Silent Hill tells a new tale.
I’ve never been a massive fan of the Silent Hill series, for no reason in particular, other than the fact that I was in the Resident Evil camp. Now that Capcom has jumped into bed with the action genre, Silent Hill emerges as the saviour of the true survival horror game. And emerge it does, as I’ve gone from hardly playing any titles in the series, to getting stuck into three simultaneously (more on Silent Hill HD Collection next week).
What Silent Hill Downpour Got Right
A new adventure - We join prisoner Murphy Pendleton as he is being transferred for unknown reasons for a crime that is equally ambiguous. Naturally, everything goes horribly wrong when Murphy’s transport bus careers off the road at speed on the outskirts of Silent Hill. He soon discovers that something sinister is afoot and that all roads leading out of town have been destroyed.
Even with a somewhat limited Silent Hill history, having only played the first three games in the series and a dash of Homecoming, it felt different. Not different in the sense that Resident Evil 4 revolutionised a tiring series, but different enough to reinvigorate fans with an entirely new story.
Survival horror atmosphere - Downpour is at its best when operating in mysterious, poorly lit buildings full of puzzles designed to melt your brain. The severity of your liquid grey matter is determined by a separate difficulty setting. It’s nice to have the option to ramp up the difficulty of puzzles, while keeping combat relatively rage-free.
A bunch of side-quests and an open-world of sorts to explore all add to the eery atmosphere of Downpour, leaving remnants of a once thriving society in this now desolate land. Don’t expect to spring for a fresh pair of pants, but developer Vatra has done a commendable job of making Silent Hill’s foggy streets a scary place to wander.
The “Otherworld” makes a return, sending players to a hellish parallel universe for some additional scares. These sections are more or less about running away as fast as you can with some frantic button-mashing. The Otherworld components are an intentional change of pace, but end up rewarding luck and trial and error more than skill.
Awesome soundtrack - I, for one, was impressed by the soundtrack that could be described as minimalistic. When it’s there, it’s great, and when it’s not, it’s still successful. While other Silent Hill games have relied on brilliant soundtracks to make even the most tame of encounters scary, Downpour implements a mix of great tracks with silence. There are going to be haters, and I can see why, but on the whole it’s effective.
What Silent Hill Downpour Got Wrong
Disappointing combat - Combat is the demise of Silent Hill Downpour. It’s cumbersome and far too awkward for a game that relies so heavily on surviving tense atmospheres.
Some of the ideas are good, they just aren’t executed as well as they are theorised. Murphy can only carry one melee weapon at a time, for instance, and they tend to break fairly easily. It’s totally realistic -- in a fantasy game -- and meant to bring your attention to the dire straights that is desperate combat. That sounds nice and everything, but all it really does is make the weaknesses more profound.
Murphy is forced to make do with anything he can scrounge up, and often starts a fight with a bat or a knife, but that quickly breaks and he ends up with a stick so weak that it’s a miracle it doesn’t disintegrate upon being handled. That’s if he’s lucky. More often than not, he’s fighting for survival with his bare-hands. It wouldn’t be so bad if they actually did anything. You’re better off with what’s left with the paper-thin stick.
Gunplay isn’t much better and the camera decides to do its own thing at the vital moment. Overlooking these faults, the biggest problem is that it’s just plain boring. I found myself prematurely tire of the game due to lack of engaging combat. There are hints of greatness, but it's let down by uninspiring degrading weapons. Think Dead Rising, only not fun.
Repeating enemies - You’d be forgiven for thinking there are four enemies in Downpour stuck on continuous loop. There are marginally more than that, but don’t expect much in terms of variety. Repeating enemies is a common fault of survival horror games, and I’m dumbfounded as to why. It totally ruins the otherwise impressive atmosphere in one foul swoop. Fighting off the same old crone 27 times diminishes the effect of making any forwards progress. We want to be rewarded for success with a sense of accomplishment. That's impossible if there's an invisible clone factory pumping out hordes of these things.
Looks dated - Despite developing a fantastic atmosphere, Downpour is marred by frame rate and technical issues. While there are glimmers of brilliance, the overall package looks like it has been pulled directly from 2007, which is a long time ago in the world of game development.
The Final Verdict
Silent Hill fans should enjoy Downpour. While it’s far from being the best game in the series, it opens up a new story with a fantastic atmosphere that delivers a few scares and some tricky puzzles. Unfortunately, poor combat and technical issues undo much of the good work, which makes it hard to recommend for anyone just looking for a survival horror game without prior ties to the series.
By Ben Salter - Tweet @Ben_Salter