Premature Evaluation: Fade to Silence

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This week’s Premature Evaluation sees Fraser swap a regular Scottish winter for an eternal, supernatural winter that has destroyed humanity in survival sandbox Fade to Silence. Festive!

I really should be playing games about sunshine and whimsy with warm colour palettes and chipper NPCs — here, in the depths of winter, it’s gloomy enough as it is. Fade to Silence has huskies though! Well, they’re wolves, but they do pull sleds. Isn’t that lovely? Winter’s not all bad. Yes, Fade to Silence is a relentlessly miserable survival game set in a post-apocalyptic frozen hellscape, but I’ve always wanted to ride a sled, and I like to think that I’m not the sort of person who would let the end of the world stand in the way of his dreams.

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The sled was gone. Again. And with it, the wolves. A blizzard had swept in as I searched the area where I left them, blinding, freezing and slowing me down. With snow up to my knees I trudged through the wilderness, hoping that maybe I could get back to the base. I was starving too, of course. I’d foolishly left all the food in the sled. I kept walking, but I was never going to make it back in time. The white void took me.

I’m not going to blame the sled for my demise. Not entirely. Besides, it’s hard to hold a grudge when I have another five lives, or when there are so many other dangers to worry about. Aside from the occasional bird or deer, almost every creature in the game is some sort of mutant-monster-demon-thing that may or may not come from a giant floating chunk of a city, suspended upside down in the air. They look a little like Dead Space’s beasties, but not nearly as sneaky or aggressive. They do sometime pop out of the snow, though. Snow’s the real danger. Well, it’s a byproduct.

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The horrendous cold is a significantly greater threat than any monster. Away from a fire, it’s freezing, and it gets colder still when the sun goes down. It’s utterly deadly during a blizzard. Even brief journeys require the occasional stop to find or erect a shelter and then place a campfire. There are a few buildings with steel drums that can serve as temporary camps too, letting you craft and pass the time during a storm or when it’s dark. It’s a constant threat, though.

I wanted to build my sled straight away, obviously, but it quickly became clear that I’d need quite a few resources, probably a follower and definitely a wolf. Since it’s a single-player game, you can’t rely on other players to help you build up a settlement or take on the increasingly tough challenges, but you don’t need to go it alone, either. Fade to Silence’s hook is that it’s a group survival game, not unlike excellent zombie sandbox State of Decay.

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Unfortunately this is also one of the least developed parts of the game, with only three recruitable followers. Four people in a hut isn’t even a party, let alone a community. Even so, these followers do shake up the most boring part of the survival cycle: gathering basic resources. Followers can be sent out of the settlement to do tasks like hunting deer or felling trees in specific areas where the flora and fauna haven’t been corrupted, and inside the settlement they can build structures and defences as well as doing a spot of crafting.

While this removes a lot of the drudgery, it also means that you have to make sure that your followers are protected, well-fed and warm. It’s another vulnerability, even if it makes life easier. Too often, survival games conflate inconvenience with challenge, but Fade to Silence feels no less brutal for the loss of that grind. Some of it’s still there; it’s just optional. So you can go out and shoot arrows at deer or chop away at a tree, and there’s loot out there waiting to be discovered, but these activities are a handy way to speed things up in a pinch rather than a constant necessity.

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Actually managing these followers is a joyless task. Fade to Silence’s interface is almost as big an obstacle as the weather. When menus do actually work — which they most often don’t — they are slow and frustratingly inconsistent.

When I placed my first hut, for instance, I was told that I couldn’t assign a worker because I didn’t have any. I had one standing right next to it. Then I hit repair and he started building it. With building number two, he started automatically. While that can be done from the settlement menu, you have to physically bring a follower to a resource spot if you want them to start gathering. That worked about 50 percent of the time for me.

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Followers can also be brought out on expeditions, helping out in fights. They are largely useless, serving either as a distraction or an occasional increase in damage, when they can hit something. They are also continuously getting stuck on the admittedly very rough terrain. Thankfully, they have something akin to Creepy Watson syndrome, so they do typically appear when they are needed.

