Review: Silent Hill: Downpour
As the eighth installment in the series, Silent Hill: Downpour attempted to do a completely new take on it, severing all story ties with previous games. It's both an admirable and risky move on the developer's part, but did this title take the legacy forward, or put yet another forgettable stain on it?
- Worth The Time?Yes, it's a refreshing take on the series that offers an intriging experience.
- Things LovedThe horror sequences are memorable and terrifying, the compelling nature of the game, the refreshing feeling to the game despite it managing to revisit some of its roots, the music, the intriguing story, the unsettling and atmospheric town of Silent Hill, the way the characters you meet unnerve you and make you feel unwelcome, freedom of exploration is a good step forward, the puzzles are great, the game experience feels powerful, the pacing is excellent, the visuals do an awesome job of capturing the horror.
- Things HatedThere's no physicality to the combat system as it feels floaty and rather weak, combat can damage the experience when it's forced on you since for most of the game you're able to run, the frame rate can sometimes stutter for no reason, the final boss fight is pitiful, it's great that the game doesn't hold your hand but sometimes you can be clueless as to what to do until you learn the game's language, the monsters are bland and unimaginative.
- RecommendationIt would be best if you don't think too much about the previous games in the franchise. Go into Downpour with an open mind and you'll really appreciate the genuinely scary and compelling experience it offers. This is definitely worth playing whether you're a fan or someone new to the series.
- Name: Silent Hill: Downpour
- Genre: Survival Horror
- Players: 1
- Multiplayer: N/A
- Platforms: PS3, Xbox 360
- Developer: Vatra Games
- Publisher: Konami Digital Entertainment
- Price: R399-449
- Reviewed On: PS3
The Silent Hill series has been at a rather depressing low for some time now, and it didn’t show any majorly positive signs of recovering. When Silent Hill: Downpour was announced, I became hopeful at it deciding to go in a completely new direction, but I was skeptic of it being influenced too heavily by contemporary styles, forgetting all that made it such a compelling game. I went into Downpour expecting to be disappointed, and ready to be bitter about all that it could have been, so you can imagine my surprise when Downpour caused me to engage with it for hours on end, unable to get away from it and becoming frustrated when I was forced to stop playing. I’d long given up hope that I’d find a deeply interesting and frightening horror game any time soon, and by that I mean find one that doesn’t just require you to commit monster genocide. But Silent Hill: Downpour offered me many of the things I’ve been missing from the genre, and even though it stumbles along the way, it delivers for the most part.
The game has no ties to the story from the previous games, and instead takes things in its own direction. I feel this was badly needed in order to provide players with a refreshing take on the franchise, and that’s exactly what it is to a certain extent. Sure as a fan you may be familiar with many of the game’s tricks, but despite that Downpour offers a powerful narrative-fueled experience filled with memorable moments and intriguing characters. In the game you take on the role of convict Murphy Pendleton who, for reasons initially not revealed, is being transferred to another facility. Along the way, the transport vehicle meets in an accident and unfortunately strands Murphy in the town of Silent Hill. To say more would spoil an experience you’d much rather want to play through yourself, but it’s important to know that Murphy is quite a uniquely interesting lead, and you’ll find out who he is and what all he’s done through a series of flashbacks over the course of the game. And as you know there’s a reason the town wants Murphy there, and he’ll have to face a great many dangers and a number of character-defining decisions, as well as come to terms with his past if he’s to survive.
Now, there have been a lot of complaints about this game amongst critics, but really this is the first Silent Hill game that I’ve invested so strongly in since before the tragic title that was Homecoming. The developers of this title were perfectly justified, after seven games in this franchise, to try something new and attempt to deliver a fresh take on the haunted town we’ve grown to love so much over the years. If this sort of re-imagining doesn’t happen, then all we’re going to be left with is an assembly line producing the same title over and over again. That said, Downpour is Silent Hill, and it retains its roots whilst still making some modern advancements, particularly with its scale, player-controlled free camera and simplified controls. But don’t be fooled. If you want to be reminded of the old days, then Downpour does that pretty well, as you won’t have your hand held at all, and you’ll pretty much be left to figure everything out on your own with no sense of direction other than a vague map and a word or two from the protagonist. The game does a fantastic job of making you feel lost and rather lonely, but the irony is that loneliness can be a gift considering the monsters and crazies you’ll meet along the way.
The name of the game is exploration, and in this way Downpour has been scaled up quite a lot. It’s not exactly an open world, but there’s a lot of ground to cover if you’re planning to explore every nook and cranny of the town, not to mention you’re able to enter quite a lot of houses and buildings. In addition to the main storyline, there are completely optional side missions that do well to provide their own scares and tell their own interesting little stories, and the good part is that you can avoid these entirely without penalty, but doing them will expand the backstory and reward you with supplies. But there’s also another reason to venture off into sheltered houses, and that’s because of the heavy rain and merciless storms that come and go, which serve to draw out the town’s monsters and make them even more aggressive. Now you know where Downpour got its name. As if the thick mist, creepy anomalies and eerie music wasn’t enough to make you want to run and hide. It should be clear that Downpour is a very atmospheric game, and the developers definitely did fantastically well to make Silent Hill a scary, unnerving and haunted place that is constantly oppressive, and doesn’t ever let you feel at ease.
