Game Review: Downfall

[TW: eating disorders, animal cruelty, suicide]

What the fuck did I just play?

Coincidentally, Downfall went on sale right after I finished The Cat Lady. As you know, I was very impressed with The Cat Lady so I was excited to play its predecessor.

Like The Cat Lady, Downfall is a horror adventure game from Harvester Games/Screen 7. You play as Joe Davis, a man who is just looking to spend a single night in a hotel with his wife, Ivy. Soon things start going horribly wrong when Ivy goes missing and Joe has no choice but to search the hotel for her.

Downfall is….all over the place, really. The art runs the gamut from pretty to surreal to WTF what is that? I wasn’t too crazy on the character models, though, particularly the way they moved their heads as if speaking their dialogue (which is completely unvoiced) but it wasn’t in sync with the words at all.

The gameplay is pretty standard point and click adventure fare. You wander around picking up objects, and you use those objects on other objects. Occasionally you can combine objects. If you’ve ever played a game like this you know what to expect. Sometimes you are asked to make a choice which can affect the game’s ending.

The “map screen” is really pretty.

I think by far my biggest problem with this game is that it lacks cohesion. Joe has access to all four floors of the hotel early on, and he has an overarching goal, but often I just found myself wandering around picking up objects with no idea as to how to use them or whether I needed them or not. The game doesn’t really give you a whole lot of guidance either, so don’t be surprised if it turns out the solution to a puzzle is actually on the third floor and you didn’t think to check it because you had no reason to go there. Then again, this entire game is pretty trippy, so maybe hunting around for random objects is part of the experience, or it could just be a way to provide padding for what is a pretty short game. (Just a heads up, the game allows you to save about twenty times before forcing you to overwrite, I beat the game in about twenty five saves, and I save very, very frequently).

If The Cat Lady‘s thing was depression and suicide, Downfall’s thing is eating disorders and suicide. My issue with this aspect of it is that Downfall seems much less mature in the handling of its subject matter than The Cat Lady. The Cat Lady was very violent and not afraid to punch you in the gut, but it felt much more purposeful, and it was much easier for me to feel for Susan than Joe. In fact, I found Agnes, the young woman who rescues Joe by digging him out of a grave (it makes sense in context) to be a far more interesting character even if all she did most of the time was follow Joe around.  I couldn’t help but feel that Downfall‘s use of violence was, well, gratuitous and also kind of misogynistic (although, considering what I know from having played through to the end, it makes sense). If you look at The Cat Lady as starting from a dark place and slowly working it’s way up to the surface, Downfall, is, appropriately enough, a descent.

Suffice it to say that this game, like The Cat Lady, is for adult audiences only, and if you’re sensitive to depictions of violence against women and children, cruelty to animals (I feel so sorry for the cat in this game) talk of eating disorders, suicide, cannibalism, graphic depictions of bodies with their entrails hanging out, or full frontal female nudity you….might not want to play this, just to be safe. Seriously, this game makes you do horrible things.

Apart from everything I just mentioned, I did have some issues with not being able to select an item in my inventory even after clicking it twenty times (it only seems to register if you click it in a certain place). Sometimes the in-game text was a bit hard to read as well.

In sum, Downfall is not my most favourite game ever. I still vastly prefer The Cat Lady and would recommend it over Downfall any day of the week. If you’re really curious, I’d recommend getting it on sale or waiting for the updated version on Steam Greenlight to be released (which will include voice acting and an updated interface among other features).

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