First posted on 07 April 2011. Last updated on 08 April 2011.
Downfall is a rare positive example that video games do not need advanced realistic 3D graphics to provide a rich narrative framework for their stories. To describe Downfall is to describe a game that mixes puzzles with horror and gore of Stephen King and Clive Barker. The game explores, through a number of supernatural themes, the fragility of life and the human psyche. This is done, in part, by having multiple endings to the game and by exploring the characters' past through different timelines that are played out both linearly and nonlinearly.
The story of Downfall starts when Joe and Ivy Davis, a married couple, stop over due to an emergency and have to spend the night in a roadside hotel, oddly named Quiet Haven. It is clear early on in the story that the couple is having some marital problems that may be causing Ivy to act strange and erratic. Their world is turned upside down the next morning when Joe discovers that Ivy has gone missing. Joe then finds himself in an even stranger mystery surrounding the disappearance of his wife when he learns that a demented woman, by the name of Sophie, has actually been haunting the guests at the hotel and turning them insane, even to the point that they killing themselves so she may feed on their bodies and souls.
The storytelling in this game is deliberately ambiguous. It is unclear whether the manifestations at the hotel and the town are just an extension of Sophie's supernatural power to affect reality or a bizarre delusion created by Joe himself. The narrative is nonlinear in that it jumps back and forth between different timelines in order to explore the background histories of the different characters and to mix in different challenges and puzzles across these timelines. An example of this narrative device is a scene where you learn about Joe's past and his previous relation to the hotel, thus hinting that Joe himself may also have a case of amnesia. The puzzles that are mixed into this narrative can be a bit frustrating to solve because they require a lot of time and patience, but they are not impossibly unfair.
You are well advised to save your game frequently. There are plenty of chances to get yourself killed in this game. This occurs at least twice in the game where you can be killed off with little warning and once in the game where you can be get killed by a minor character that technically has little or no importance to the main story.
The game is built using Adventure Game Studio. The interface is simple and nonintrusive. All the major commands are accessible using the mouse. The game supports unlimited save slots. There is no audio speech in this game. Rather, text dialogs are displayed on screen as the characters speak. You can then click to select your responses that are displayed at the bottom of the screen.
With modesty, I can say Downfall is amongst my favorite indie horror adventure games. The game captivates you with an intriguing storyline and morally ambiguous characters. The hand-painted artworks also add to the retro look of a classic graphical adventure of yesteryears. The story script touches on the darkest elements of the human psyche and offers plenty of tense moments, in the vain of the classic horror adventure Clock Tower.
The main catch for this game is its unique art style. It blends different visual elements, many of which are quite bizarre and surreal, to give a chilling atmosphere. The style is more symbolic than realistic, though there are still plenty of blood and gore. Sadly, the game only supports a fixed resolution of 640x480 pixels. The game bears some resemblance to Dark Seed, a classic horror adventure that deals with the sanity (or rather insanity) of its lead character.
I experienced a few minor glitches in the game, some of which could cause the game to freeze. There was also a major glitch I encountered in the game that would block my access to the inventory menu to use an item in order to move onto the next scene. Reloading from a previously saved game and retrying the sequence in a different way sidestepped the bug.
This game is not suitable for younger gamers. Squeamish gamers also need to stay away from this game. Even with the retro graphics, the game offers a big dose of violence, nudity, and other mature adult contents. The game has many twists and turns, depending on the selection of the path you take during the game. You need to be careful about the choices you make, as they can lead to an unexpected or premature ending.
This game is very difficult. Frequently, you will have a hard time trying to figure out what to do next, at least without fearing that you may ruin your chances of solving a puzzle or reach an ending from which you cannot recover. You will always need to think carefully what to do next because the next step you take may be your last.
As a last word, Downfall is an amazing horror thriller with an incredible narrative and an art style that is both shocking and macabre. The ambiguous storyline will undoubtedly generate much discussion among the game's fans. This game may not be to the taste of all adventure fans, but those who dare to try this game will find it to be a provoking interpretation of the genre.