It’s raining, it’s pouring, the old man is…looking like his ole’ self ag’in….
Silent Hill is one of those typical Konami franchises – constantly searching for the feel of it’s heyday, and often missing the mark by varying degrees. Downpour fits in nicely to this theme, although it’s one of the better instalments in some time – neatly sidestepping the pitfalls of both Origins and the truly terrible Homecoming, it still has it’s own flaws, but certainly evokes the original three games in a way that has been missing for some time.
So, plot – Silent Hill games all follow similar plots, and all are the better for knowing very little, so: you are Murphy Pendleton, a convict who escapes a prison transport after his involvement in a particularly brutal prison murder, who escapes into the clutches of the town of Silent Hill. Silent Hill is a town which is populated by three things: fog, eerie noises, and a buttload of weird creatures who possess a lot of symbolism. All of which somehow seem to know more about Murphy than he would like….
Visually, it’s alright – looking like a cleaner version of the earlier titles, Downpour features many of the same dark and dank locations, and the moments where the game descends into the creepy “Otherworld” are among my favourite in some time. Silent Hills secret underbelly is finally populated with locations that feel less generic, and far more mentally demented, adding a newer runaway twist – rather than simply fighting more creepies, most sections contain some great chase sequences and scripted running sections, which did something new for Silent Hill – disorient the player and make them feel truly lost.
The enemies are a bit middle of the road – there are some good designs here and there, but many creatures seem to simply be bland remakes of better denizens of previous games. Following this, many Realworld locations also hark back to older titles too, offering something a bit bland once again – I can’t help but feel Alan Wake did all this more recently, and with a better atmosphere. Simply put, the town is blander than I remember, and although the sidequests hidden there provide some interesting diversions, it’s still a bit flat.
And while we are moaning, the combat is terrible – admittedly, this is a game aiming to get you running away a bit more, but the moments you do decide to have a go back are dire. The weapons are flimsy and seem to do no damage, they break too easily, and there’s no fluidity – instead it’s random spamming of defend and attack buttons, and hoping to avoid cheap shots from the enemies while wrestling the camera. It’s no fun, and although running away works, its stressful, and not in a good way.
But it isn’t all bad – this is the best SH story in some time, and despite it’s moments of predictability (with a horribly “saw that coming a mile off” set of end game sequences), the journey itself is interesting and weird. Characters have odd motives and behaviours, and although there is still a lack of Pyramid Head-level of enemy greatness, there are some great tension-builders, as well as straight-up jumpy moments. The puzzles are good too – some of them take some hunting to find (for the obligatory better weapons and gear), but every one takes some logical application of the clues given. It’s good stuff indeed.finally a new title that is worth at least a good long rental
It’s more solid than the sum of it’s parts, though; despite the poor combat, bland enemies and basic level design, I can’t get away from the fact that playing is a bit of a joy – it might be nostalgia, but it’s been some time since the fog-drenched town and its denizens has sucked me in in such a way. It’s a bit like a fan described the entire Silent Hill experience to someone who hadn’t ever played the previous titles, and they happened to pick out the key points and weld them into something similar yet fresh. Not since the early Team Silent titles has the gameplay really nailed the core feeling of a Silent Hill title, and Vatra should be commended for their ability to really pull something decent out of the bag.
And I think it’s summed up by the Otherworld itself – while retaining the old vibe, it’s a genuinely new world which, despite having many elements which aren’t perfect, really gets enough core traits to work together to mix it up into something fun. Silent Hill isn’t really back, not yet, but Downpour offers the hope that the series still stands a chance of clawing it’s way back into our gore-drenched hearts as a true masterpiece. It still has lessons to be learned from today’s masters (Alan Wake and Dead Space, if you are interested), but rather than appearing to be a further uninspired mess, Silent Hill Downpour finally a new title that is worth at least a good long rental.
The Good: Back to the roots of Silent Hill; atmospheric, gloomy and oppressive, in the best possible way; good size adventure, with multiple endings and sidequests; some great puzzles; weak combat actually enhances the terror; subtly shifting gameplay based on subconscious choices; looks good for a Silent Hill game…The Bad: …but dated by most standards; Combat really, really sucks; camera gets stuck awkwardly at times; gameplay feels fifteen years old; enemies are a bit unimaginative, and have horrible spam attacks; takes too long to get to the town and the game to open up properly; not much warrant for replays
Bronze Y Award