I still wish they could do all of my fighting for me, frankly. When you happen across something a bit unfriendly, you can and should lock onto it. If you don’t, you’ll just stagger around like an idiot. The first problem is that this makes the occasional fight against multiple enemies a right pain in the arse, especially when there’s no way to quickly switch targets unless you’re using a controller. Unfortunately, locking onto a target comes with its own problem: a fixed camera that manages to obscure everything. It’s a cinematic angle that’s completely useless for combat.

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With tighter controls and an improved camera, the fights would be significantly better than what most survival games offer. It’s what you’d expect from a third-person action game with blocking, dodging, timing your parries and chaining together attacks, light and heavy. It’s simple and the enemies rarely pose a viable threat, but slick animation, kinetic attacks and grotesque monster designs keep things interesting. Compare it to something like Conan Exiles’ poorly animated Skyrim-like flailing and it’s a serious improvement.

My closest brushes with death in a fight have usually been down to performance, despite the dodgy camera. Even on the lowest settings I was rarely getting past 40fps and it never settled. The lowest settings also introduce a whole bunch of visual glitches, so it’s just not worth it.

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I persevered however not just because I really wanted that bloody sled, but because Fade to Silence does feel like a genuine attempt to avoid a lot of the more staid traditions of survival crafting affairs. And its goals seem lofty — it’s not just games like State of Decay that it evokes, it’s also reminiscent of bigger, open-world games like Horizon: Zero Dawn, too. It’s a cold, desaturated game, but it’s also hauntingly beautiful at times, and there’s a flashiness there that’s not often seen in early access sandboxes.

A few hours in I did at least have to mute it. Ash, the protagonist, is a pretty quiet, stoic fella, but he’s accompanied by the voice of the terrible nuisance who brought him back from the dead (for some reason). I get the intent and it worked well in The Darkness and its sequel, where Mike Patton (Faith No More, Mr. Bungle, Tomahawk and a million other bands) lent his pipes to the titular antagonist, but here it’s just aggravating. It’s like inviting a toxic League of Legends player to watch you play a single-player game. Despite resurrecting you whenever you die (until his final life is spent), he’ll constantly try to get you to kill yourself. It’s just this relentless, negative voice echoing around in your head and most of us probably have one of those already.

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No longer pestered by that disembodied voice, I got back to work, eventually finding some wolves when I cleansed a corrupt totem near one of the bosses. Maybe they were inside it? Anyway, treasure acquired. It had all been building up to this, so I was giddy with anticipation as I made my way back to the settlement to build their pen. It came with a ready-to-go sled, which I promptly jumped on… and which teleported me outside of my base. I stood there and watched as my wolves ran off, leaving me to face an invading force of monsters. It was not great.

My second attempt also teleported me outside of the settlement, but this time I was able to follow the wolves who, as it turned out, were heading towards the sled. So the sled also teleported out of the settlement but to a different place. It was all, and continues to be, incredibly confusing. Much like driving a sled!

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Yes, sleds are awful. The worst mode of transport, unless you have flying reindeer. I did not. Like The Witcher 3’s Roach, the wolves sort of have a mind of their own, but it’s even more pronounced. As we sped through the decayed forest, I offered them suggestions about where we might go, and they just did their thing, which mainly involved getting stuck on everything. They got stuck. The sled got stuck. The reins got stuck. Walking would have been faster. Then, finally, I was forced off my sled because the wolves didn’t like the area ahead of us. I got back on to turn them around, but was immediately ejected again.

As I stormed off, leaving my obstinate pets behind me, I couldn’t have known it would be the last time I’d see them. Twenty minutes later I’d be a frozen corpse.

Fade to Silence is out now on Steam for £22.49/$26.99/€26.99.

