The Silent Hillfranchise is an interesting one, fans will talk about it as though it were a stand-out moment of joy in their past, while those of us who have yet to play the games wonder what makes it so compelling. With that in mind, while the town may have declined in quality these past few years, once given a chance to visit it’s difficult to say no. And after playing Silent Hill: Downpour, I see what all of the fuss is about.
Silent Hill: Downpour is the story of Murphy Pendleton, a convict about to be transferred to a maximum security prison, until of course, things go awry. Along the way to Overlook Penitentiary, Murphy’s prison bus crashes, leaving him alone in the desolate town of Silent Hill. Upon entering the town, one thing is distinctly evident: Downpour is a game filled with atmosphere. From creepy audio cues to haunting environments, developer Vatra Games put quite a bit of work into making sure the town was front and center.
In the past, one thing that added to the series’ atmosphere was the haunting music. Unfortunately, with Silent Hill‘s composer Akira Yamaoka now over at Grasshopper Manufacture, fans of the franchise were worried that the game’s sound design would suffer. Thankfully, Dan Licht, Downpour‘s composer, crafted a solid score for the game, with the opening’s theme being among the most memorable. Needless to say, gamers won’t be disappointed.
As a series that’s renowned for its scares, players will find the most terrifying moments to occur while exploring Silent Hill. Downpour‘s main story follows a fairly linear path, and as such the scares aren’t as prominent, it’s more ‘thrilling’ than outright ‘scary’. However, when players walk the streets the terror begins to set in. Water plays a big role in Downpour, and as such, when it starts raining players better seek shelter fast. The rain makes monsters more aggressive, and it also causes them to appear more frequently. Players can take shelter in a few of Silent Hill’s homes, but that doesn’t exactly mean they’re safe. Silent Hill‘s buildings are home to some frightening imagery and their own dark secrets.
Exploring the town will also open up access to side quests. These side quests aren’t that extensive, and they can usually be completed within the same vicinity where players activated them. This is actually quite welcome, as players won’t have to go trekking across town on mindless fetch quests. Aside from giving some back story to the town, one of the side quests will also help in achieving two of six possible endings.
As for the main story, Murphy’s journey is one worth taking. Some of the plot points are a bit predictable, but seeing the way it all unfolds is an experience in and of itself, and players certainly won’t forget some of the gruesome details of Murphy’s past. The way the town takes Murphy’s memories and imposes them onto the environments is at times harrowing, and some of the endings are sure to have the player’s jaw drop.
In terms of combat, gamers have two options: fight or flee. Melee combat is the most common form of combat in the game, as guns are relatively scarce. Murphy’s hand to hand techniques aren’t as proficient as other games, but with good reason: Silent Hill isn’t a brawler. Murphy’s just an ordinary man, he isn’t a master fighter and as such the combat reflects that. When players pick up guns, they’ll find the cross-hairs will sway a bit – meaning not every shot is guaranteed to hit. Weapons will also start to wear down the more they’re used, making switching weapons an absolute must.
At certain times throughout the game, Murphy will enter Silent Hill’s Otherworld, which turns the environment into a much more grotesque version of its former self. These moments are usually accompanied by puzzles and chase sections, the latter of which can get tedious. This is mostly because Murphy will be able to take multiple paths while running, the issue being that only one of these paths is the correct one (a similar idea was explored in Silent Hill: Shattered Memories). This essentially amounts to players running around in circles if they make a wrong turn. Thankfully, there’s always a way to get back onto the first path, meaning one won’t have to see a game over screen each time they accidentally go left instead of right. There are visual clues to help Murphy along, but it’s difficult to keep track when running away from a destructive anomaly.
Vatra should be commended for allowing players to choose separate difficulty levels for puzzles and combat. ‘Accessibility’ is a word gamers seem to hate these days, but as someone who dislikes puzzles, being able to make them as easy as possible certainly increased my enjoyment of the game. Similarly, those who are terrible with combat but love a good puzzle will certainly appreciate the customization options.
While Vatra was able to create an absolutely engrossing game, it all starts to fall apart once technical issues crop up. First off, Downpour is hardly a pretty game. While dated graphics do help to convey the haunting atmosphere, some of the character models look awkward. This doesn’t extend to all of the game’s characters, but there are some that really stand out as members of the uncanny valley club.
There was also one moment in the final level where Murphy’s left arm disappeared, making it impossible for him to shoot the equipped shotgun. This wasn’t one of the game’s psychological tricks, as meleeing revealed his arm was still there, and then reloading the checkpoint set everything back to normal. On top of that, the game lacks the seamless qualities of other recent titles – there are times when the game will cut to a loading screen so it can switch to a cutscene, and then go back to a loading screen once the cutscene is finished. Needless to say, the back and forth ends up pulling players out of the experience.
Framerate is also a problem. Quite frequently the game will just begin to slow down, barely chugging along before resuming back to normal. This seems to occur most often when players have unlocked a trophy, or entering in and out of rooms. We can’t confirm if this is just limited to the PS3 version, or if 360 players will encounter the issue, but needless to say it’s probably best to check around first.
Similarly, gamers on Sony’s console will be sad to hear that the game pretty much screams ’2007-era PS3 port.’ Aiming and shooting is mapped to the left and right triggers respectively, with the shoulder buttons assigned to sprinting and looking backwards. This should be the other way around, especially with how much better the Dualshock’s shoulder buttons are for ranged combat.
Silent Hill Downpour is, in essence, a haunting and engrossing game, but one that’s ultimately brought down by its technical faults. The game would be much easier to recommend if the framerate issues weren’t scarier than the monsters, but it’s still worth checking out. When all is said is done, Vatra have stumbled onto something special, and with them at the helm, the franchise should have a bright future. Except for the fog, but that’s aSilent Hill trademark.
Silent Hill: Downpour is available now for the PS3 and Xbox 360.