Published by Konami
Developed by Vatra Games
In Silent Hill Downpour you’ll step into the shoes of Murphy Pendleton, a prisoner who at the beginning of the game is about to be transferred from one jail to another. The transfer isn’t a smooth one however as the driver is distracted and loses control of the bus resulting in it overturning. Having survived the crash Pendleton finds that his cuffs have been removed and that there’s nothing to stop him from wandering off. Whilst it initially seems as though he’s had a lucky break, he’s right next to a town called Silent Hill which he unwitting makes his way into.
For a while now the Silent Hill series has felt like it has moved away slightly from its true nature. This culminated with Silent Hill: Homecoming which if anything felt more like a survival-horror action game rather than remaining true to the series. Developer Vatra Games have made Downpour feel much more like a Silent Hill game. There’s a good mix of puzzles on offer here and it’s once again preferable to avoid combat if at all possible. You’ll also get to spend time in ‘the other world’ although probably not as much as fans of the series would like. New elements have been introduced too. Enemies are more frequent when it rains and there are even moral dilemmas to consider.
Combat has never been a strong point of the Silent Hill series and if you were expecting that to change in Downpour, you may be a little disappointed. Your combat options boil down to attacking by pressing the X button or blocking by pressing the Y button. Initially this is disappointing but it must be remembered that more often than not it’s not actually a good idea to engage in combat if you don’t have to. Escaping is often the more desirable option, although there are times when you don’t have a choice. The rather limp combat is also something you can kind of negate thanks to the game giving you a difficulty level for both the combat and the puzzles. Should you really not want to be too concerned with the combat you can always set the difficulty level to easy whilst you can ramp up the puzzle difficulty if the puzzles are more your thing or vice versa.
There are many items that you can use as weapons in Downpour including stones, crowbars, fire extinguishers, garden rakes, nail guns and of course real firearms, although you won’t encounter stacks of ammunition meaning that the opportunity to use a gun in the game isn’t that common. Pendleton can only carry one weapon at a time (in addition to a gun which can be kept in your inventory) which means you have to try and keep hold of the more effective ones for as long as possible. Most weapons will break on you however, and there are times when you’ll lose the weapon you have equipped, so you’re continually on the lookout for new weapons. You can fight barehanded if you wish but it appears to practically do no damage at all.
The puzzles are in keeping with those found in previous Silent Hill games. For the most part they are straight forward and simply require you to pay a little attention to the clues at hand. None of the puzzles are frustrating which I feel is a good thing as it would interfere with the pace of the game if you were completely stuck for long periods. There is one puzzle which relies on the ability to hear but it’s not as problematic as you might think. You basically have to put on a play of Hansel & Gretel and your task is to do things such as dim the lights, turn on the gramophone, use the spotlight and create some rain and thunder sound effects. With the sound effects the ability to hear is useful of course but (and I apologise as this is a spoiler) it’s common sense that you’d have to turn the drum for the rain sounds and hit the sheet of metal to create the illusion of thunder so it’s not as big a problem as you might think. What I like about the game is that there’s a fair amount of optional objectives to complete and these all appear to fit nicely into the general storyline rather than simply feeling as if they had been added to bloat the game’s content.
At certain points in the game there are moral dilemmas for Pendleton to face and you’ll get to make a choice about the course of action that he should take. These decisions aren’t simply thrown in for the hell of it; they actually do have a bearing on the proceedings and play a part in determining which of the game’s endings you receive. What I particularly liked about these dilemmas is that what follows immediately after you’ve made the decision isn’t always what you’d expect and this certainly does make you think twice about subsequent decisions you have to make later in the game.
Silent Hill looks just as gloomy and as evil as you would expect it to. That’s not to say the game is without its share of problems however. The game suffers from texture pop-in, the frame rate doesn’t remain smooth throughout and this problem is made worse by the occasional stutters that occur. I thought that installing the game would remedy the stutters and it did seem to lessen the problem but it didn’t completely solve the issue. That said, the problem doesn’t hamper the experience in any way but it’s annoying that the performance issues haven’t been sorted out before the game’s release. What you’ll notice is that there isn’t a HUD in the game so you can’t easily keep an eye on how much health you have left. The percentage of health you have remaining can be seen on the statistics screen but the fact that you cannot see this at a glance definitely adds to the tension and makes you err on the side of caution when it comes to using those first aid kits.
Silent Hill Downpour is subtitled and you’ll have absolutely no problems at all in following the game’s storyline. I’ve already mentioned the one potentially tricky puzzle (which can easily be overcome with a little thought and my spoiler) but usually the puzzles simply rely on you reading the pieces of information that you acquire and are recorded in your journal. All of the game’s objectives are given in text and these can be recalled at any time. For the most part there aren’t any captions in Silent Hill Downpour, aside from the debilitating, visible waves that the female creatures emit when then cry out, and whilst this doesn’t prevent you from playing the game it does put you at a disadvantage at times and it certainly removes some of the fear factor. There are many times when the evil creatures that populate Silent Hill can be heard before they are seen. Hearing gamers are more often than not forewarned of an impending attack moments before it happens but there is no visual notification of this. A significant portion of the game’s ambiance is created through the use of eerie music or other sounds and again there is no visual feedback which could serve to heighten the tension. On the whole the game is still absolutely fine to play, although it is more challenging for those who can’t hear.
Few would argue against the opinion that the Silent Hill series has never reached the heights it attained with Silent Hill 2 and Silent Hill 3 and at times it’s felt as though the series has moved away from its roots. Silent Hill Downpour isn’t quite a return to the quality of the second and third games in the series but it’s certainly the first game in the series since those two to really feel like a true Silent Hill experience. The performance issues are unfortunate but they certainly don’t prevent this from being the best Silent Hill game for a long time and it must be said that developers Vatra Games have done a good job in both making Downpour feel authentic and managing to introduce some new elements into the Silent Hill experience.