Silent Descent is not your typical horror game and it doesn't have a place standing beside triple A giants like Resident Evil or Silent Hill, but it doesn't need to, nor does it mean to. Silent Descent is less of a game and more of an experience and work of art echoing games like Gone Home. Deceptive Games knew they were making something far from the mainstream in terms of horror games and they did so brilliantly. Though it is not without it’s kinks in its gameplay mechanics and lack of replayability, the game makes up for it with it’s perfectly-paced and brilliantly narrated story and it’s simple yet thrilling horror mechanics.
Silent Descent is now available on Steam!
The game begins with a pan-in of a creepy house on a dark, rainy night, in which there is a newspaper with the headline “Woman found dead, husband hangs in next room”, and so begins the descent. On paper, the story of Silent Descent is simple, and that is the story of Samuel and Jess, a husband and wife whose marriage is falling apart from the normal, daily pressures of work life and home life.
The player plays as the husband, Samuel, who is trapped in purgatory and doomed to remember his descent into madness and the murder of his wife. In the game, purgatory is the home of Samuel and Jess, a home that at first appears like any other upper-middle class suburban home. However, when taking look at the finer details that the developer, Deceptive Games, brilliantly placed into the level design, you get a closer look at what’s going on and the story is more tragic and heartbreaking than it is horrific. Interestingly, the game can end 1 of 2 ways: 1. Descend into the depths of hell and meet Satan, ultimately becoming a demon yourself 2. Find a different path and escape purgatory.
The story of Silent Descent is a story told between the lines. The game rewards the player for taking a look around, being mindful of the level design and noticing the slight differences between one level and the next. The game truly shines in its artful delivery of a rather simple story.
For example, the house looks plain and ordinary, but as the story progresses the player will notice more and more empty wine bottles on the floor, tables, and nightstands. This is a tiny detail to signal that there is something seriously wrong with Samuel and Jess’ marriage and that they are turning more and more to alcohol to relieve their stress. Furthermore, more and more packing boxes can be seen stacked throughout the house, foreshadowing that someone will move out.
Most importantly, the game is very well-paced and it's the pace of the game that keeps players on the edge of their seats and continuously reaffirms the idea that anything can be lurking around any corner and in that sense the game uses the player's expectations against them. One of the best examples is around the mid-point of the game, when Samuel's diary mentions that he and his wife will take a trip to hopefully reignite their relationship and remind each other of the love they once had. After the trip, Samuel's diary states that the trip was an incredible success and that he and his wife are doing better than ever.
Reassured and relieved, the player will lay the diary entry back on the table and proceed through the door to the next level and be greeted by this scene:
These stylistic choices by the developers are what makes the game great and shows the powerful storytelling ability of Deceptive Games and in doing so, they live up to their name. This sudden shift creates all sorts of questions in the player's mind: what happened? Where did it all go wrong? Could this man really murder his wife so gruesomely? Thankfully, all those questions will be answered if the player has enough courage to complete the silent descent.
Like the story of Silent Descent, the gameplay is rather simple. The player progresses through the levels or stages of the game, some taking as little as 30 seconds, others including moderately complex puzzles that will take a few minutes to solve. Throughout the game, the player finds letters scattered around the house in the form of Samuel’s diary entries which tell the story of his mundane life and explain his frustration.
The player will not be able to progress to the next level without reading the letters, and later on, the player will have to do other small tasks such as finding levers or buttons hidden throughout the house, or solving simple puzzles like rotating all the picture frames back to their original positions. The in-game mechanics are simple and easy to get the hang of, resulting in a very short learning curve. On the other hand, the tasks begin to feel mundane and pointless very quickly. From things like opening a cabinet to find a button that looks incredibly out of place and pushing it, to pulling four levers scattered around the room.
These random tasks pulled me away from the game and distracted from it’s story and horror mechanics. If pulling the levers or buttons opened a secret hatch or unlocked a cabinet where the next diary entry was hidden, then it would feel like there were some purpose to them. Instead, it’s just an additional pointless thing to do before the game lets you go through the next door. Very rarely there are some jump scares placed throughout the game, but they are few and far between. Rather than being used cheaply, the few amount of jump scares in the game keep the player on their feet and weary of turning every corner and opening every door.
GRAPHICS AND AUDIo
The graphics of the game are minimalistic and simplistic which fit the horror genre well. Because once things start to take a turn for the worst, the sudden shift in visuals from plain, mundane house to blood-spattered walls, or haunting messages scribbled on the wall are striking and well-contrasted. In the latter stages of the game, once the player falls deeper and deeper eventually reaching the depths of hell, it’s interesting to see Deceptive Games’ take on Satan’s lair of fire and stone, but there is nothing we haven’t seen before.
While the demons are grotesque and downright frightening, they pose no real danger, as there is really no way for the player to die in this game (which makes sense seeing that it is set in purgatory). Therefore, once a demon pops out and starts chasing you, the music changes to a typical horror thrilling score, yet if the player simply stands still and is caught, there is no damage or even attack animation from the demon. This lack of consequence completely eliminates the sense of fear and horror, and furthermore creates a sense of detachment from the game.
One interesting and effective choice by the developer is to have an image flash every now and then for a millisecond, much like subliminal advertising. This mechanism works well to create a sense of unease and out of curiosity, I tried print screening to capture some of the subliminal flashes and this was the result:
Later on, once venturing deeper down from purgatory and into the depths, the above image is the first thing the player will see when entering the first stage of hell.
In the latter stages of the game the style of the purgatory home starts to merge with the art style of hell, suggesting that the couple's home life was descending into a hell of it's own.
For fans of the horror genre, perhaps Silent Descent will be a more low-key title when faced with triple A giants like Resident Evil, or Silent Hill, as the game seeks not to spam the player with jump scares and survival horror run-and-hide mechanics. Rather, the game uses the horror genre to tell the all too real and heartbreaking story of a failed marriage.
While the game dramatizes the events—having the husband go crazy and murder his wife—the horror game genre is utilized brilliantly to show the pain and suffering that couples who once loved each other go through when the relationship doesn’t work out. In that way, the game reminded me of the 2014 award-winning film, The Babadook, in which the horror setting was used to show the trauma of a wife whose husband recently passed away, and how her and her son deal with the darkness of losing a loved one.
In the end, while some redundant and unnecessary gameplay mechanics distract from the game’s message and overall goal, the highly detailed level design and powerful storytelling makeup for it. The game only takes a couple hours to complete, so fans of the horror genre or fans of more artistic games like Gone Home should definitely take the Silent Descent and experience the journey provided by Deceptive Games.
|+ Short learning curve||– Some mundane game mechanics|
|+ Highly detailed level design||– Little to no replay value|
|+ Well-done graphics and sound effects||– Player immortality removes element of fear|
|+ Artful storytelling|