DedValve's Silent Hill: Downpour Review
Very different feel from previous Silent Hill entries
Open world town free to explore to your hearts content
Horror, horror and more horror
Totally unoptomized (framerate, lag, graphical bugs)
same old Guilt Story (at least it's totally different and original from the hundreds of other guilt stories in previous entries! /sarcasm)
No save feature (instead the game completely relies on it's garbage auto-save)
Players with heart problems can't play
When I first heard about Silent Hill Downpour I was already scorned by the disappointing and extremely underwhelming Homecoming that had me put this series to rest alongside Resident Evil. Being as uninterested as I was I didn't bother looking at reviews or anything and hearing the constant complaints of the bugs that plagued the game I felt that my disinterest in the series was not in vain. That is until a friend actually recommended it as one of the better survival/horror games this generation (which isn't exactly a hard thing to do given the small amount of horror games this gen) so when I got gamefly, I decided what the hey? I took the plunge and got Downpour as my first gamefly game. I. was. very. Very. VERY. pleased with the outcome.
In a genre that needed to "change" in order to remain relevant to the main pop (even though horror was always niche and Resident Evil was the fluke that happened to bring other horror games to attention) Downpour actually changes drastically from previous installments yet the horror, tension and overall feeling of previous Silent Hill games are not lost, instead they are creatively implemented in a way where this game feels instantly recognizable yet remarkably different from any other game in the series.
The biggest card Downpour plays is the ability to fully explore and open world sandbox in and around the horrific town of Silent Hill and the sidequests that it brings. The game is still very linear like previous entries and exploration itself is more of an optional thing that you never have to do but the reward (and risk) of exploring is immense and I congratulate Vatra for getting it right. When you’re in Silent hill the town is separated by 3-4 main parts that slowly open as you progress through the story with plenty to explore. Exploration is risky, enemies will follow you relentlessly, weapons are scarce, ammo is non-existent on harder levels and puzzles are delightfully challenging and creative.
The biggest thing about exploration is uncovering new sidequests, rather than meeting people that tell you to fetch 15 apples to get a plastic sword to fetch more 15 apples to get a GOLDEN plastic sword the sidequests tackle on the mythos of the town, an alternative to reading piles and piles of papers like other horror games do. You'll try to find a place to spread the ashes of a mourn, find lost items for spirits, bring criminals to justice long after they died and moved on or free a bird from a cage because...well because PETA.
You'll either learn more about the town or the (supposed) people that used to live in that town (and I say supposed because after 8 games I still don't know wtf Silent hill is or if it even exists). They are fun and interesting and in most cases require you to think outside the box (and I really mean think outside the box). I actually had to go get a guide to complete certain sidequest simply because I was thinking of completing it in a certain way that wasn't possible, over time I stopped thinking about how to complete a sidequest or a puzzle within the limitations of a videogame, but how do I complete this if I were actually there and what other ways can I tackle this problem. I started on Hard difficulty with hard puzzle difficulty but I already played plenty of SH games before on their hardest difficulty so I like to fancy myself a hardcore survival/horror...ist (it's a word!....sort of). The puzzles are challenging without being frustrating and the sidequests are inventive and enticing drawing you deeper into the world of Silent Hill rather than be "busy body" quests to soak up time like more traditional sidequests.
Now let’s talk the combat, the one everyone hates. If I were to describe the combat in one word it would be barebones. That's what it is, you press a button to attack, you press a button to block. You block an attack then you strike when the enemy is left open, there is no fluid motion like Batman Arkham series, there is no super duper QTE's the animations feel a bit stagnant and the overall combat feels stale because there are no frills or deep combat. It's extremely basic "punch, block, punch, block" and you know what? That is okay. The enemies are ruthless and the weapons are weak, combat is discouraged (there's even a thing where killing enemies gives you bad karma affecting the ending, but we'll get to that shortly). Enemies constantly attack and have erratic behavior so you have to really time your attacks, the combat system is focused on 1v1 so fighting more than one even on an easier difficulty will be frustrating but when the game itself says to run away when encountering multiple enemies I think it's safe to say that there are fights you can't win (and there are throughout the game).