46 Comments

  1. JustAPigeon says:

    Folks, have you had a look at what this site looks like through mobile lately? The adverts are obnoxious as fuck.

    • Premium User Badge

      Drib says:

      The ads have been getting worse and worse since RPS was sold to Eurogamer.

      • Baines says:

        It is hard to imagine that RPS has gotten worse in regards to ads. RPS is the primary reason I run an adblock, and that was due to how bad the site had already become well before the Eurogamer purchase.

        (RPS ran more total ads that most sites I frequented, had more intrusive ad placement, had more questionable ads, had ads that drove my CPU usage through the roof (to the point that simply loading RPS could bring my browser to a crawl until the tab was killed), and even had a few browser hijacker ads.)

        • ludde says:

          Those CPU hogging ads were atrocious. I’d have RPS up in another tab and hear my CPU fan max out, wondering what the hell was going on.

      • woodsey says:

        All I have is a SW:BF2 ad at the top and a few little boxes running down the side banner. I don’t get it?

    • Micky Nozawa says:

      And then they wonder and complain why people use adblockers.

      • Zeewolf says:

        I actually started browsing this site using Netscape for a while, because that wouldn’t run the worst ads (incompatible) and then at least I couldn’t be accused of using an adblocker. Then I realized it was silly and hardly worked in the first place, and just started blocking the ads.

        RPS ads really are the worst of the worst. They make everything slow as molasses, they keep downloading shit in the background for no apparent reason at all (I have a monthly data limit), and they’re usually offensive as hell. If you complain about sexism in games, maybe stop making your own money off sexist ads? Do as I say, not as I do, eh?

    • Megatron says:

      I am a bad person. Making Horace cry since Nov 2017.

      • Fnord73 says:

        Its really annoying if you are using someone elses computer and dont want to disable adblocker or mess with their system. “Yes I am a bad person” every fcking article.

        • Megatron says:

          Logging in to the website defeats the notice….for now. I’ve updated my bookmarks to do that first.

    • Vilos Cohaagen says:

      agreed the adverts are awful and often full of malware and no we can’t report them because there are so many and they change every time. I also hate the bad person button. Ihave to run an adblocker plus other stuff like vpns for good reasons. At least on PCGamer I pay for their club and get ad free reading, but on RPS when I was a supporter John got into an argument with me about how I had to view ads too. Rant over, but RPS is a site I visit less and less, especially as many if the writers I liked are now back at PCGamer weirdly

      • ludde says:

        I miss the days of the original four. Hasn’t been the same since Jim left, or even Nathan. Didn’t really find the need to visit other gaming websites back then.

        • Blad the impaler says:

          I miss Jim – but changes gotta change. The content here is no better or worse than it ever was, which is to say it’s worth coming back to. The ads, on the other hand. Yes, I block – because I can.

        • RuySan says:

          I still enjoy the website but it definitelly hasn’t the same soul. The new kids just don’t have the same game knowledge and experience as the old core members and it shows.

        • Megatron says:

          Jim and Kieron are sorely missed. :*(

        • Dilapinated says:

          Does anyone have any good not-quite-equivalent-but websites?

          I have read RPS for the past.. Jeez. Decade? Subscribed for a couple of years.. But the system farted too many times. I Adblock Everything because [if I use the word ‘accessibility’ on a gaming site, that’s basically rubbing myself in BBQ sauce & lying in a lion pit, right? But: Accessibility. I have ADD & PTSD. This bs makes the website unaccessible to me. So I block it.

          Adblocking: Not actually indicative of moral standards! :thumbs_up:]

          But I digress into the murky waters of skeevy guilt-trip marketing ploys. Thankfully Ublock Origin seems to save me from such things, at least.

          Anyone got any good recs for a queer-indie-SJW type that don’t try to kick you off the site or play your heartstrings for not spending half yr processing power (psychological & CPU) on “BIG RUSSIAN TITY IN UR AREA” “10 WORST FACELIFT FAILS” every morning?

