If you enjoy the free running aspects of games like Dying Light or Mirror’s Edge, keep Downward on your radar. Currently in early beta on Steam, Downward is enjoyable compared to other Early Access titles. With that, let’s jump into the details…
The story is disorienting at first, starting in a dream-like sequence where it begins to introduce the controls in standard tutorial fashion. A disembodied voice urges you to move forward as you begin learning the basics. Later, the voice alludes that the powers the character uses are the same that led to the current state of the world. As of today, the details are sparse but will hopefully be fleshed out in later builds. Also, the cast involves only four characters so far, excluding the golems and sentries that line the path. The story is just enough to hold interest, but at full release it should at least give some motivation for making progress.
The visuals of the game are doing a lot of the heavy lifting when concerning the story. From the start, the floating islands and strange blocks invoke feelings of an ancient civilization that went too far. Additionally, the design also assists in guiding the player through the levels. The use of repeating patterns that indicate the different obstacles works well from both an aesthetic and gameplay standpoint. Some reminders of the indie nature of Downward remain though, like the lack of facial animation. Still, it definitely does not look like your standard indie fare overall.
This game is putting the Unreal 4 engine to good use; the visuals are striking and it runs great on my rather modest setup. To add to that, I set everything on Ultra settings and did not have any instances of screen tearing or slowdown. It is well polished in that regard. However, brightness and gamma settings are necessary features that are currently missing.
The sound does have some heft to it, but the sound design definitely needs some additional work. Downward had some jarring instances where the fight music instantly cut off since the golems lost line-of-sight. Also, some sound cues are missing. It is difficult to tell if you are wall running or falling next to the wall, and a big fall does not seem to have any impact. However, the music and other effects add to the game and give it a sense of mystery. The voice acting was not too ham-fisted, which tends to be expected from Early Access titles.
The tight controls pull you into Downward. The controls for a first-person runner are spot-on (except when it comes to wall running, sadly). In standard video game fashion, collectables are front and center as the main motivation. Especially Skypieces, which are both the currency for upgrades and the breadcrumb trail that leads the player along the different, well designed levels. Downward had me running, jumping, and sometimes flying through the level, grabbing Skypieces along the way. If I missed a jump or fell, a quick press of a button returned me to an area I previously marked. This removed the frustration of falling, when I actually remembered to use it.
A fun mechanic is the ability to switch between versions of the surrounding world. The beta did not really give an impression on how big of a part it would play. Still, I expect it to be used for solving puzzles or interesting takes on navigating obstacles.
However, not all gameplay is well polished. The fighting mechanics are uninspired and relied on waiting and activating a plate or block at the right time. Honestly, Downward could have done away with such contrivances and just focused on creating more involved Parkour playgrounds. Why the character is picking up every piece of junk is also never explained. To beat a dead horse, wall running included some frustrating moments of failed runs.
Please note, this was not reviewed using a keyboard and mouse setup. A game like this is always going to be better played on a controller. Still, if you want to play it that way, more power to you.
The game includes multiplayer in the form of time trials. In this Meditation mode, you can see the best times and attempt to beat them. The game also gives you Skypieces for beating predetermined times. Overall, not a big selling point but definitely a welcome addition.
Downward was fun, especially for a game in beta status. Once some additional polish is applied to the story, gameplay, and (mainly) audio, we should expect a rather unique title. In summary, definitely worth keeping on your game radar if you are fan of Parkour games.
- Tight controls for most aspects of the game
- The visuals are definitely above par
- Scratches that Parkour itch, which is sometimes hard to find
- The audio and story are still a work in progress
- The fighting mechanics need to be more satisfying
- Wall running