Downfall is one of the most confusing games I’ve ever played. The description of the story on Steam says that “things go from bad to worse, and from worse… to insanity…” but I would describe it as things going from weird to insanity to strangely comedic then back to insanity and then just kind of hovers there for the rest of the way.
Downfall is a point and click adventure without any pointing or clicking; it has all the tropes of a point and click adventure but because it’s a 2D sidescroller all you need to play are the arrows keys on your keyboard which I quite like because it’s easy (you can play the whole game one-handed). It’s developed by Harvester Games as a psychological thriller which works well for a point and click adventure because it forces emphasis on the story to be immersive instead of gameplay mechanics which are minimal: the problem then comes from creating an immersive story.
I didn’t like the story at first because it just seemed random. It felt like it was trying a bit too hard to be thrilling with overly obvious “thriller” elements then there were parts with weird out-of-place comedy (some of which were quite funny) so for a good chunk of the story I was just confused as to whether or not I should take it seriously. As the story progressed I ended up quite liking it. I can best describe it as a series of interesting set pieces that at first appear to be unrelated to one another but end up fitting quite nicely in the storyline. The first thing I found off-putting was the dialogue that at times was unrealistic with pretty average voice acting.
What I did enjoy was the art design. The backgrounds are all drawings with an aesthetic level of detail put into them that reminded me of the PlayStation One days when backgrounds were amazing works of arts. The characters are all drawings too with pretty basic design and animation but they all fit the aesthetics well so they can’t be faulted. The story takes you on a ride through different levels of insanity with each level crazier than the last so it’s fun sitting back and seeing how crazy it can get.
The gameplay is typical of a point and click adventure: come across a problem, find item to fix problem, fix problem with item, progress to next problem (you also have an inventory to store multiple items just like any point and click). Because it’s a 2D sidescoller a lot of the frustration of not knowing where to go or what to do is taken out, because it’s pretty impossible to miss anything as it tells you with a big indicator showing you everything you can interact with, but in doing so the game has also taken out any real exploration.
In most point and click adventures the challenge comes from finding the right item to progress or finding out what to do with the items you already have, in Downfall it’s all quite straight forward. The 2D nature means you never miss an item and most items become designated to something before you even gain access to it so it’s only ever as challenging as a 10 piece jigsaw puzzle. There’s never any threat of danger so it’s quite lacking in thrilling gameplay, there are times when you think you are in danger but you quickly discover that there’s nothing you can do so it’s just a scripted sequence masked in gameplay. There are dialogue choices that give you minor control over the conversations you have effecting how things happen later in the game with multiple endings, so there’s some replay value. All in all I was rather unimpressed by the gameplay but it’s the storyline that’s important so there’s no real point in making it super challenging anyway; they had a cool story and concentrated on telling it: I appreciate that.
I hit a wave of nostalgia jumping into this game because it has the look and feel of something from the 90’s. The art style and the minimalist game play took me back to the excited kid I was trying to get games to run on my worthless IBM. I would definitely say it’s lacking in places but it also shows a lot of heart and there’s more good than bad. As a thriller it more tries to leave you unsettled than straight up scare you so there’s no cheap jump scares or anything like that. It provides you with a set of themes and ideas intended to cause a level of dissonance in your head or just creep and gross you out. Downfall is self-aware and does exactly what it intends to do: provide a psychological thrill ride.
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