          Re Writers: Honestly.. The writer I miss most is Porp. Well. Porp & Keiron, but Keiron’s career’s only gone onwards and upwards, so.. More power to him, but idk what Porp’s doing these days. It feels like she was sidelined after the Twine bubble popped, which is unfortunate. She wrote some damn good stuff.

        • jonahcutter says:

          The writing has fallen off a cliff. Both in their insight into the games they review and the quality of the writing itself. Their attempts at actual journalism are bungling at best. And their attempts at humor pieces are better left unspoken of.

          Yeah I’ve been basically coming around to pick up whatever interesting tidbits come out in the comments sections by other gamers. Which themselves seem more and more sparse nowadays. I think a good amount of the more interesting site regulars have moved on as well. There’s a lot more chaff to sort than there used to be.

      • Caiman says:

        RPS has some of the most offensive ads I’ve ever seen outside of a porn site. John, if you want us to view your ads, get better ads.

      • Chaz says:

        I used to have my blocker on all the time for this site, as they slowed my browser down to a crawl when scrolling down the pages. It was pretty egregious.

        However I disabled it a while ago and found that things are now a considerable lot better. No more performance issues and the amount of ads seems somewhat less than they were. Currently on this page there is the main background ad, I count 8 small ads down the side in amongst the quick links and another 8 small ads at the bottom of the article before the comments, however 5 of those 8 at the bottom are links to RPS articles. Oh yeah, and the 8 down the side are spaced out such that there’s never more than one visible on your screen at a time.

        This is on a standard browser btw (Chrome), not mobile.

        So give it a shot and disable your ad blocker, and if you still feel it’s bad you can always re-enable it. Personally I’ve not felt the need since disabling it a while ago now.

    • Creeping Death says:

      Loading this article in my browser results in 25 different ad elements getting blocked, easily 3 times as many as most other gaming related sites I visit. On mobile I quite often have to scroll through a list of ads that are longer than the main article to get to comments.

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        phuzz says:

        I block ads as a matter of course (and subscribe), so I don’t really look at how many are getting blocked, but yes, 13 domains does seem like a lot. That said, a random page on kotaku.com (not the uk version) is blocking 29 elements.
        Anyway, don’t most mobile browsers do adblocking too?

    • fish99 says:

      I’ve been meaning to mention this for a while. I counted 13 separate ads on one page on mobile, and most of them are click-bait sites. They’re full-page width as well.

      • fish99 says:

        Actually there’s 17 ads on this page on mobile.

      • Kefren says:

        13 ads blocked for me, desktop browser. I can’t visit RPS on my tablet because the ads make things slow, unpleasant, unreliable, and irritate me (somehow including my location in the ads even though I know I turned all that off on my tablet).

        • Premium User Badge

          phuzz says:

          The ad company just looks up the IP address that’s downloading an image and takes a guess at your location from that. It’s usually pretty accurate, to the city level at least.

          • goodpoints says:

            How 3 stock photo models from Schmuckshire are disrupting a billion dollar industry!

    • neems says:

      Curious. I’m using my Kindle fire and the only adverts I have are the block of 8 underneath the article, which aren’t especially intrusive.

      • fish99 says:

        Try on a phone. The front page isn’t too bad, but the articles are more ad than content.

    • Spakkenkhrist says:

      A lot of people seem to be complaining about the content of some of the ads which (correct me if I’m wrong) are based on the user’s browsing habits.

      • Hypocee says:

        You’re wrong. I use NoScript on desktop and mobile Firefox, so I only see those ads when I visit from work, where I’m in incognito mode. Porn ads are the default with no history. link to rockpapershotgun.com

    • ashleys_ears says:

      Despite this thread getting more replies than most RPS articles get total comments, none of their writers are ever going to acknowledge any of these complaints even exist. Go on, team. Prove me wrong.

      • Premium User Badge

        Graham Smith says:

        Yo! I passed these comments on to our ads team back on the 20th, but it’s Christmas and people are on holiday (me included).

