Review: Downfall (Harvester Games)

Some background on this game first. Downfall was Harvester Games’ first game, released in 2009. They then released The Cat Lady in 2012, and finally, remade Downfall, and released THAT in 2016. This is the 2016 version of Downfall – with me so far?

I haven’t played the original version of Downfall – apparently it’s roughly the same, story wise, but with no voice acting, different controls, and the remake has added a lot of content. Because of this, it’s recommended that you play The Cat Lady before this. I’d recommend doing so – The Cat Lady is one of the finest point ‘n’ clicks ever made (provided you can stomach the horror aspect of it).

Similar to The Cat Lady, Downfall is a 2D adventure game with strong horror elements. VERY strong, in places – it’s got some of the most graphic imagery I’ve ever seen in a game. It’s all presented in a very unique style that ranges from beautiful, to janky as hell. Some of the character animations in particular are… interesting. The animations often seem to have too few frames to sit well with the handdrawn art style. Still, the overall effect – mostly monochrome with the occasional splash of colour – works well. And, as previously mentioned, some of the imagery is… well, it’s bloody disturbing. As somebody that’s played a lot of horror games, and seen a lot of horror movies, my jaw dropped several times at some of the stuff onscreen. It’s not for the faint of heart.

Sound design is similar, in that it’s occasionally janky, but mostly, very effective. The voice acting is hit and miss, and made worse by the obvious lack of mixing – you can have two characters standing next to each other having a conversation, and it sounds like one is right next to the mic, and the other is shouting from a clifftop half a mile away. Music is generally excellent – mostly warped, asynchronous, nails-on-a-chalkboard stuff, with the occasional bit of rock/metal.

Gameplay mostly consists of traditional point ‘n’ clicking – pick up a strange assortment of items and use them in the right places to trigger the next bit of story. The puzzles require a bit of thought, but are never frustrating – I only had to resort to a walkthrough once, and I’m terrible at these sorts of games. There’s quite a bit of backtracking, and no run button (that I was aware of anyway), which did occasionally get annoying, but it did help make the environments feel more like real places, rather than just levels to move through.

It took me just under five hours to finish the game, and that was with taking my time, exploring everywhere, and not skipping any cutscenes. Honestly, for these sorts of games, that length is pretty much perfect. Much longer, and I tend to lose interest – when a game is trying to tell a concise, self-contained story, padding it out with unnecessary filler can often dampen the overall product. There are multiple endings, and some story-affecting choices, but not really anything compelling enough to replay it.

Story and dialogue is where Downfall shines, however. It’s hard to explain any of the story without spoiling it a bit, but it effectively deals with quite serious real world issues such as depression and marital problems, while successfully weaving these themes into a more traditional horror narrative. In terms of theme and atmosphere, the closest game I can think of (aside from The Cat Lady) is Silent Hill 2 – the undisputed king of all horror games. The dialogue is generally well written, with just enough humour and dryness in the lines and delivery to make the characters believable (sound mixing issues aside).

While the individual part of Downfall are sometimes subpar and often janky, the game as a whole is, like The Cat Lady, a masterpiece, and one of the most interesting and unique horror/adventure games you’re ever likely to play. You won’t forget this one in a hurry.

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