Review: Silent Hill Downpour

Review: Silent Hill Downpour

There’s a small piece of something inside every one of us that thoroughly enjoys being scared absolutely shitless.

I can vividly remember my first experiences with the original Silent Hill, and to be honest, those were among the scariest moments in my gaming career. Being 13 years old I was surely the burliest manly man on the block, but that didn’t keep me from curling up in the basement and jumping at every creak and moan of the house while helping Harry Mason find his daughter in the god forsaken town of Silent Hill. That game was downright scary.

Although age slowly rendered me harder and harder to scare, I could always count on the Silent Hill series to tear me down to my primal instincts and cause me to fill my pants in sheer terror, with Silent Hill 2’s pyramid head still occasionally making cameos in my most absurd nightmares.

I made it up through Silent Hill 3 before I finally began to lose a bit of faith in the series, and for awhile I left it alone altogether. It’s not that I had lost any respect for the series, or the genre for that matter, but Silent Hill itself kind of fell off the radar. So, when I first heard about Silent Hill: Downpour I was rather giddy to relive some of the most terrifying moments of my childhood. But does Silent Hill: Downpour have what it takes to help restore the series to its former glory?

In a word: no.

Anyone who has ever played a Silent Hill game knows that the formula is pretty straightforward, but serves its purpose quite well. Although none of the games directly coincide with each other in terms of storyline, there are very clear connections within the town itself and that is what holds the series together. Unfortunately, Downpour seems to break away from the traditional method of the series and take a different approach, kind of like Silent Hill 4: The Room did. Despite the game technically taking place in Silent Hill, a majority of your time is going to be spent in newly created locations that ultimately result in a bit of a disjointed feeling.

As with all Silent Hill titles, you are dropped into the shoes of someone whom you can’t help but suspect to be deserving of the horrors this town is known to offer up. This time you assume the role of Murphy Pendleton, a convict whose crime isn’t immediately made known, but as the story progresses more and more of his fractured past becomes clear.

Silent Hill Downpour
This shi cray…

During a prison transfer that just happens to pass through Silent Hill, the prison bus crashes, leaving Murphy as one of the few survivors. Aside from magically escaping his handcuffs, he suddenly finds himself thrust into the horror of a little place known as Silent Hill.

From there, Murphy’s only object is to escape the town before it consumes him. It seems like a simple enough task, but the people he encounters along the way manage to muck things up for him quite a bit. Throughout the game you are presented with various morale actions such as choosing whether or not to save someone, but regardless of what you choose, the story continues just as it would if you had chosen the other option. Though plenty of games are incorporating this type of element, it fails to create any sense of impact in this game.

Thankfully, if the main story isn’t engaging enough to capture your attention (as if anyone really has any sort of clue as to what exactly is going…) then take solace in knowing that you will have the opportunity to tackle some sidequests hidden throughout the town. These quests aren’t made explicitly known and can be entirely ignored if desired, but they range from returning stolen objects to their rightful owners to releasing caged birds. These quests do typically lend some more information regarding the town and the events that transpired before it’s plummet into despair, so if you are an avid back story fanatic, do the sidequests.

Unlike other titles in the survival horror genre, Silent Hill has never truly been about combat. Rather, the series has mostly relied on a string of highly suspenseful events leading up to one terrifying fight with some hideous monstrosity. Sure, there were enemies strewn about the streets, but the emphasis on fighting them was never really there. Downpour is out to change all that with the new combat system.

Combat now appears to take center stage this time around and how you go about fighting has changed as well. Rather than stockpiling weapons for later use, you are restricted to the use of only your right hand and apparently nothing fits in your pockets. Axes, sticks, rocks, planks of wood, fire extinguishers, and pistols are scattered around town and serve as your only source of defense. Once you do find yourself a bitchin’ fireman’s axe to cram into something’s skull, don’t plan on keeping it for very long. The weapons in Downpour have a knack for falling apart rather quickly, oftentimes leaving you weaponless in the midst of a gang bang filled with demonic humanoids all hell bent chewing your face off.

SIlent Hill Monster
Who wants a mustache ride?

To make matters worse, the title of the game comes from the new rain mechanic that has been instituted in which both the number and the difficulty of enemies is directly related to the rain. Once the rain starts you can bet your last pair of Depends that enemies will start pouring out of the woodwork and become increasingly more aggressive. As you can imagine, the rapidly increased difficulty coupled with the sparseness of weapons often calls into play the ever useful ‘run the hell away’ tactic.

If you are more the brawler type who prefers to stay and duke it out, you may want to rethink your strategy because the combat in Silent Hill: Downpour is downright painful. The weapons feel hollow and don’t really carry any obvious weight to them, so figuring out which weapons cause the most damage is simply a guessing game. You do have the option to block, and that honestly becomes 90% of your combat. The enemies most often have a ridiculous amount of stamina and every attack will stagger you, even if you are blocking. So it comes down to how good you are at judging combat and taking open opportunities. For lack of a better comparison, it’s a lot like Batman: Arkham City, but without the option to win by blindly hammering the attack button.

In the grand scheme of things, the combat is clunky, sloppy, and downright slow. The guns are so few and far between – as is ammo – that they are hardly worth mentioning and once you do manage to get hold of one, the shooting mechanic can only be described as ‘toilet’. Unfortunately, combat was the one thing that repeatedly detracted from the overall experience and I generally ended up running away from whatever was directly impeding my advance.

Silent Hill Downpour
RUN AWAY!!!! Again.

Thankfully, the combat is mildly offset by the series traditionally infuriating puzzles. I threw caution to the wind and tackled the puzzles on hard and let me tell you what, some of them are mind numbingly difficult. However, I like that in a game, so you can look forward to at least a bit of a mental workout from time to time.

Unfortunately, all the game’s technical issues really hinder the entire experience and are very hard to ignore. As a whole, this game just feels old. If I didn’t know any better I could probably find it in myself to believe that this title was an HD remake of an earlier title. That’s not to say it looks terrible, but compared to what else is out there, it’s a bit lackluster. Couple that with frequent lockups and painful chugging sessions, this game is technically broken in a great deal of places.

The new mechanics, such as peeking through doors before entering and running while looking behind you, are great ideas that were never really put to proper use, but they do show a good deal of innovation that is clearly seen in a myriad of other places. The Otherworld sequences are truly terrifying and really serve up a few nail biting moments, but those moments end up being too few and far between for Silent Hill: Downpour to really be worth its weight in horror.

Score: 5/10

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