        We do a number of things to try to make our adverts palatable: they lazyload so they don’t take up too much memory, there should only ever be one visible per viewport when scrolling, we ditched RevContent (at great expense) because the ads didn’t meet our standards. We’ve still got a way to go but we’re working on it, including offering a way for readers to pay for an ad free version of the site. I don’t believe our ads have got worse since the Gamer Network acquisition: GN have always provided RPS’s adverts, and the changes we’ve made mean we show fewer not more now than previously.

        (At least one thing is a bug: ads on mobile shouldn’t be appearing directly under post header images.)

        In other words, we do what we can and we’re always working on doing more. Unfortunately the fact remains that we’re reliant on adverts to earn money. Not so we can buy ourselves swimming pools, but so we can afford to pay our writers and offer all this writing at no direct cost. As I’ve said before: I can’t stop people ad blocking and I understand why people do it, but adblocking makes advertising worse, not better. If you see another media company “pivot to video”, adblocking is partly responsible.

        • Hypocee says:

          Thank you for fixing the ads, Graham and team. This is the most recent significant flareup of complaints I’m aware of and the most recent reply by RPS staff, so I figure it’s only fair to post here. I visited from work yesterday to look some stuff up and noticed I was no longer flinching on the way to the comments. Google’s block contains no Evony or Humiliated Woman ads (nor any throbbing pus-filled boils). Administration’s a thankless task, and administration of the necessary(?) evil of shitty little clickbait microads doubly so. For what it’s worth, at least one person noticed you removing Outbrain.

          Thank you. May the site not implode without porn, addiction and misogyny revenue, and may Google’s robots learn quickly to advertise things that aren’t your own articles.

  2. FredSaberhagen says:

    How stable was the game? You mention low framerates, but did it ever… freeze?

    • SBLux says:

      Ice would like to snow the answer to this question too.

      • Premium User Badge

        maenckman says:

        NIce one!

        • Dilapinated says:

          Hopefully the balance-fixes won’t be Blizzard-standards. Icy why these things are always going to be a chilly topic, but the conversation around this really needs to defrost for the genre to move forwards into sunnier climes.

  3. Vasily R says:

    I was going to get this, but now I’m glad that I didn’t. It still looks like an interesting concept, I’ll just wait until it gets a little more stable and fleshed out.

    • scottyp4 says:

      As a person that bought Fade to Silence day 1, and who has more hours then they probably should playing the game. I’d say that’s your best option. Unless you really love early access and want to be constantly on forums helping devs with bug reports, I’d say for sure wait. That being said it is a good game, and it’s going to get better, it just can get…frustrating a lot as far as the bugs go.

  4. Megatron says:

    I hate snow in games because it’s never snow. It’s a painted texture. It’s a shaped mound on the ground. It’s a clever shader. It’s always a simple illusion that, for me, is really hard to accept as ‘realistic’. Thirty years of graphical upgrades and it feels like we’re still at the level of high school drama sets with it: painted flats and some cotton wool being dropped from the ceiling.

    Playing ACIII, I was surprised to see them modelling heavy snow drifts, and allowing the player model/npcs to create furrows in it: a nice step forwards but still crude (which screenshots above suggest this game is also doing).

    Do any games get closer than this? Has snow ever been simulated in a more complex and realistic fashion? We can do great things with water simulation now, perhaps it’s time for snow?

    • neems says:

      Steep perhaps? Granted it’s a sports game, so maybe not what you’re after.

  5. Rince says:

    They already lost me with the protagonist.

    The only Ash that I’m somewhat interest to play as is the one with the shotgun. And he’s not him. Not by a thousand miles.

  6. elvirais says:

    That’s not a city in the sky, that’s that Amazon zeppelin with delivery drones. #theendisnigh

  7. vorador says:

    Interesting, but for the looks of it way too early access. Buggy, incomplete and not fun.