Since its debut in 1999, Silent Hill has been at the forefront of survival horror, focusing on psychological thrills and the plight of its "everyman" protagonists. However, the series has arguably lost some relevance, with new competitors such as Dead Space, F.E.A.R. and Left 4 Dead successfully integrating more "Western" concepts into the genre. In response, Silent Hill has been trying to find its identity. Homecoming and Shattered Memories experimented outside the series' traditional realm, but Silent Hill: Downpour seems to represent Konami's attempt to balance these forces. It remains true to the series' roots while drawing from international perspectives.
(Important note: E3 is a very noisy place, making it difficult to really experience any atmospheric game. Downpour's attempt to build tension isn't helped by the electronica soundtrack blaring from the show floor.)
Downpour is being developed by Vatra Games out of the Czech Republic. Konami was keen to highlight the unique perspective Vatra will bring from Eastern(ish) Europe, and therefore, being naturally skilled at crafting a bleak, fatalistic environments. The game follows escaped convict Murphy Pendleton's journey through the southeastern portion of Silent Hill. This location hasn't been explored and Murphy's plot isn't connected to previous installments in the series.
Our hands-on demo began with an exploration segment meant to introduce Downpour's unique take on the town of Silent Hill. Murphy has limited freedom to investigate the various abandoned buildings and woodland areas before heading on. Downpour's Eastern European influence shows through here, as the game isn't quick to show the player where to go next. A greater emphasis on visual cues could go a long way. Vatra also hinted at some non-linearity in Downpour's progression, saying players will be able to find the occasional side mission if they stray off the main path.
After exploring the town's densely fogged and rainy outskirts, it becomes apparent Murphy can grab many objects within the environment and use them as melee weapons or projectiles. This differs from previous Silent Hill games in the sense that it restricts players to one weapon at any time, but one that's constantly changing.
Eventually, the supernatural elements began to creep in. Murphy was soon confronted with several otherworldly, horrific visions at every turn. A menacing black hole bent on your consumption was of particular note. Hallways extended without warning, as the environment itself manipulated space and time to hinder your escape. At the very least, it was a visually stimulating sequence.
Silent Hill: Downpour introduces some intriguing ideas into the series - environmental exploration and the promise of branching missions among them. There are still things that need to be worked out, such as the hit-or-miss visual cues, but Vatra has time to create an engaging world. Whether Silent Hill's tested formula can still deliver genuine scares over the course of a full campaign remains to be seen.