The Silent Hill series was one of the keystones of the survival horror genre, alongside staples like Resident Evil and Parasite Eve, turning the original Playstation into a workhorse of horrify titles. The general consensus is that the series peaked at the second installment, mainly blamed to an increased emphasis on combat and character who have little reason to go to the titular town. With a new developer at the helm, is this downpour enough to cleanse Silent Hill’s streets?
Murphy Pendleton is a convicted man spending time inside; the game opening with him ambushing and promptly killing another inmate in the shower. Thereafter Murphy is transferred to a new, supposedly worse prison, but en-route ends up as a survivor of a crash caused by a blanket of fog and a destroyed road. With no choice but to make his way through Silent Hill, Murphy starts on a journey through the ghost town. The story is littered with hints into Murphy’s dark past along its length, and he meets a few characters that seem to know more than they perhaps let on. The pieces eventually gel, but the game makes it hard to care about the outcome.
Occasionally Murphy – and the player – are given a binary moral choice, yet neither choice has little impact on much, even the situation that choice originated from, making it seem shallow at best. Furthering this aspect are the enemies, which seemingly have no psychological ties with the protagonist, a problem in that has been getting worse in the series, but is even more disconcertingly shallow here. It isn’t helped that we know nothing about why Murphy should be in Silent Hill, let alone stay, until later in the game.
Downpour is, in essence, a linear survival horror game created by a new team, and whilst the game has its fair share of linear areas, large sections take place in a more open world environment and it can be a chore as you search everywhere to find exactly where the game wants you to go to in order to advance the story even with the maps – providing you can find them. Light puzzles litter the game, with most feeling like minor speed bumps than genuine teasers with their simplistic nature; you spend far more time searching the essentially empty rooms for the sole puzzle item inside that actually raking your brain.
The majority of the game will have you searching every room to find whatever items therein that you need in order to fix a machine or open a door, it’s notable that the options include one to highlight said objects. Even still, you waste more time searching these rooms with only your patience for company.
In multiple sections of the game, Murphy will come across a flashlight to illuminate the shadows, only to lose it later on in a cut-scene, the first time you lose your torch you’ll come across a lighter as a impromptu replacement, the use of which makes the camera zoom into just behind Murphy, making the claustrophobic sections this happen in even more so.
Outside of puzzle objects (and medkits), you can also pick up items from bricks to crowbars to use on the enemies wandering around town. Yet using melee is needlessly clumsy, making it almost a matter of chance that your strikes will land. Items will also break over time, usually whilst you’re under duress, and since enemy attacks make Murphy greatly recoil you’ll quickly find yourself in dire straits if you engage you foes.
Weapons do re-spawn, so they can always be replaced, comically you can stand over the place where they do and repeatable pummel foes with a never-ending supple of projectiles. Speaking of projectiles, you’ll find a pistol early in the game, but ammo is practically non-existent and generally ineffective, making it worth less than a good pair of legs the majority of the time.
So, like many Silent Hill games before it, Downpour’s mechanics tend themselves more toward avoidance than engagement, with running away the safest option most the time. While this brings up the question of why the developers even felt the need to make a combat system, when running away is the more viable option, it’s hard to look at the whole series and remember that prior games had weak-skill protagonists.
That doesn’t let Downpour off the hook however, as the encounters with said enemies the least engaging of a game that’s supposable meant to be horror. It wouldn’t be so bad if the foes where something that you dreaded being near, yet as long as you don’t run straight into them, you can generally run circles round them and once you’re out of their cone of vision they simply stop pursuing.
While some enemies can stop you in your tricks – by screaming at you, and only if you’re in earshot – and can easily pounce on the back of a player, it never gets more exciting, let alone scary. Enemies are bland, uninspired and some of the worst designed to appear in the horror genre for some time; half the time looking like barely functional humans. Those expecting anything near the level of classic favorites like Pyramid Head should leave such hopes in the dust.
The game relies heavily on ambushes, cat and jump scares to build up whatever tension it can muster. However the game’s ambushes are obvious and the jump scares too frequent to gander much more than slight annoyance. At key points in the game you’ll enter into Silent Hill’s other world, but even this has been reduced to little more than a chase sequence with occasional puzzle elements than something to be really feared.
Silent Hill Downpour is not on the cutting edge of graphical fidelity, with murky textures, simple geometry and a dull-grey palette. Nevertheless, the frame-rate can chug dramatically, even when there’s little on-screen to justify such slowdown, and the game’s loading can bring it to a temporary, but nonetheless agitating standstill. Animation is jerky and texture draw-in is evident. The ultimate killing though is the fog, which can draw-in during some of the larger areas.
Meanwhile the voice-acting is passable, and the sparse effects and music fitting, it matches up with the rest of the package as being underwhelming overall. Part of the issue is that the game is only in stereo, and while that may not matter to some the use of surround can really add a degree of immersion to a game.
Also missing is the emotional depth the series built its best games out of, instead it is replaced by a dull, unimaginative script, with a few fickle specks of greatest. Add to that Silent Hill Downpour biggest problem, it’s not in the least bit scary, even with the lights down and sound up. And a non-scary horror game that’s still trying desperately to be a horror is just plain and nondescript.
Silent Hill Downpour has a few interesting moments, but the majority of the experience is marred by dullness, which precedes boredom. Though turgid combat has been a stable of Silent Hill games, they always had the decency to follow through with strong storylines and invention to make up for it.
Jump Scares are about the only scares in the game, which is a real issue for a game that is suppose to be horror-centric. While they are glimmers of the Horror genre here and there, they are overwhelmed by the game’s complete lack of atmosphere, which creates a problem, as the result is a horror title without fear.
And isn’t exploring fear that which brings us to the genre?
Originally published on gamingtilldisconnected in April 2012