We are trained by multiple other games that we can and should kill enemies before they become a nuisance but Downpour punishes that, if you can quickly adapt to the basic combat system you'll soon realize that running or incapacitating enemies is much better than outright initiating combat with them, especially some of the harder ones. Running away from enemies constantly chasing you is exciting and extremely tense, the combat can become especially tense when you’re in the middle of a fight and more enemies come or your weapon breaks and your left without any form of defense (you can use your punches to quickly stagger weaker enemies but this is more of a get out of jail card to run away rather than a weapon. You’re not Chuck Norris). Another interesting thing is that there are no boss battles (well there are three but they certainly don't play like any boss, except maybe the Bogeyman) and there is even an achievement to complete the game without killing a single enemy (the three aforementioned bosses excluded). When you seriously injure an enemy they'll be left on the floor in a moment of weakness where they can recover or you can finish them off, doing either will affect your karma in a negative or positive way and how much karma you have will ultimately impact your ending. Combat isn't rewarding, fun, exciting or easy, it’s simple, tense, consequential and difficult. It's a horror game that tries its damnest to not empower the player and I say this combat system works well.
Where I think they went wrong was the hype, in a specific interview Vatra said that combat would be seamless and fluid, that it wouldn't be encouraged but that it would be a huge part of the game and if you were cornered into fighting you wouldn't notice that you were fighting. Obviously that's not the case here, the combat is extremely basic, punch and block is all you have and if you use a gun the aiming is effective and you can walk and shoot, really that's all a horror game needs. All this hype that vatra created around the combat system worked against them since combat shouldn't be an issue. If a sequel where made with the same system with a few much needed tweaks here and there (like better locking and smoother animations) then it'd really be perfect for what the game is trying to accomplish. Bottom line is, if you’re gonna get rough and dirty, you’re gonna have a bad time mkay?
Last but not least is the story. It's the same old guilt story from previous entries, you’re in town because you did something bad and you try to repress it until the town comes to life and forces you to come to terms in which you have multiple endings that vary from learning your mistake and moving on or learning diddly squat and have the town (or yourself) consume you which usually results in death. If you played 1 silent hill game (besides the first one or it's re-imaging Shattered Memories) then you know exactly how the story will play out, that said it's still interesting, deals with dark topics such as *bleep*, *bleep*, cop abuse, the prison system, revenge, etc. and the classic surprise twist is still good (assuming you haven't played a SH game before or else you'll see it 20 kilometers away) but it's still an overall good story. One thing that was interesting was that the ending was directly affected by what you did DURING gameplay, killing an enemy gives you bad karma, not killing them gives you good karma weighing in on the question "how far will you go to survive?". Sadly that’s where it ends, your given two, only two options to either try to save or don't save two people (spoiler it doesn't affect anything other than the ending) and that's it. Two basic options of "save/don't save" and one very interesting option of killing/sparing enemies. I would have either preferred more basic options or better yet more gameplay moments such as giving us multiple ways to solve a sidequest and having how we did it affect our ending. It was an interesting premise that fell short.
Another few annoying things where the auto save, this is the first game that completely relies on auto save and gives you no option to manually save unlike homecoming which offered both. This is annoying since checkpoints are few and far in between meaning if I have to stop playing I have to go redo what I already did or keep playing until I finally get a checkpoint but fortunately the checkpoints aren't that few. Another con of checkpoints is that it sort of removes the consequence of dying, saving should be the responsibility of the player and if they didn't save then they would have a rough time, combat would be much more tense when you go a while without a save point and your scared to death hoping you'll find one. Oh and let's not forget this game is poorly optimized, even with the patches your framerate will drop (though far less now) into the single digits and you'll meet the occasional unusual glitch or texture pop ins which in a game all about atmosphere, these bugs really ruin it.
All in all I say that Downpour was a game that dared to be different but unlike other games it stayed true to its roots, putting horror above all else and keeping the lore of the mysterious town intact. Not only did it change but it succeeded, Downpour was a much welcome breath of fresh air that is completely worth its price of admission and I'm damned ashamed I didn't play this sooner. It has completely renewed and reinvigorated my interest in the series and if you’re a fan (or where) this game should do the same to you. Take the chance and don't pass this up because Vatra did a terrific job on this.
- Silent Hill: Shattered Memories
- Silent Hill Origins
- Silent Hill 4: The Room
- Silent Hill 3
- Silent Hill 2