Many consider the first three Silent Hill games to be some of the best examples of the survival horror genre. This high level of quality unfortunately didn’t make it through four sequels that followed, as they just couldn’t get the same sense of horror of the classic originals. The release of Silent Hill: Downpour begs the question: Is this the return to form that fans have been looking for, or is this another misstep for the series?
The story follows Murphy Pendleton, an inmate at a high security prison. During a prison transfer, the bus he’s riding in drives over a cliff and crashes into Silent Hill. “Scary” wouldn’t be the word I would use to describe Downpour; ”disturbing” would be more fitting. It does have its interesting moments, though — the “Otherworld” areas can be memorable, as well as Murphy’s descent into and survival in Silent Hill. There are also instances where the player is offered a choice on what to do next, such as helping a character or leaving them to die. However, this really doesn’t effect the main game until you beat it. The ending you get for winning depends on what decisions make. The endings you get are obvious; if you’re a jerk you get a bad ending, and if you’re a nice guy, you get a good ending. This is all well and good, but I’d prefer to have decisions that make a difference. The plot of Silent Hill is very much etched in stone, and choices you make will not change the plot during your playthrough. This begs the question “Why have choice if it ultimately doesn’t matter?”
There’s very little to be afraid of in Downpour, although the imagery and some of the objectives were very unsettling. The tutorial level is a great example of this. The objective is to kill a man in the prison shower. You’re taught how to pick up and use melee weapons, using them to slowly and agonizingly kill him as he cries for mercy. It certainly isn’t a happy experience. Another disturbing moment involves helping three departed spirits achieve rest…after you witness one of them brutally murdering the other two. Did I mention one of them was a child?
The characters are mostly forgettable, although I really hated Murphy as a result of playing through the tutorial. You can certainly make the argument that most game characters are mass murders in some respect, but their enemies don’t necessarily die a slow death and beg for mercy. Not liking Murphy at all hurt the experience for me. I know people enjoy playing the antihero in games, but it’s not really my bag.
New to the Silent Hill series is the aforementioned melee combat. Littered throughout the levels are various items you can pick up and use to fight opponents; rocks, wrenches, crowbars, pickaxes, and 2×4′s are a few examples. Murphy can hold one melee weapon and one firearm at a time, and the melee weapon will wear down and eventually break after continued use.
The emphasis on melee shocked me. The fact that it was useless in previous entries — especially in the first three games — was part of what made Silent Hill great survival horror. You shouldn’t be able to go toe to toe with some of these nightmarish creatures, and that aspect made the first games so tense. It was often a better strategy to run away; you weren’t a battle-hardened soldier, you were just a normal person.Now when I say the the fighting is lousy I mean it. Especially when Murphy is trying to handle a small object. The animation for him attacking looks like they did a mocap of my 5 year old sister. Thankfully when using the heavier objects, the animations for the attacks looks better.
This would be forgivable if the combat was any good, but the system is terrible, while the animations are repetitive and unsatisfying. The system consists of blocking an enemy attack, countering, and doing it over until they’re dead. There is also no reward for killing enemies, aside from unlocking some trophies. Defeated enemies don’t drop health or anything of use, so it feels pointless.
There are firearms in Downpour as well. These weapons handle well enough, and they do the most damage as well. They aren’t without their disadvantages, though. They all have various reloads times that can make them a disadvantage to use in groups, making a melee weapon preferable. On top of this, bullets in this game are scarce to the point of questioning whether it’s worth using the ammo in the first place. I actually liked this as it made the gameplay a little more nerve-racking at times, and it really sells Downpour as a survival horror game.
Graphically, Downpour could have used some touching up as it suffers from severe texturing issues. It’s especially visible with close-ups of the characters as Murphy’s hair looks like it was made of clay. The textures on objects such as trees, buildings, and clothes are also very pixelated when you see them up close, making some cutscenes very displeasing to look at. I can’t help but feel that the monsters would have been a little scarier if they looked better graphically.
The one thing I can compliment, without any sort of negative statement, is the audio. The music does its job well, setting the tone nicely for some of the more exciting moments. On top of this, the voice actors did a great job with what they were given. I still didn’t like the characters, but I applaud the voice actors for giving everything they to their respective roles. The sound effects was probably the scariest trait of Silent Hill: Downpour. The sudden cries of the screamer enemies as they attacked almost always caught me off guard. The soundtrack did an excellent job in making it seem like I was on a street, or in a basement or cave.
The story of Murphy trying to survive Silent Hill and escape is nicely told. In fact, some of the visuals of nightmares from the “otherworld” are actually pretty out there. But to get to the story, you will have to find it yourself. While sometimes you’ll be given a hint as to where to go, but other times you’ll find yourself in a seeming endless search for anything resembling a plot point. This is where the trademark creepy fog backfires. It’s easy to go in circles because you can’t see anything until you’re close enough. While open worlds can be fun — the entire town is open for exploration — they lose their appeal if you can’t see where you’re going. The only thing there is to do is fight random enemies you come across, but the fighting system is putrid. You end up trading a boring experience with a miserable one. When I was told I was playing a horror game, this is not what I expected.
Sadly, Silent Hill: Downpour doesn’t do the franchise many favors. The melee system was poorly executed, the characters are lame, and the gameplay is just plain boring. The story does have a few flashes of brilliance, but they’re hidden behind hours of not knowing what to do next. If you want to grab a strategy guide so you’re not lost, feel free to give it a try. Skip it otherwise.
FINAL GRADE: C