Silent Hill is a series that has long since lost its prime. Even though many still complain about Silent Hill Homecoming and its more widely action-based approach to the franchise, strides have been made to change or evolve the series basic foundation all the way back to Silent Hill 4: The Room in 2004. While it's natural to grow with the times for such an initially simple and primal genre like survival-horror (as expertly done with Resident Evil 4 shortly after), the thing with Silent Hill is that, what with the amazing setting, the unbearable atmosphere and the impeding feeling of nothing ever going right for your character, it never really need to be changed since its scares are still horrifying all these years later... at least in this writers point-of-view.
We here behind the scenes of Japanator were initially skeptical of playing Silent Hill Downpour, the newest console entry in the franchise that was released this past March, simply because it's aimed primarily at a Western audience and wasn't even developed in Japan. As an entity though, Silent Hill is still a main stable of the popularity that both survival horror and Japanese video games alike share, and it still was worth a shot to give this game a fair shake against past entries in the series, as well as see how it can stand on its own. Besides, who could pass up a chance to maybe have a good scare or two?
Silent Hill Downpour (Reviewed on PS3)
Whereas other numbered horror games make use of enclosed areas throughout their series as a manner of maintaining claustrophobia, like a mansion for Resident Evil or abandoned buildings in Fatal Frame, Silent Hill for the most part explores an ever-changing town, one that evokes the creepiness of small rural America, and the quirkiness of characters you would find in a place like Twin Peaks. Common themes are explored with seemingly total strangers in each installment, and in those themes, common people and locations are all shared within the continuity of Silent Hill. It's a terrible place to be, and certainly one that resonates with gamers as one of the last famously scary places you'd want to be trapped in, so make no mistake: Downpour still proudly does justice to the small town's name.
Aesthetically, Downpour still looks and feels like the same Silent Hill you know and love, whether it be that the fog still keeps you from knowing what exactly made that sound 10 feet in front of you, witnessing the town physically change itself, or if that thing crawling on the ceiling has spotted you yet. Very little established games in the horror genre have as much freedom for new things as much as the Silent Hill series does, but the thing about the games is that they really love to stick to a lot of the same enemies and locations. Ask me how many times I've fought a nurse in a hospital or a groaner in the industrial Otherworld, full of blood and rusty pipes, and I'll tell you "too many". As a fan of the series, though, and as someone who is really familiar with the tropes it has, whenever there really is a new place that hasn't been explored before or a new enemy that mixes things up, it's all the more surprising and frightening being exposed to something more than the "same-old, same-old".
Thankfully, Downpour seems to get this, and throws a lot of cool, new conventions into the series, mainly of which includes the yet traversed south-eastern region of Silent Hill. Brand-new locations and crazy ideas are played around with throughout the entire game, so those worried of another Homecoming incident will be pleased to hear it. Other effective decisions made to this game directly relate to gameplay, such as the retained ability to look over your shoulder (as carried over from Shattered Memories), and the ability to zoom the game camera in. While the zooming feature is pretty self-explanatory when surveying the thick fog in front of you, the idea of having an entire button dedicated to looking behind your shoulder seems a bit wasteful (which in actuality, it really is, since the camera is fully controllable anyway). However, the addition of it adds so much more to the game... almost like a psychological fear for every time you press it, bringing the camera in nice and close to the horrified face of Murphy. You'll never really get used to just pressing it, instead, you'll grow to doubt yourself every time the coast looks clear, until you hear yourself muttering: "I haven't seen anything the first 100 times I press L1 to look behind me, but I'm still on edge every time I hear a loud noise behind me, because who's to say that there won't be a Weeping Bat hauling ass at me when I check for the 101st time?" This game features a goddamn "shit your pants" button, you guys...
It's nice to know that your character can defend himself against some of the more weaker monster, though... which ultimately makes or breaks a game depending for the more hardcore survival-horror fans. Murphy Pendleton, our newest victim/visitor to Silent Hill, is a runaway convict who narrowly survives a bus accident while being transported to a maximum security prison and lands himself smack-dab in the middle of the quiet town. While he still in some ways fits the"average joe" motif found in every Silent Hill main character, he's still far more capable of fighting back and staying strong than other characters in the canon, so the combat system in the game is a bit more forgiving. Sadly for survival-horror purists, you may need to find your haven in the Hard difficulty, because most average players can breeze through this in a matter of hours with little trouble. While there are still monsters that can one-two hit kill you, plenty of First-Aid kits await you before and after any particularly challenging room. If you're having trouble with a particular nasty monster or boss, my favorite strategy was to run around them until an opening appeared. As much as I tried to stay in the "survival-horror" mindset of playing cautiously, salvaging for hidden items and taking my time with enemies, there were so many times when I was forced to rush through a hideously gorgeous area of the town, or when I already had the maximum number of First-Aid kits in my inventory, or when it was just easier to throw an endless supply of bottles at a nasty monster stuck behind a single pixel of scenery.
