“Rain, rain, go away. Come again another day”
Rain has always been symbolic for many human emotions, most notably fear, sorrow and despair… but strangely enough, it also seems to symbolize forgiveness and renewal. In other words, it perfectly suits the overall theme of the Silent Hill series. And thus, we are presented with Silent Hill Downpour; a terrifying game which sets out to chill you to the bone with a painful trip full of horrors, self-realization and redemption as seen through the eyes of Murphy Pendleton. However the question mark hovering over everyone’s heads screams: Is it as good as the original Silent Hill games?
PLATFORM: PS3/XBOX 360 (reviewed on PS3)
AGE RESTRICTION: M (Mature)
The Silent Hill franchise has been around since 1999 and since then, the series has revolutionized the survival horror genre. Setting the focus more on subtle paranoia, rather than cheap startles, coupling it with brilliant, yet simple, storytelling and drenching it in layers of atmosphere, the original Silent Hill games soon became a phenomenon for survival horror fans. The first four games were developed and produced by Konami, but after the 4th game, development was handed over to the West. This brought on many changes, most of them met with scorn from the fans of the series.
Silent Hill Downpour was developed by Vatra Games, who have only been around since 2009. How did this company deal with the weight of developing a Silent Hill game that should capture the magic of the first four Silent Hill games? In a nutshell, they did a sterling job of bringing us exactly what Silent Hill is known for: a delightfully depressing tale of liberation, with plenty of thrills and scares, spoiled only by a handful of technical flaws and a few terrible design choices.
First impressions on the visuals in Downpour are good. Character models look crisp, beautiful and are very lifelike, with a lot of attention to detail in their design. The level of visuals is not as good as those seen in games like Final Fantasy 13 or the Uncharted series, but they are still miles away from bad. The environments you encounter through the game are all very well planned, with heavy attention to detail. Most notably is the exterior of Silent Hill itself, where the mist looks gorgeous and does a perfect job at giving a claustrophobic, disorientating feel. The rain effects look brilliant as well.
The biggest graphical flaw the game has is some heavy lag at certain regions in the game. There are moments when the visuals will freeze for about a second and other moments when the framerate will just drop to a crawl. Sadly, both of these problems are fairly common throughout the game and do an amazing job at ruining the immersion that the game tries very hard to maintain. On some games, this slowdown and stuttering would have been less of a problem, but in a game like this, where you should be sitting on the edge of your seat, deeply involved in your character and the world around you, it tears you away from the experience incredibly easily. That being said, these issues are offset by the otherwise stunning visuals.
So, the graphics get a 3.5/5
Sound and Music:
The audio has always played an important role in the Silent Hill series and Downpour is no exception. This is the first Silent Hill game that is not composed by Akira Yamaoka, but newcomer Daniel Licht hits the nail on the head with a brilliant score that sets the mood perfectly. The tracks all add deeply to the immersion in the game and do a great job at conveying what you are supposed to feel at what times.
The sound effects are also top notch, with weapon impact sounding visceral and immediate. Special mention needs to be made for the sound effects that accompany the weather. When it starts raining, it is a delight to behold on a 5.1 sound system. When the thunder and lightning join in, it becomes even more amazing. As usual, you are equipped with a radio which emits noise when monsters are nearby. In this game, however, the static throws in police chatter as well, which suits the game well, considering your character is an escaped convict. Voice acting is also well done, with an all-round solid performance from the cast. There are a few moments here and there that don’t sound entirely convincing, but overall it’s done very well, especially from the voice actor for Murphy (who ends up sounding a lot like Solid Snake).
All-in-all, the audio from Downpour impresses and leaves little to be desired aside from the occasional hiccup with the voice actors, scoring a 4.5/5
Downpour’s gameplay follows a similar formula to the rest of the series, breaking gameplay into three core parts: fighting, exploring and puzzle solving.
The combat in this installment has taken the more recent route of focusing a lot on melee combat with improvised weapons. Most of the rooms are littered with items and objects that can be used as melee weapons, with quite an astonishing number of items you can pick up. Rocks, bottles, chairs, fire extinguishers, axes, planks, pipes and many more common items can be used in combat. You can only hold one at a time and these makeshift weapons do tend to break after use. Their lifetime is well calculated, not breaking too soon and not lasting unrealistically long. Guns play much less of a role in this game, with ammo being incredibly scarce. This is a very good step for survival horror games, as monsters aren’t really that terrifying when you are holding a fully loaded machine gun. The problem, however, falls in the actual combat mechanics. The combat system gives you an auto-lock function (which gets hard to control when more than one enemy is around), an attack button and a block button. When you fight a monster, you can take a few swings at it before the monster will block your attacks and then it will start attacking you, to which you respond by dodging, blocking or getting your face peeled off. While the combat system is definitley a lot better than the system seen in earlier Silent Hill games, enemies seem to survive for far too long, turning combat into a rather boring, tedious chore. The actual monsters look a lot less grotesque and more humanoid in the game, which already detracts some of the shock effect from monsters, but the combat system makes them turn into more of a nuisance than a threat. With the lack of ammunition and the awkward combat, it is reassuring to realize that the majority of the combat in the game is optional.This mechanic allows you to run from most enemies, which aids more to the feel of ‘survival horror’, rather than the combat system’s arcade feel. Exploration is a lot more interesting than combat and the game does this incredibly well, except for one huge misstep.