The best moments in this game come from its memorable scares, its intriguing puzzles and its terrifying set pieces and environments, and it’s hard not to get sucked into the mystery of Silent Hill because of how great these moments are. Admittedly, the game has to be rolling in first gear for you to be compelled, and it can be a rather rough start if you don’t speak the game’s language. It’s great that the game doesn’t hold your hand at all, but sometimes you can just be utterly clueless as to where you’re supposed to go or what you need to do in order to progress, and running around aimlessly naturally loses its appeal, so if you’re not used to this kind of experience then don’t feel bad about consulting a walkthrough. I don’t remember the last time I’ve ever had to use one in all my years of gaming, but there were moments in this game where I was pretty lost, and that could be partly due to the fact that I put the puzzle difficulty on hard. Overall though, when the game gets going it’s deeply interesting and damn unnerving. Personally speaking, I genuinely don’t get scared for any horror movies or games, as I tend to find them amusing, but you know it’s a compelling and immersive experience when you’re on the edge of your seat and don’t notice the time fly past, you’re jumping at every door closing loudly behind you and your mind is trying to scare itself. The game is pretty good at messing with you.
Downpour is definitely a callback to what makes horror titles great, but sadly it’s not perfect, and stumbles quite a bit on the way. The two most disappointing things about the game, which are also its biggest failings, is the monsters and the combat, and I’ll start with the latter. I have absolutely no problem with the clumsy and ineffective combat system, because that is how it’s meant to be. You’re supposed to feel like an ordinary, vulnerable man against these monstrous creatures, and not like some kind of super soldier. You’re supposed to run from fights, which fortunately Downpour allows you to do most of the time. However, what I do take issue with is firstly that there’s no physicality to the combat, as it feels really floaty almost like you’re swinging your weapons underwater, so there’s no jarring or brutal effect in swinging a sledgehammer or axe and making contact with an enemy. Secondly, and much worse, is that there are times, especially at the end of the game, where combat is forced onto you, and clearly the game’s primitive mechanics aren’t made for that, so it can become really frustrating and disappointing. Fortunately though you can avoid fights for almost the entire game.
The monsters are also surprisingly a letdown, as they’re bland and unimaginative. They succeed at being freaky and dangerous, but they don’t share any personal connection with Murphy and don’t seem to have any meaning in the game other than just being there. If there had been a bit less of them or if they had been removed entirely, it may have even made the game better. This may seem like a huge deal, but it isn’t really, since the game’s best moments don’t even involve monsters at all and you can, and should, run away from most encounters. However, it is saddening that so much effort went into the game’s atmosphere, but the monsters hardly received the same care and attention. What makes up for this somewhat are Downpour’s “Otherworld” sections, where players are thrown into a desecrated and evil parallel dimension and forced to run from a burning red light. These sections are both intense and creepy, as players will have to knock over objects to slow down the red light as well as think fast about which direction to run. These sections start out great, but admittedly in the later stages of the game they can focus too much on trial and error and go on for too long with no checkpoints in between.
However, these two flaws combine in the ending sequence to produce a final act that is borderline intolerable, if not for the game’s multiple endings and horror-filled moments in between. In the final act combat is forced onto you and monsters appear more frequently, which really gets under your skin and causes immense frustration, threatening to put a damper on all that you’ve enjoyed throughout the experience. And it doesn’t help that the final boss fight is just pitiful, but thankfully it doesn’t take long once you know what to do. It’s really unfortunate because most of the game’s shortcomings can be forgiven throughout the game, even if their significance may differ from player to player, but the ending sequence throws the two biggest flaws at you and makes you pay full attention to them with no way out. But no matter how frustrating these parts of the final act were, it was just impossible for me to ignore everything else, because it’s been too long since I’ve had a genuinely powerful, good and lasting horror experience. Yes it’s new, but it’s still very much Silent Hill, and I feel the developers found a great balance between holding onto the franchise’s roots without neglecting the need for it to move forward.
Downpour will take you about eight to ten hours to complete the main story, with plenty more substance readily available if you decide to do all of the side quests and explore the town in full. Plus there are multiple endings, as mentioned above, so that adds to the game’s replay value. Graphically speaking, the game is great visually, and it really has to be since atmosphere is everything in a game like this. But fortunately it’s the town of Silent Hill that ultimately gets the most credit, as it’s fantastically realised and really captures the haunted feeling that it should have. The rain and storm effects are awesome, and really add a different dynamic to both the game and its visual style. The character models and environments are really well detailed, but the monsters leave a lot to be desired, even if they are creepy at times. On a technical front, there were no problems other than the frame rate, which sometimes stuttered for no reason at all. Although I could make a minor nitpick about the loading, which occurs in real-time and sometimes causes the game to freeze for a few seconds. It’s distracting, but not game breaking in any way. Finally, the game’s music is excellent, really drawing you in and creating the atmosphere with all the familiar yet still eerie background noises and soft haunting melodies.
Silent Hill: Downpour is not a revolution in the horror genre, and it probably doesn’t outclass the best games in this franchise. What it does, however, is drag this series out of its depressing slump and deliver a genuinely good, compelling and memorable experience that is driven by a powerful narrative and plenty of terrifying moments. It’s a refreshing game that remains satisfyingly familiar, and when it gets going, it’s hard to put down. And that’s a great relief, since these days Silent Hill usually spells disappointment and missed opportunities. Downpour corrects that, returning the series to greatness.