Disappointing Horror

I don’t often come across adventure games I don’t like.  Most I’ve played have sufficient redeeming qualities to keep me hooked or at least keep me around long enough to finish the game.  A decent adventure game will have an interesting story, acceptable writing, and/or good puzzles.  If a game manages to have all those things, that’s even better.  The genre is very different than other video game genres where good looks can be a game’s selling point.  Graphical fidelity or good art direction can and typically does make those games something great but adventure games require something more.

I recently tried playing the adventure game Downfall by Harvester Games.  It had received good reviews and the screenshots I’d seen intrigued me.  The plot starts off with Joe Davis and his wife stopped in a small town in front of a hotel.  Ivy Davis is having a mental breakdown and is shouting strange and scary things.  Joe decides to stay in the hotel until morning where he’ll then try and find her a doctor.  Predictably, the hotel and the surrounding town aren’t what they seem and are something much darker. 

is described as a horror game that’s intended for mature audiences.  And it certainly is.  It’s dark, violent, and made me very uneasy.  I’m not someone who gets queasy about violence but there were moments in the game where I was troubled by what I was seeing or being asked to do.  I imagine that those feelings were entirely the point—it is a horror game after all.  You are not meant to be carefree or immune to the things going on in Downfall.  However, there were times where it was a bit too much for me and it turned me off to the game. 

I didn’t finish the game.  But not because of the violence or sickening plot twists.  It was the writing.  Downfall’s writing is bad, very bad.  The main character’s response to his twisting, mutating world is astoundingly empty. 

 Really?  That’s the best you’ve got?

The moment things get weird he accepts them too quickly.  I mean, if I walked into a hotel’s dining room and it was full of faceless dead people, I’d have a few more questions than he did.  Beyond his inability to recognize that reality had taken a u-turn, his dialogue, and that of other characters, is elementary.  Cursing is rampant throughout the game – “bitch” is used extensively and inappropriately.  I’m not puritanical about cursing, but it has to make sense in context, even when used casually.  In many cases the script sounded like it was written by a middle-school kid who had learned a new curse word.

Downfall’s dialogue and scene descriptions simply don’t cut it and that’s probably the greatest tragedy of the game.  I’ve given other, more mediocre games a pass but couldn’t do it for Downfall because it had so much potential to be great.  The game artistically is fantastic.  Each scene is hand drawn and each place you go is full of gruesome and terrifying images.  With an interesting story mixed with good music, Downfall does horror very well.  Sadly, I just couldn’t get past the bad writing.