Downfall Redux Review: Worthy Resurrection
Jonathan Anson / Mar 3rd, 2016 No Comments
The 2012 game The Cat Lady isn’t considered one of the best independent adventure games without warrant. The game remains one of the best examples of how adventure games have matured and is a masterfully told psychological horror. It is no wonder why critics and gamers helped it to be the success that it is. It was only a matter of time that its lead designer, Remigiusz Michalski, would seize upon that success to go back and rework the game it spun off from: 2009’s Downfall.
Three years have passed since the release of The Cat Lady, and work is finally done on Downfall Redux. Published by Screen 7, the game can at best be considered a heavily reworked director’s cut hoping to improve upon an already unique but flawed horror adventure game.
Does it succeed? Well, a second trip to the Quiet Haven Hotel is in order to find out.
The Horror of Marriage
Set in Britain, the game’s story focuses on Joe Davis and his wife Ivy. It begins with a brand new prologue not in the original game that cements the rocky beginnings of the couple. Years pass, resulting in a rocky, bitter and broken marriage.
In a last ditch attempt to save the marriage, Joe and Ivy take a holiday to the Quiet Haven Hotel, arriving just before a huge storm is to hit. Things get worse when, after waking up from a nap, Joe discovers that Ivy is missing.
It’s difficult to go into further detail without spoiling a surreal, disturbing, scary and, on rare occasions, poignant story. This is all thanks to a heavily rewritten script that greatly fills in the plot holes and incoherence that plagued much of Downfall’s original story.
Additionally, this is now a greater emphasis on dialogue as this determines what kind of ending players will reach when completing the game. Whether Joe is able to save himself, Ivy and his marriage depends on how you act. It’s a terrific addition to the story that gives players greater incentive to replay the game.
While most of the improvements and additions help fix what was flawed in the original Downfall, many of the new plot points better bridge Downfall’s story with the one in The Cat Lady. These additions actually create new plot holes and make the story less grounded. This is apparent to anyone who has played the original Downfall from beginning to end, but won’t be so obvious to those who never played the original.
The game’s story neglects to take from what made the story in The Cat Lady so amazingly executed. It doesn’t seek to break new ground as that game did with its lengthy story, well-written dramatic elements, terrific character development, tense moments and relevant real-life themes such as death and suicide.
Downfall Redux sadly fails to import such strengths into its reworked story. Due to that, it feels like a much more cliched and traditional horror story. It feels much shorter, stunted and fallible than it ought to be, but it manages to be just solid enough to be a slight improvement over its original iteration.
Speaking of improvements, one of the biggest things carried over from The Cat Lady is its unique gameplay engine. Instead of using a traditional point-and-click engine, Downfall Redux uses a very simple keyboard-based control system. To move Joe, you push left and right. Pressing up when near a designated hotspot brings up an interactive menu enabling you to enter new areas, initiate conversations, examine objects and, in some cases, pick up items. Finally, pressing down opens up the inventory screen, allowing you to use items you have collected.
The system is so incredibly simple to use and is friendly to veteran gamers and newcomers. It operates smoothly and there are no worries about having to deal with the most common frustrations associated with adventure games, namely pixel hunting.
Like The Cat Lady, there is less freedom of movement and far fewer hotspots to interact within environments due to the linear movement system. Whereas the original game required extensively applying deductive reasoning due to the interactive environments, Downfall Redux neglects to compensate for how easy the new engine makes the game.
There is also no way to be killed, something that existed in The Cat Lady. Because your game can’t end with premature death, it is much easier and has less tension. Despite the lack of challenge, the gameplay is solid and is a much welcome improvement. It’s definitely one of this game’s best features.
Theater of the Macabre
Yet another of this game’s best features is undoubtedly the graphics. Gone are the rugged, cartoonish 2D graphics of the original. In its place is a much more polished and smooth look that makes use of both 3D and 2D graphics. It’s a tremendous improvement over the original and looks much more professional.
The characters too all have been completely reanimated. Characters move, talk and physically behave in a much improved manner compared to the original Downfall. Even the simple act of walking now looks far less rough and shoddy as it did before.
This graphical change totally re-stylizes the game with an impressive look. If it must be described, think of the works of artist Edward Gorey mixed with a more modern artistic approach. The result you’d have in the case of Downfall is a world that now looks far more realistic. This helps build the disturbing macabre world of Downfall.
It’s helped even more by the almost total use greyscale throughout the game. This lends to the game’s surrealism and horror, with only a few rare occasions of bright colors, namely blood. This is an artistic approach the original never utilized. Just as it worked in The Cat Lady, it works well in Downfall Redux.
Unfortunately, the overall animation at times doesn’t look great and comes off as a tad bit unpolished.
Downfall doesn’t skimp on sound. Effects abound throughout the game that are all well chosen and high quality. They all aid greatly in producing the ambiance and tone of the game.
The best sound in this title is undoubtedly its music. Using multiple indie bands along with a terrific score by Michal Michalski (the composer for The Cat Lady) results in a unique combination that is reminiscent of the Silent Hill games. As such, the mood and emotion of scenes becomes better amplified. Emotional scenes become genuinely emotional; scary moments become scarier.
There is now also the inclusion of voice overs, something not in the original Downfall. Sadly, this is a mixed bag that is overall just competent. The voices of Joe Davis and Ivy especially are lackluster, only rarely managing to deliver solid lines.
Despite this, a few stellar performances are given, the most notable of which is given by David Firth in the role of the mad Doctor Z. But not even the very few genuinely talented voice actors are able to help the voice portion of this game, and this boggles down the overall sound of Downfall Redux.
Downfall Redux does what it sets out to do, and that is to massively improve the flaws and presentation of the original Downfall. But for its victories in accomplishing this, there are some small losses. While it succeeds in improving upon the original, the game’s new additions create other issues that prevent this re-release from being much better than it seeks to be.
For those hoping to enjoy some delightfully well done psychological horror or wish to play Downfall again in a different flavor, this game is definitely worth playing.
Downfall Redux was reviewed on PC using a retail copy of the game purchased by the reviewer.
tags: downfall , downfall redux , Downfall Redux Review , review , Screen 7