The first place I saw Silent Hill: Downpour was at the Konami’s booth at the annual E3 Expo in Los Angeles, last year, it was playable and it looked pretty good. As many longtime fans of series and after some serious departures from the original formula, I was of course skeptical of how the final product would turn out. In many ways, I am pleasantly surprised.
The survival horror genre in video games has been dominated by Resident Evil and Silent Hill for about the last 15 years. Resident Evil has generally taken a more action oriented approach where Silent Hill has typically focused on the more psychological aspects of horror. Unfortunately, starting with Silent Hill 4, the more recent entries have been significantly more combat-oriented. Luckily Downpour heads the series back toward its eerie roots.
Silent Hill: Downpour is the story of Murphy Pendleton a convict in Ryall State Corrections Facility. Downpour starts here giving you a quick combat tutorial. This tutorial and choice of protagonist doesn’t do much to encourage players of a return to its psychological roots but, the clunky combat and destructible weapons do somewhat foreshadow your character’s mortality. The difficulty of the combat and puzzles can be adjusted in the menu.
If the fighting wasn’t difficult enough, the return to fixed camera angles will also present its own challenge. On the PlayStation 3, L2 is used to lock on an enemy or aim, tapping Square will attack, while holding it will result in a strong attack. R2 throws or shoots the few firearms you will find and finally, the Triangle button is used to block. In the past, poor combat mechanics were justified with everyday protagonists but, you’d probably expect a convict to be a little better at fighting.
For some reason, Murphy and few other convicts are scheduled for a transfer to Wayside Maximum Security Prison and this where the story really starts. The bus crashes on the way near, of all places, the town of Silent Hill. Almost immediately after the crash, Murphy is faced with the first moral choice to make. These moral choices affect the story later and of course which of the five possible (on first play-through) endings you receive.
Downpour features a changing environment including weather and time of day. At night and during the rain the enemies are more plentiful and stronger and just because they’re down, doesn’t mean they’re out. It is also worth noting that there are not many different types of enemies to encounter and not many of the classics either. All is not puzzles and safety inside, however. It doesn’t take long for Murphy to encounter the “Otherworld” and deadly void. There is nothing to do but run and think quickly. Downpour does offer the ability to look back at your chaser but, when does that ever do any good?
Except for the beginning, which could be the beginning of any number of games, Silent Hill: Downpour goes a long way toward returning the series to what made it great in the first place. The biggest obstacles are the technical issues that plague the game. The frame rate and draw distance issues are probably the worst I’ve seen on a game in this console generation and the combat is, in addition to being clunky and limited, a little bit broken. Swinging a weapon doesn’t always result in hitting what you would expect and be careful where you throw things, you might not always be able to retrieve them. The technical issues while distracting and sometimes frustrating do not make the game entirely unplayable.
Fans of the Silent Hill series should be heartened by Vatra’s return to the feel of the older games in the series. Though Downpour is obviously a new take on an old trick, it’s not just the homage that Daniel Lict’s industrial soundtrack and even Korn’s title track do well. A surprising bonus, considering the other graphical issues is a well executed 3D option. Besides Uncharted 3, Silent Hill: Downpour has the most effective 3D, I’ve seen in a PlayStation 3 game. The games’ sidequests and scripted scare events help put together an experience that differentiates it from previous titles in the series as well as other survival horror games.
Silent Hill: Downpour is rated M (Mature) by the ESRB for Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Sexual Themes, Strong Language. This game can also be found on Xbox 360.