- Silent Hill: Downpour
- CLR [rating:3.0]
Release Date: March 20th, 2012
Platform: Xbox 360, Playstation 3
Developers: Vatra Games
Publisher: Konami Digital Entertainment
Genre: 3rd person survival horror
ESRB: M for Mature
Any aficionado of psychological horror gaming will name you three key series: Forbidden Siren, Fatal Frame (Project Zero) and, most importantly, Silent Hill. All three bring unique terror to the table but Silent Hill is nothing short of legendary when it comes to instilling pure fear. The original PlayStation title was released in 1999 by Team Silent who went on to make Silent Hill 2, 3 and 4: The Room. While the original Silent Hill was a solid starter, 2 is considered to be the pinnacle of the series and 3 a highly commendable entry. From The Room onwards, however, the Silent Hill series has been in slow decline, passed from developer to developer and steadily worsening with each subsequent title. Origins and Homecoming managed to miss the point of what it means to be trapped in a town built around your tragedy-stricken psyche, and Shattered Memories made a hodgepodge attempt at “re-imagining” the first Silent Hill game with only a rudimentary level of success. The recent HD collection re-release of 2, 3 and The Room was so badly done it was pulled from the shelves. With a history of pitfalls behind it, Silent Hill: Downpour was an opportunity to make things right again.
Making things right is exactly what protagonist Murphy Pendleton has in mind, although his methods are certainly questionable. Incarcerated for reasons initially unknown but later revealed with the usual macabre twist, the player’s first task is to step into the prison showers and brutally murder a fellow inmate. Murphy appears unflinching as your sink you blade into the man’s flabby underbelly and a nauseating tone is set for the following hours. An attempt to transfer Murphy to a higher security prison inevitably goes horribly wrong, leaving a bus of inmates and prison guards dead and Murphy stranded in “The Devil’s Pit,” a derelict tourist attraction, with no means of escape but a tram car down to… well, you can take a guess.
A sense of wrongness pervades, but it does not quite frighten. Murphy may step with caution but the sense of any impending threat is dulled rather than enforced by a prolonged sequence of disquiet. A degradable weapons system which uses everyday objects (broke bottles, fire axes, even large rocks) ensures Murphy is armed quite comfortably before his first monster encounter, and a good thing too. For a supposedly hardened criminal Murphy is hopelessly outmatched by most opponents, particularly in harder combat modes – not that this is in any way a bad thing. Murphy is no soldier and while he can incapacitate a single combatant with only a few scratches, fending off multiple assailants often requires the player to flee altogether. Vulnerability has always been a staple of horror success, and Downpour toes the line between fear and frustration with ease once the threat is finally established.
Enemy variance forces the player into standoffs where patience and strategy are key; running headfirst into the foray is a sure way to get Murphy killed. Murphy is able to spare the monsters that besiege him, merely crippling them and leaving them in a twitching heap on the floor rather than killing them. On reflection, this doesn’t quite add up to the “good guy Murphy” that the associated ending tries to emulate, but it’s interesting to have a mechanic that comments on your gaming attitude – personally I bludgeoned everything to death without mercy, and I paid a price. This harks back to the Silent Hill 2 system which monitored your interactions with an NPC as a gauge of how faithful you were to your (dead) wife, and punished you accordingly.
Downpour’s recognition of and homage to its more successful predecessors align it comfortably in the spirit of the franchise, reusing familiar sound assets from as far back as the original title and the serving up of a multitude of endings dictated by a player’s in-game behaviour as well as their more obvious “moral choices” – essentially, press X to not be evil. A return to the ability to customise both combat and puzzle difficulties bodes well from the outset, although none of the puzzles come close to Silent Hill 3’s bookstore puzzle in hard mode which requires a working knowledge of Shakespearian verse to complete. Symptomatic of the video game industry’s foray into “accessible gaming,” it is still only the hardcore fans who will be disappointed by the riddles on offer. Its self-referential nature serves well to both cast the minds of veteran players back to their first steps in Silent Hill, and to supply newcomers with background details to their adventure.
While a relatively solid entry into the Silent Hill canon, Downpour stumbles in several instances. Technical flaws distract from the game’s flow, juddering frame rates being the main offender as the game inexplicably slows to a crawl and the player’s immersion is punctured. While it employs all the essential ingredients of an effective atmospheric horror, Downpour’s parts fail to merge together into a cohesive whole. With horror fans wising up to the tricks of the trade, it is up to the designers of games like Downpour to pull something new out of the hat, as opposed to the same old demonic rabbit. Downpour does what it does well, but there’s not much new to see in terms of scares. Veterans will have to continue their wait for the next great title. Newcomers may enjoy the chills and thrills, but are highly advised to go back to the series’ humble beginnings if they want to get a true idea of what it means to walk the streets of Silent Hill.