While it's not nearly the worst thing about the game, the combat in Downpour is a bit sketchy and simple to control in tense situations, though it's more of a call-back to Silent Hill 2 and 3 territory, fortunately. In fact, instead of feeling overpowered and badass like in Homecoming, or even restricted and unfairly controlled in SH 2 and SH 3, the balance is arguably just right here, needing only a button to vaguely lock-on to a target, another button to swing/shoot/throw your weapon, and another button to sort-of block an attack. To check your health, you quickly pause the game and check your statistics, which like in every Silent Hill game just feels right for some reason and helps pause the action, never cluttering the screen with an unnecessary HUD or prompt. Fights themselves, however, occasionally teeter on polar opposite experiences. There are those instances where you live in the moment, being overwhelmed while fighting a couple of bad guys before narrowly surviving, asking yourself how you managed to live through that in a mix of frightened and relieved emotions. But then ten minutes later, you find yourself exploiting the weak AI in the game, running back and forth between rooms and waiting for them to come in or turn around so you can use your gun with 20 clips still left in it to kill them. Far too often does the game alternate its battles with scenarios like this, sometimes mixing things up with another on-rails segment or a brutally long puzzle or a neat scripted event to almost make you forget that you were just beating a disemboweled chick with a frying pan while she was stuck on a log five minutes ago.
Speaking of puzzles, far too often have I become burned out on Silent Hill because of it's tedious/borderline OCD requirements for puzzles. It seems to happen far too often to be a coincidence: Murphy walks into a house, and sure enough, I'm taking it really slow to avoid a monster getting the jump on me. I work my way upstairs to a locked door, so I got back downstairs to look around for a key. Well, I find myself in the basement of the house, which itself has a broken lift that requires a cable and five huge empty, scary-looking rooms. After exploring the basement for 10 minutes, I actually find the key back upstairs in a kitchen drawer. So I go upstairs, unlock the door, and see three rooms. in one of the rooms, there is a safe that requires I enter the correct combination to unlock. I search the other rooms and find an electrical cord. After hustling my way back to the basement, I find out that I can't use that to start the lift.
Instead, I later find out, through the suggestion of a friend trying to be funny, that I use the electrical cord to heat up a pot of coffee, which steamed up the window behind it, giving me the combination to the safe. When I opened the safe, it was a pistol, and as awesome as that sounds... what it meant was that I still couldn't find the fucking cables to start that lift up in the basement. I probably spent an hour total in that house/diner before finally realizing that I had to trigger a cutscene in the basement after finding the gun, go back up to the top floor to find another door magically unlocked, grab the cables and take the lift to an area just to get a ticket and some clothes to ride the tram, that just happened to be across the street. I seriously spent my first three hours of the game within the same 100 yard radius, and the fact that the game continues to do this (along with most other Silent Hill games) with an utter lack of any waypoint or useful hint system pisses me off to no end. And don't even get me started on Devil's Pit...
All throughout the series I run into problems that effectively stop me from advancing, and this problem has not been visited in Downpour; whether it be looking for a tool to break open a way out for 30 minutes that was hidden in a dark corner, or somehow finally realizing that, despite the rather stiff and clunky movement and telling yourself that you can't go over there, your way out is to fit in that tiny gap in the fence or to squeeze in between those two dumpsters, even though there was no indication between that and the rest of the assorted shit on the ground. The most audacious thing of all is that barriers of the game world restrict Murphy with the simplest things; he can't climb over a log or duck underneath yellow tape, or cross a quiet stream because of the invisible borders, and instead he's forced through yet another house or to go the long way around a more safer shortcut.
Despite all of that, though... there are still a lot of really cool things about Downpour that overall make it pretty much (sort of) worth it. Interesting touches like being able to control how fast you go through doors evokes an Amnesia: The Dark Descent vibe that I immediately dig, and the realtime transformation of Silent Hill that was introduced in Homecoming is back again, as well as a weather system that you can make use of as you stay undercover and wait out a dangerous rainstorm, if you're really not feeling like fighting more enemies. The game graphically looks okay, giving a nice depth of field and soft, glowing lighting and some good character detail, but not much else in the way of jaggies and gross pixelation. The camera has a subtle shake to it, and once you enter the Otherworld, an awesome fisheye lens effect gives the things in front of you a more surreal, macabre feeling. The animation, more specifically the lip sync during cutscenes, however is awfully distracting, as well as some of the acting and dialogue. Okay, I get it... Anne wants me to "shut the hell up" all the time, and she even called me a "shithead fucker" one time. Wow, I, get it! It's because I'm playing a Mature-rated video game. Cooooool, dude. Murphy himself reacts and talks almost a bit too cool and nonchalant to all the crazy shit going on around him, though not much about that bothered me as much as listening to Anne whine throughout the ordeal. Final impressions of the game? Anne was an annoying bitch.
I give this game a lot of bad criticism, but overall I feel like this was a good, if not the best step in the right direction that Silent Hill has taken in a long time. While most classic franchises of survival-horror attempt to please both the old and the new fans of its series with their newest entries marketed as "going back to its roots", Downpour actually goes the extra step to include all of the worst, but still mostly charming, parts of its older titles, on top of some neat mechanics and a flavor that is undoubtedly Silent Hill.
There is still so much about this game that I can't bring myself to spoil (like some amazing boss characters, genuinely frightening moments and some of the crazy endings you can get), but you'd have to be willing to suspend your disbelief as well as not feel too guilty about looking up a walkthrough guide on some parts. Silent Hill may never be able to fully get back to the horrific first installments that made it such a landmark in both Japanese and horror games alike, but what is here is a flawed game that still retains a little more of that magic that not enough people give it credit for.
6 -- Alright 6s may be slightly above average or simply inoffensive. Fans of the genre should enjoy them a bit, but a fair few will be left unfulfilled.
From other sites around the web