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Friday, April 3, 2020

Review: Silent World (Nintendo Switch)


Review by Matt S. 

Horror is one of the more difficult genres to get right. Silent World shows just how wrong things can go. Usually with games that are such significant misfires as this I want to give the developers the benefit of the doubt, and say that a lack of resourcing or inexperience compromised the vision. Sadly I don't think the development team had much of an idea about what they were doing or trying to achieve going in, either.

Putting aside that the thin bits of narrative are marred by a very poor translation, Silent World lacks context. Vaguely, you're wandering around an apocalyptic world trying to avoid mutants from getting you, but The Road: The Game this is not. The world is largely featureless, by which I mean it's visually impressive but the spaces tell no story, and there's no underlying meaning to anything you see in the world as you play. Likewise, there's nothing to inspire curiosity about the mutants, or even what happened to get the world to this state. It's a little difficult to sell the idea of horror if there's nothing to encourage the audience to take a stake in what is going on, since horror does fundamentally rely on you caring, and unfortunately because there was no context to Silent World, I found myself moving through it without caring about anything - including my protagonist - which then made it difficult to feel any fear about what might happen to him by the hostile forces in the world.

If the gameplay had have been intense or interesting in some way, it could have saved Silent World, but sadly there's a long list of issues there, too.  Top of that list is the speed of the action - whoever decided that horror should be plodding and slow needs to go back and look at how horror actually works. The idea in Silent World is to make the character move as though he's pushing through waist high water, but rather than raise tension, it simply saps energy out of the game. The ambient noises that play as you creep through the darkness are appropriately moody, but given how narrow your field of vision is (for the most part you can only see in a small circle around your character), and how uninteresting the world is, those ambient noises can't make up for the long lengths of time where you're doing nothing more than watching the character plod along or slowly drag himself up and down ladders.


When an enemy comes along you'd think that the slow pacing would kick into high tension and suddenly make sense, but unfortunately it doesn't. Part of the reason is because the growls and other noises that these monsters make are more suitable to a silly parody of the horror genre than a genuine attempt at it, and also because your character can instantly pull his hat down and hide behind it. When he does that the enemy can't spot him and he can creep on by. He can only remain hidden like this for a few seconds, but it's enough to get past the enemy, every single time. If the enemy does still give chase, you can immediately do the hat trick again - there's no countdown between uses.

"So perhaps the horror theme is just the backdrop, and the game's secretly a puzzler?" you may ask yourself when, early on, you do need to slide some blocks around to help you reach ladders. Your character can't jump, after all, and that's generally the sign of a puzzler where 2D games are concerned. Sadly, none of Silent World's puzzles are engaging on any level. Really they're just temporary distractions on the endless (slow) grind forwards. We've seen some brilliant 2D puzzle/horror themed games in recent years - A Rose in the Twilight springs immediately to mind - and this isn't even close to being in the same league.

The only interesting mechanic that Silent World has is its matches. Scattered throughout the world (and usually in the more difficult to reach spaces), you'll be able to find matches which, when lit, will illuminate the entire level for a brief second. While that's obviously good for you, it also means that for a short while you'll be unable to hide in that hat, and that's about the only time you're in genuine danger if a monster spots you. Sadly this mechanic is never used in interesting ways - it's occasionally useful to give you a better view at a puzzle by increasing your field of vision, but the developer was never able to create a situation where you'll be sorely tempted to use those matches despite those risks.


Silent World is, mercifully, over quite quickly. It's a real pity that the game hasn't turned out better - there's a nice art style in there and aside from the monsters, the sound effects and ambiance shows what the game might have been. Unfortunately there was no clear vision driving this game and without the vision all that's left is a bunch of elements thrown together without any cohesiveness.



- Matt S. 
Editor-in-Chief
Find me on Twitter: @mattsainsb

A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review.



Review: Silent World (Nintendo Switch)
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