As is usual with the series, you explore Silent Hill and the surrounding area, but you are often subjected to the alternate, dark world version of Silent Hill. During these times, you encounter an enemy that can only be described as a giant void that chases after you. Getting caught by it means a slow death, so the dark world scenes usually involve running away from the void. These scenes are problematic, because the path you need to take is never too clear, the void is not scary and not knowing where to go while this thing chases you is more annoying than it is terrifying. There was a lot of opportunity to make the dark world (which isn’t all that dark either) truly terrifying, but the game completely strikes out in this department. When you are back in the normal world, things are a lot better, especially while exploring through the streets of Silent Hill. If you are out on the streets for long enough, rain starts dripping down and the longer you spend outside, the harder it starts to rain, to the point where thunder and lightning can be observed. As the weather gets worse, monsters are more likely to randomly spawn in the streets, creating a feeling of urgency to your exploring. The game also piles on optional side quests through your playthrough, which really rewards those who love to search every nook and cranny in the hopes for 100% completion. The game also does something that adds deeply to the fear and paranoia of the game: random inventory gear discards. Remember the part in Silent Hill 2 where you had to pack away all of your gear into the locker and do a bit of the game without your radio, flashlight or any guns? Remember how insanely tense that was? Well, Downpour capitalizes on that further. The game makes a habit of throwing away core items that you grow used to, throwing you deeply out of your comfort zone, adding to the tension.
Finally, the puzzles in the game are all well thought out and satisfying to solve. They are well spread apart, so you won’t get sick of them too quickly. An important aspect of any Silent Hill game is how scary it is. For Downpour, it is hard to say if it is scary or not. There are glimmering moments of sheer brilliance that invoke genuine terror, but then there are moments that fall flat and fail, mainly due to the frustrating dark world sections and the lack of pure horror created from the monsters. It is disappointing, because you can see the potential for the game to become really scary, but it’s crippled by its flaws. Despite this, the game still does deliver a few fleeting moments of joy (to those who love Silent Hill for the thrill ride) and the exploration is still fun, rewarding and somewhat unnerving.
Gameplay then gets a 3/5.
Downpour’s main character is a man called Murphy Pendleton, who starts the game in prison for an as yet unknown crime. In an attempt to transfer him to a different prison, however, an accident takes place, leaving him stranded near Silent Hill. The police officer in charge, Anne Cunningham, chases after Murphy, intent on catching him and sending him back to prison. As the story progresses, more and more pieces of info are given as to why Murphy is in prison and what happened while he was incarcerated. The story revolves mainly around Murphy’s self-realization of his crimes, followed by how he deals with it. The visuals throughout the game tend to symbolize this, much like they did in Silent Hill 2. The game includes a miniature moral choice system, based on what you do with your enemies and a few scenes in the game where you get to make certain choices. The end result of your choices determine which ending you get (of which there are 6 in total this time, with the usual goofy ending which is pure gold), but oddly enough, your choices you make change Murphy’s back story as well. Overall, the story is well told and typical Silent Hill, but the twists and turns are fairly predictable to Silent Hill veterans.
The story gets a 4/5
Downpour offers quite a few hours to the player who is seeking to finish all of the side quests. If you were to take your time, explore and finish all the side quests, you could expect about 20 hours out of the game. As mentioned earlier, the game has multiple serious endings to offer and one comedy ending, as is tradition with the series. Aside from the extra endings and the side quests, the game doesn’t have much else to offer.
Replay value thus gets a 4/5
Summarizing Downpour, one could say that this is a game with a handful of brilliant ideas, of which some were executed perfectly and some were done very poorly. It is depressing, because one can see that there is potential for a real gem in this game, but some of the design decisions stop it from being amazing and then the technical issues hinder it some more. Overall, the game is still enjoyable and when it shines, it will dazzle you with its brilliance. But for the rest of the time that it doesn’t, you’ll feel depressed knowing that it is a game that has the potential for greatness, crippled by issues that are difficult to ignore.
- Gorgeous character models and environment
- Immaculate sound
- Exploration is fun and rewarding
- Enjoyable story
- Some nasty framerate and lag issues
- Dark world sections are not scary at all
- Monster encounters are not as scary as previous games