chirp about how happy she is. The survivors you encounter along the way are about as two-dimensional as they come, and you’ll get more out of every characters’ bio page on the Fade to Silence website than you ever will by interacting with them in-game. The hammy dialogue delivery, frequently repeated lines, and exaggerated character personalities stand in stark contrast to the bleak world and menacing Inner Voice antagonist - none of it feels quite right.
Fade to Silence’s current technical state on consoles doesn’t help things feel any better. While the most recent launch patch has helped smooth over some of the clipping and framerate issues, it did not eradicate them. Hitches and pop-in occur frequently - especially while running about the game’s open landscapes - and poorly defined hitboxes will cause you to get knocked down despite there being a wall between you and an attacker. The game’s visuals are consistently unattractive with excessive dithering that gives everything an overly soft appearance, and low-quality textures muddle any finer details. The game’s sound effects are of similarly poor quality, and the dialogue will frequently cut off before a line has finished being delivered. This lack of polish extends to the menus that are cumbersome to navigate as they have no D-pad functionality. Fade to Silence may no longer be in early access, but it certainly feels like it still is.
Fade to Silence does allow you to drag a friend into the fray via online co-op, but it does little to alleviate the game’s many underlying problems. An invited partner can take the place of a follower that you’ve recruited to help you gather resources and fend off foes. It’s functional, but severely limited. Your party member can’t stray too far away, they take the place of one of your followers who could be doing something more useful, and they don’t carry any of the progress they make or the items they find over into their own playthrough. It’s nice that the co-op is there, but it doesn’t do much to alleviate the monotony of painfully substandard survival gameplay.
The typical survival gameplay on display in Fade to Silence is appallingly average at its best and unbearably amateurish at its worst. The resource gathering is boring, the traversal is uninteresting, the combat is clunky, the tone is all over the place, the visuals are unflattering, and performance is inconsistent. There isn’t anything on display here that hasn’t been done better before, other than some striking visual designs and a novel post-apocalyptic setting, but they both go woefully underutilized. There is fun to be had in persevering amid adversity to deck out your character with the best equipment and build the best base, but all the work it takes to get there is often excruciatingly tedious and insufferable. There are plenty of notably special survival games out there, but Fade to Silence isn’t one of them.