Take a spoonful of insanity, a bag full of traumatic childhoods, the nightmares of many a mental patient, and vigorously stir in an occult bowl filled with blood. And what do you get? A creation that looks a lot like Silent Hill.
Silent Hill Downpour is the eighth game in this prolific, and often troubled, series. Longtime fans will tell you that the only games that matter are Silent Hill 1 and 2 and I would be inclined to agree; both of those games are incredible and the more recent sequels have never really been able to match their greatness. Silent Hill Downpour has made a valiant effort however, adding new features, expanding the size of the town and introducing a whole new cast of characters. However it suffers from a few niggling issues that prevent it from reaching the epic heights of the first few games of the series.
Downpour’s protagonist, Murphy Pendleton, finds himself stranded in the eerie and psychotic town of Silent Hill after an accident while he was being transferred to a maximum security prison. His goal at first is simply to escape but as the weird and terrifying events unfold, Murphy discovers he may have more in common with Silent Hill than he first thought.
Discovering more details about Murphy’s chequered past through clues, such as notes, pictures and documents hidden throughout the town, soon becomes your only subject of interest and the main incentive to actually play the game. The other characters you encounter, of which there are but a few, are pretty dull despite some strong voice acting. This makes it very easy to make some of the game’s ‘moral decisions’ because you don’t care about what happens to them either way. I say ‘moral decisions’ in inverted commas because, in most cases, your decisions only come down to whether you help them or let them die. It’s not clear what the consequences of the moral choices are beyond the obvious effect on the game’s ending.
As is often the case the most interesting character in the game happens to be the town itself, which has been revitalised with a disturbing new face-lift. At first it’s very interesting wandering around the dense fog in the dark with almost no clue where to go, never knowing what’s around each corner, jumping at small noises because of the tension. However frustration soon sets in as you wonder exactly where it is that you’re supposed to be going. There is very little in terms of direction, which is a painfully old-school feature. You’re given an objective, but no hints on how to achieve your goals.
For example, one early puzzle involved lowering a ladder in order to transverse over the rooftops and reach other parts of the town. As it happens the solution is to find a harpoon and use it to hook the ladder down, because Murphy simply can’t jump that high or even place a box underneath it. Now it may just be me, but that puzzle solution seemed to be completely without logic.
The main reason you’ll invariably find yourself at a loss as to where to go is because every time you enter a new area you need to find a map to navigate it. Maps are normally hidden near the entrance to a new area, but on the odd occasion they’re very hard to find. This is where I would advise you go into the pause menu and turn on the option to make all intractable items and pick ups flash, that way you won’t miss something and have to backtrack even more than is necessary.
Regardless, Downpour looks exactly how a Silent Hill game should; it’s visually impressive, with great textures, with environments full of creepy details and fantastic lighting effects. However it’s lacking a certain “je ne sias quoi”, there aren’t any majorly impressive moments, or anything that really gets you excited and so most of the background just passes by unnoticed. The best parts are when the town begins to twist and morph into its alternate hellish nightmare world, where the walls are painted with blood and guts, made of razor wire, and the mirrors reflect only madness. At this point the true madness begins, with rotating rooms, endless staircases, walking on the ceiling while the floor turns into a giant clock made out of buzz-saws. The catalyst for these changes is, as you might guess from the title, water. Wherever there are large bodies of water, insanity is soon to follow, with the rain itself being the most terrifying thing in the game.
As you would expect from a Silent Hill game, what stands out the most is Downpour’s brilliant score. While Akira Yamaoka, the original composer for the Silent Hill games, is not involved in this game, the music stays true to the series’ style, being both cool and unnerving. A welcome feature is the hidden radios located around town playing classic tracks from previous games, which I’m sure that the fans will love. As hard as the music tries to scare you, unfortunately, the score is dragged down and spat all over by the rest of the game which, for a survival horror title, just isn’t scary enough.
