For some games, a screenshot is all you need to fall in love. The moment I first laid my eyes on Downward, I felt like we had to give this one a chance. Whoever curated the title’s Steam page did a great job: I was immediately captivated by the colorful scenery and the enthralling descriptions.
Little did I know that my opinion would soon change. The peculiar mix of genres that this game offers – half platformer and half walking sim – is a delicate treat that only a handful can stomach. I, apparently, was not to be part of such refined group.
Frustration and a rather uncomfortable lack of purpose filled the room, becoming the most annoying of playmates. After the first couple of “fuck this, I’m done”, I eventually had to force myself to get back to it and collect enough data for a proper review. In the next few lines, you’ll see what good that did me!
Stunning First Looks, Little Actual Content
Drawing from my experience, I’d say a solid game has to balance aesthetics and actual stuff that the player can do with it. A gorgeous cover to an empty book will yield no results and something that looks like it’s out of the 90s keeps potential customers away. If you want your product to be successful, you should try to reach a compromise.
Unfortunately, Downward tends to lean towards the former of the aforementioned cases. There’s no denying that the Unity 4 engine egregiously does its job. If we try looking past the shaders, the post-processing, and the dynamic lights, though, little else seems to come afloat.
The first time I started a new game, I was presented with a general tutorial. In a dedicated and enclosed map, a female voice taught me how to move around and interact with the world. The unnamed lady showcased the various mechanics, told me how to fight, how to use my powers, and even invited me to jump off a cliff.
Bits and pieces of lore were thrown my way to keep me interested; “amazing!”, I thought while grinning. As soon as I landed on the other side, I was stranded on sandy shores! No voices rumbled inside my head, no visions led my steps, and all Downward gave me was a compass with a blinking marker indicating my next objective.
Telling someone: “move to this location, there’s a chance you’ll find something cool” is not the most compelling way to have them continue playing. Especially when the path is littered with obstacles, your crowd could simply decide to focus their attention elsewhere. When they cross that line, all writing efforts are flung right out the window.
Who Are You? Why Should I do As You Say?
Open-world environments are amazing, but ultimately time-consuming and dispersive when done wrong. The guys behind Downward probably invested a lot of time designing levels and buildings, but likely forgot the most important part of it all: giving us gamers a real reason for a thorough exploration of each corner.
There’s just too much eye-candy on the plate and no satisfying reward for progressing with the main plot. Post-apocalyptic scenarios are an overused gimmick these days. “Our world went to shit a few centuries ago and now we’re all stuck with it!” may sound like an appealing premise, but why should I really care about that? Sorry, but I just got here! Can I take another look around before I fully commit to your cause?
Where an uninspired plot and an almost-obsessive level design put a few dents in this ship’s hull, mechanics and repetitiveness fire the sinking shots. Fighting each of the enemies I encountered -for instance- boiled down to getting behind them and taking their batteries out. Not even skill-trees and trading common items with a weird old man manage to add something interesting. The skull in the grotto did get close, but I was out as soon as he asked me to go through the entire game and find his scattered bones for him.
Perhaps the devs saved the big guns for later and I simply couldn’t get to them. Despite trying, I didn’t make it past two hours of gameplay. I had just finished checking out the – fun but pointless – challenges when Downward eventually froze on me again and left me hanging. That was it for me, I had seen more than plenty. Glad for the guy up here establishing a new world record, but I felt lost, bored, clueless, and sincerely couldn’t bear going through another session!
At this point, some may think my opinion is based on incomplete data. You’d technically be right, which helps me prove one final point. In the world of indie gaming, each release only gets one round. Relatively low prices and higher availability translate into a humongous pool of new games to play every day.
Most gamers approaching a faulty experience for the first time won’t wait around for it to get fixed. Having regularly purchased my copy of the game, I did what the majority would. Two hours were all I needed to decide its fate; maybe I simply wasn’t sold enough on the whole package!
Despite its many shortcomings, though, Downward isn’t a steamy pile of crap. In fact, locations and textures showed a good degree of talent! The few lines of lore I crashed into couldn’t quite get me hooked… but weren’t the worst I’ve ever seen either! Maybe, picking a proper path is in order. If Caracal‘s next game wants to be a walking simulator, all they have to do is hold our hands a touch more.
The parkouring experience you guys were going for can still be attained, but I’d expect tighter controls and a much faster pace. While you’re at it, consider toning down the background a few notches. There’s a reason behind Super Hot’s or Mirror’s Edge‘s looks and color schemes: they help players remain focused and keep things flowing!
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