Silent Hill: Downpour Review

By Adam Ma on April 5, 2012

Silent Hill may very well be the most infamous town in video gaming history. And when you look back at the history of the horror franchise it's easy to see why: the series is absolutely saturated in iconic lore. It's one of the few games that's as definable by its characters as it is by the landmarks. There aren't levels, but instead locations that are defined by the terrible experiences that players have (and learn about) as they continue to play. Even sandbox titles would struggle to keep up with the amount of personality that Silent Hill exudes. So it's understandable that there's quite a bit of pressure on Vatra Games to finally do the series justice with a brand new instalment that is hopefully received by fans as more than a nice try.

The main issue the latest Silent Hill encounters isn't a matter of making the town come to life, Instead, it's bringing life to its cast of characters. Players take control of Murphy Pendleton, an inmate held for stealing a police cruiser as part of a larger plan to seek revenge against a prisoner. The main characters all fairly unlikeable, with some unusually predictable motivations and 'secrets'. Without giving too much away for fans of the series, it'll be difficult to really enjoy the revelations that each character goes through as they try to escape the sinister town.

On a different page, the town itself is brought to life with a remarkable amount of love and care. The game focuses on parts of the town never before visited instead of hoping to leech off of the fan base's love for iconic areas, and it does so with great success. Each area has an amazing amount of depth that has players constantly searching for clues, second guessing what doors they should open, and wondering what areas are simply a trap in disguise. Though the developers hardly use the environment to great effect, the fine details poured into every area create an exceptional atmosphere for the genre. Anyone who is a fan of the franchise should find themselves appreciative of these details, and even general horror fans won't be let down by the little things. A series of footprints and blood splatters only visible using UV light, rooms that turn the player on uncomfortable angles, rooms that show arranged murders that can't quite be explained, all the key points that a good horror game needs show up in droves and with the fine details they require.

Another major point of success is the return of the fixed camera angles, a style of gameplay that's been long replaced by the full control that a first or third person view offers. It's remarkable because by taking in the full environment from a single location one of the few real points of control the player has is torn away, immediately evoking a sense of fear.

It's unfortunate that Downpour doesn't utilize these angles to greater effect, generally working them into puzzles as opposed to using them as a weapon of terror against the player. Bolstering the depth and detail to the town is a new environment engine that will cycle through night and day in addition to causing sweeping rainstorms. With the rain (just like the ominous fog) comes an increase presence of nightmarish creatures, so getting indoors as fast as possible can become a necessity for staying alive.There are quite a few points of brilliance in Silent Hill, generally revolving around the town's transformation and chase scenes. When Downpour really wants to grab your attention it does so, and quite effectively.

But most of the time players will actually find themselves more wanting to be scared than actually being approached by the game itself. Most of this has to do with the huge focus on a combat system that the game could have definitely done without. Clunky and quite linear, the combat is almost an invasive afterthought to the detailed and deep environments created in-game. Various objects like chairs, wrenches, fire axes, and extinguishers can be used to fight the supernatural, but will eventually break as durability takes its toll.

The result is a game that interjects a very basic hack and slash into a title riddled with 'run and escape' sections. Silent Hill Downpour is at its best when the player is forced to run, hide, and flee for their life as opposed to trying to bash your way through ghosts. Unfortunately getting one of the better endings requires players to do as much bashing as possible, which takes the combat from feeling cumbersome to being force fed down the your throat. Inescapable and inevitable, Downpour's combat system becomes the true horror of the game, which is almost as sad as it is ironic.

Unfortunately combat isn't Downpour's only villain as the game also features an almost unforgivable degree of loading and framerate issues.
Anything from entering a new room, opening any door, going up stairs, turning around too fast, trying to open a cabinet or drawer, pressing pause, or simply playing the game will trigger it which really just adds another underlying level of frustration about the game.

Despite this graphical disappointment music, and ambience has been given a fair bit of detail, and though there were many concerns about long-time composer Akira Yamaoka leaving the franchise, Downpour most definitely delivers the atmosphere the franchise so rightfully deserves in its score.

Final Thoughts

It's tough to say if any old horror fan should pick up Downpour, as how much anyone can enjoy the game will be directly tied in with a personal level of tolerance. Anyone who can look past the game's subpar plot and glaring technical issues should find themselves at least impressed by other qualities of the game, perhaps enough so to want to stick around for the ride. If you can bear it there's certainly aspects of the game to appreciate, particularly when the developers hit those few moments of inspirational gameplay where everything clicks. Otherwise it's a puzzle game with poor combat, a spooky setting, and no real rewards.

When it clicks, it's inspired.
Fixed cameras are back.
The soundtrack is suitably unnerving.
The combat system is very poor.
Technically, it's a bit of a mess.
The story isn't up to the Silent Hill standards.
blog comments powered by Disqus