For a start the enemies are more humorous than frightening, they lack the sheer originality and unnerving quality of the enemies from the first few games. More often than not the same deformed humanoids will appear time and time again, serving as little more than an annoyance. Even managing to dispatch them grants little satisfaction, due to the game’s awkward combat system. Unless you have a long metal melee weapon to keep bad guys at arms length it’s better to simply run away.
Since Murphy isn’t the most bad-ass criminal ever, you wont be able to take on more than one creature at a time. If you do get boxed in, you don’t have to worry about lack of weapons at least, since you can use almost any object in the environment, such as rocks, wrenches, axes, dining chairs, pointy sticks, garden tools and even the odd gun as well. Having said that, in my experience, your’re better off with melee, since the aiming and shooting system is also pretty clunky (but bullets do still come in handy for the BIG monsters).
One thing Downpour should be praised for is it’s interesting health system. Rather than filling the screen with health bars, damage is displayed by cuts, bleeding wounds, and bruises on Murphy himself, which is great because it works well in the context of a survival horror and it removes the HUD making the game a little more immersive. If you find yourself ambushed without a weapon you will be unable to block enemy attacks and must try to find a weapon as quickly as possible. Thanks to some poor enemy A.I you wont even have to worry too much about that since the enemies have a habit of getting stuck on walls, or bumping into each other.
Despite these flaws, I’m not prepared to say the combat is a complete and utter failure, as there are some fun times to be had, it can just be frustrating is all. It’s nice that the developers saw fit to leave an abundance of health kits lying around, although these do become harder to find on higher difficulty levels.
In typical Silent Hill fashion Downpour is also riddled with puzzles, which, depending on the difficulty level, can be frustrating. The solutions are often a lot simpler than you think, but sometimes even the brightest of sparks may get stuck. Puzzles often open up new areas or give you the means to do so, making them an important tool for driving the game forward, but more often than not they just seem to slow down the already monotonous pace. The loading screens don’t help matters either, as they seem to pop up at the most unexpected times – I shouldn’t have to see one just for entering a small room.
To really get the most out of Silent Hill Downpour, you need to play it in the dark, music up loud, maybe have a few candles burning and if you can plan your sessions around rainy days and lighting storms that would help too. Everyone has different tolerances for fear but Silent Hill Downpour does often end up being more humorous than frightening. The enemy creatures behave in a stupid way, and the narrative never really picks up any momentum.
Despite there being multiple endings, and various side quests to complete, I see little reason to replay Silent Hill Downpour once it has been completed. Vatra Games have put in a decent effort, but Silent Hill Downpour fails to reach the lofty heights of the earlier Silent Hill titles.
Graphics: 3.5/5 – Visually Downpour is quite detailed, with some nice textures, shaders and lighting that all gel together nicely forming an excellent reincarnation of the famous town. However, while new locations have been added, it just doesn’t feel like enough.
Sound: 4/5 - Silent Hill is well known for its high quality soundtracks, and Downpour does not let us down in that regard. As well as all new tracks the game features some of the series’ more well known tracks from previous games, which should please fans of the franchise. The sound effects are also, for the most part, really good.
Gameplay: 2/5 - The gameplay is simple and well thought out, but it just has too many shortcomings to make it fully enjoyable. The combat is inconsistent and the enemies aren’t much fun to kill. When exploring the town it’s just far too easy to get lost and thusly become bored.
Longevity: 2/5 - This is a game which you will be very relieved to finish and probably wont want to go back to again any time soon… if you do it’ll be for the game’s large list of trophies/achievements and to find the abundance of notes and clues to fill in Murphy’s notebook and finish those side-quests.
Overall: 3 out of 5
Silent Hill Downpour has done much better than previous games in the series, but it’s no classic. It can be dull and frustrating at times but there are moments of greatness here and there. It looks like Silent Hill and sounds like Silent Hill, but it doesn’t have the demented black heart we’ve all come to know and love.
- Adam Radcliffe