Silent Hill: Downpour
Developer: Vatra Games
Platforms: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 (Reviewed)
Release Date: March 13, 2012
Price: $59.99 – Available Here
Whenever a survival horror hears the name Silent Hill they immediately remember two things. First they will think of how much they loved the original two titles, Silent Hill and Silent Hill 2 and then they will think about how much they wish the rest of the series would have just followed suit. Over the years fans of Konami’s Silent Hill franchise have scrutinized nearly every single release since the original titles and picked it apart because it didn’t quite live up to the name of the originals.
However Konami has stepped into 2012 with a brand new Silent Hill game, one that may rise to the greatness fans once expected from the series… Silent Hill Downpour. With the survival horror genre struggling to stay alive in today’s gaming age, can Silent Hill: Downpour provide a brief respite for the declining genre while reviving the Silent Hill name?
True to Silent Hill fashion, we are given a man who doesn’t have the best of luck. In fact, this man may come from the worst place imaginable for a Silent Hill protagonist… jail. We step into the shoes of a man named Murphy Pendleton, a prisoner who has been set up for transfer from his current jail cell to a maximum security penitentiary. However things quickly go south as the prison transfer bus crashes off the road and into the wilderness.
While this may be the best thing to happen to any inmate in their wildest dreams, but Pendleton is about to encounter the worst nightmare of his life because he has just ended up in the outskirts of Silent Hill. With nowhere to go except deeper into the strange and twisted world that is the town of Silent Hill, Murphy must try and stay alive while also finding a way to escape this horrible place.
As with nearly every Silent Hill storyline, nothing is revealed at once and nearly everything is hidden behind the same fog that blankets the town. As players make their way through the decrepit areas of Silent Hill they will begin to understand more of Pendleton’s past as the mysterious and tangled web of Silent Hill: Downpour’s story slowly unravels with more than a few twists to keep you on your toes.
Those who may be concerned about jumping into a series that is already on its eighth installment need not worry about not understanding various things. Obviously if you haven’t played previous titles you won’t get a few small references to past titles. Those who are looking to enjoy a mysterious and scary story filled with plenty of twists and turns with a main character that not only feels human but is a man that you want to see succeed by the end of the story need look no further than Silent Hill: Downpour.
While the fog of the original Silent Hill games was to cover up the hardware limitations of the consoles at that time, the fog of Silent Hill: Downpour provides the same eerie experience without any need to muddle the graphics. The addition of the fog is only the tip of the iceberg however as Silent Hill: Downpour’s version of the oppressive and desolate town is as spooky as it ever has been and seeing it in with modern day graphics is truly a highlight of the game.
However there are a number of other issues that plague the game and a number of these have to do with the performance of the game itself. While Silent Hill: Downpour is a horrifying game that provides plenty of scary moments that will make you jump, one of those scares shouldn’t be due to the terrible drop in frame rate that occurs often throughout the game. There are many times, both at inside environments and outside ones that Silent Hill: Downpours frame rate will bottom out and appear to freeze before resuming with the main character teleporting a few feet in whichever direction you were walking.
The character models themselves are realistic and detailed. In fact, one of the ways to tell how much damage Murphy has received can be seen on his body and movements. The more damage you receive the more torn and bloody your clothes can become and the more exhausted and pained Murphy will move. This provides a neat health system that will keep players focused on their character while trying to survive the various enemies you will come across. Though it is worth noting that the design of the enemies you will face off against has become much less gruesome than in past games.
One thing that the Silent Hill games have been known for is the eerie music and terrific sound design used throughout the games to help keep things tense and terrifying. Those looking for such an effect won’t have to look too hard to find plenty of creepy atmospheric sound effects that keep the tension at its peak, especially whenever the player enters the “Otherworld” or experiences a storm. Unfortunately there are very few pieces of background music scattered throughout the game and even then the music barely feels spooky in the slightest.
The Silent Hill series has had a few ups and many downs over the past few years as it has tried to evolve in an industry that has raised a different breed of gamer than those who played the original titles. Silent Hill: Downpour returns to its roots in a number of ways though makes plenty of sacrifices to create a new type of experience that tries to satisfy everyone.
One of the overhauls in Silent Hill: Downpour comes in the form of a nostalgic combat system where players once again step into the shoes of a person who wouldn’t normally be holding a weapon. As such combat feels similar to earlier titles where fighting feels stiff and unaccustomed. However Silent Hill: Downpour goes a bit too far and makes fighting a chore. Past experiences usually allowed for players to run away from enemies instead of fighting them, and while that is still a choice in Downpour, there are a number of cases were combat is inevitable.
In these cases and any other fights you come across use only three moves, swinging your weapon, blocking and throwing your weapon for whatever reason. Now this basicness would be forgivable if it wasn’t for a number of issues, such as the fact that every weapon you use will break after being used so many times, including steel wrenches, fire axes and crowbars. This creates an unrealistic sense of desperation that is only made worse by the fact that there will be many times your attacks will seemingly land home on an enemy only for it to do no damage or be blocked despite the enemy showing zero signs of blocking incoming attacks.
Although the combat can be hit and miss, literally, the focus of Silent Hill: Downpour is about exploration and experiencing the creepiness that is Silent Hill. This is heightened by the fact that the town of Silent Hill now has an open-world type setup with players able to roam around the town, exploring some unlocked buildings and even picking up some side-quests along the way. These side quests can be everything from solving a miniature puzzle contained in a building, finding and returning items or even battling monsters. These help pad out the game’s storyline with some length and gives the player a sense that they are truly free to roam the terror filled and destroyed streets of Silent Hill.
As you explore you will encounter plenty of different puzzles, a key piece to the Silent Hill franchise. When players begin the game they can select how hard they want their puzzles to be, with higher difficulties making some puzzles a bit more confusing. The puzzles found in Downpour feature quite a bit of variety and sometimes require the player to think outside the box to solve them.
Perhaps the biggest question of all in a game like Silent Hill: Downpour is if it is scary or not. Let me assure you that there were plenty of moments that had me jumping as enemies appeared out of nowhere or creepy events happened in the world which I will not explain here as it would simply spoil the scares.
The “Otherworld,” an even more twisted and deranged side of Silent Hill, appears often in Downpour and often forces the player to run for their life from a glowing red light that tries to suck the life out of him like some mysterious black hole when it draws close. As the player runs away from this unknown horror they will often need to make snap decisions as to which door to run through while avoiding various environmental obstacles. These moments provide plenty of tense action that will keep players at the edge of their seat and jumping anytime a door slams in their face.
Silent Hill: Downpour provides nearly everything a Silent Hill fan would want and more. The haunting design of the city combined with an interesting storyline full of mystery and a great main character in the center of it all Silent Hill: Downpour offers a stunning presentation. However it has a number of issues which hold it back, such as a lack of polish when it comes to stable framerate and a barely tolerable combat system. Despite these flaws, Silent Hill: Downpour provides a scary and intriguing experience that will keep you coming back for more as players aim for different endings and wait for perhaps another new Silent Hill in the future.