Silent Hill: Downpour
Developer: Vatra Games | Publisher: Konami Digital Entertainment | Release Date: 2012 | Genre: Survival Horror | Website: N/A | Purchase: Amazon
You know you have problems when the best part of your day involves waking up in a ditch next to a wrecked prison bus. This is the fate of Murphy Pendleton, who happens to be the latest visitor to the least popular tourist resort in the world, Silent Hill. Murphy did some shady things in his past and the bus crashing as he was being transported to a new prison might have been his last shot at freedom. Unfortunately, with the mists of Silent Hill beckoning and an officer with a grudge hot on his trail, the odds are not really in his favor.
Downpour is the 8th installment in a series that has been on a steady decline since the first three games shook up the genre. After a rather slow start, things pick up when you enter the town and discover that you are left to your own devices when it comes to exploring. There are lots of interesting side quests to uncover which, while optional, are well worth the effort. Checking out the town is quite cool, although it becomes immediately apparent that this game is not as atmospheric or scary as past installments.
A new weather system has been introduced whereby storms draw out the creatures and make them attack you more frequently. This is still a walk in the park compared to the roving hordes of monsters from Homecoming, although you can seek shelter indoors and wait out the storm if you prefer not to fight. If you enjoy engaging the creatures you will probably be left disappointed by the limited variety. There are only about four or five different types of monsters and cast in the bright light of day they lack any menace. Screamers look like someone cosplaying The Ring while the “Weeping Bats” look like shaved, albino monkeys. The convicts are just as naff with only the ghostly dolls that require UV light to see offering some originality.
Murphy can only carry one firearm and melee weapon, but with ammo being as scarce as rooster teeth you’ll be spending most of your time whacking creatures with whatever is lying around. Shovels, axes, rakes, pipes and even beer bottles can be employed to snuff out the life of your otherworldly adversaries.
Weapons have a tendency to break at the most inopportune moments, however, but there are usually plenty lying around so this isn’t a problem. Combat is still stiff and clunky, so best avoided unless you really don’t have a choice. There are no boss battles either apart from the final encounter which is probably a good thing considering what a chore the combat is.
The highlight of the Silent Hill games, at least for me has always been the “Otherworld” sections. Downpour however, has decided to change these spooky transitions into chase sequences. Instead of creeping through the blood and rust encrusted environments while being startled by creatures in dim light of your torch, you are now running through mazes while being chased by what looks like a bad screensaver. While wrong turns don’t mean death unless the black hole or whatever it is catches up, but instead results in a loop until you pick the right path. These sections are a pain and despite some interesting visual effects nothing comes close to the Otherworld of previous titles. Things become a bit more creative towards the end and I appreciate the surreal slant they try to give things, but it just doesn’t feel like a Silent Hill game anymore.
Music and sound effects have always been a big part of the series, but with Akira Yamaoka not composing for Downpour it feels even less like a Silent Hill game. The game is actually pretty silent most of the time, which is not as atmospheric as you might think. It even makes the creatures you encounter more mundane as you silently bash their heads in with a brick. The foreboding radio static that signaled the arrival of creatures nearby has been replaced by police chatter on a walkie-talkie which also lacks any menace. While I didn’t have any problem with the voice acting, none of the characters sounded very enthusiastic about their lines. I also couldn’t help but laugh every time Murphy lost health while being chased in the Otherworld as his screams made him sound like Homer Simpson.
While the plot is not as straightforward as Homecoming it is not as deep as it would like you to think either. The biggest problem is that Murphy is just not a very interesting character and most of the big twists are things you see coming a mile away. You are occasionally given morality choices which can impact the ending, but these are always very clearly good or bad. There are some interesting puzzles, especially for the side quests, but nothing really stood out as memorable. I also encountered a few nice easter eggs such as stumbling into The Room from Silent Hill 4.
One of the biggest problems with Downpour on the PS3 is the technical issues. The game has a frame rate that bounces all over the place, resulting in some very choppy gameplay. I also experienced two lockups that required me to restart the console. Considering that the visuals are dated to say the least this is unacceptable. The weather effects are nice, but focusing more on it than the mist or darkness detracts a bit from the game.
While I can appreciate that Vatra Games have tried to shake up the Silent Hill formula, the results are not always that great. There are some genuinely good ideas here, along with the less enjoyable aspects. Maybe the setting is becoming overly familiar, but the lack of scares is also disappointing. Where it not for the technical issues I might have scored the game higher as I did have fun playing it and probably spend more time with it than previous titles. I realize that the odds of another title in the series reaching the heights of the early games are unlikely but Downpour could have been a lot better.
*Review originally published 2012.