Silent Hill: Downpour review
What a modern survival horror should be
It's interesting how poorly received this game is by the press. Many reviewers plastered it with 6's not because it has something to do with the devil, but because they had a wide range of problems with the game... some reviewers even gave it abysmally low scores for, quite frankly, silly reasons that make little to no sense. It's almost like they didn't want to like it, and that just feels like dishonest journalism to me. Then again, that seems to be the case with many games these days, so it shouldn't surprise me, especially games that aren't the most accessible in the world, but hey, I love this game to bits. It gets so much right not only in terms of being a Silent Hill game, nor even in terms of being a horror game, but in terms of being a game in general. It understands its purpose (to be a deep game with scares to boot) and it accomplishes its mission very successfully (it has a deep story and it is pretty scary), not to mention that you'll have a very good time playing this game - that's all I really ask of a game.
You play as Murphy Pendleton, who is meant to be tranferred to another prison, but after his bus crashes and his fellow convicts are scattered about, he wanders into Silent Hill. As is to be expected in a Silent Hill game, this will be a horrifying journey of self realisation for Murphy, full of monsters and creepy townsfolk. That's not to mention the Otherworld, which will really mess with his mind (as well as yours) with walls melting, blood covering the walls and even more terrifying monsters show up, among other things to really make Murphy (and yourself) feel like he's in his own personal hell. It's the kind of story that keeps you interested in the character you play as by developing them bit by bit, explaining their situation and allowing you to get an idea of why they're the way they are. Due to this, he becomes a character you can symphathize with, and he is a very likeable character - full of charisma and moral ambiguity - so the want to be invested in his development is made natural, not to mention that much sweeter. So yeah, Murphy is a great character and he makes for an interesting story. That isn't to discount the other characters - some of the more important ones get a decent amount of development and are likeable as well, but they serve as background objects by comparison, and while it's possible to care for them too, it's Murphy that steals the show, and why shouldn't he? It's his game, after all!
Unlike the other Silent Hill games of this generation, this feels very much like a more modernized version of the classic games. In simpler terms, it focuses on puzzles, exploration and the like, while making the game feel a lot less clunky than the PS1/PS2 games - and for that reason, this is probably the closest we'll ever get to a Silent Hill 5 unless another game is made in this style. But anyway, exploration isn't quite as simple as opening up the map and marking a waypoint. Nope, in this game, the map is vague enough to give you a decent idea of where you currently are, but it never gives you a good idea of where anything outside of your immediate surroundings is. Normally, I'd berate this, but in Downpour's case, I'd say it's warranted because not knowing what's ahead is the point of this kind of game. It's not about rushing into a situation and getting yourself killed; it's about cautiously exploring, ready to strike when the moment is right in amongst this fog (and occasionally, heavy rain) that obstructs your view somewhat, and Downpour accomplishes this finely. What helps this is that Silent Hill is a place well worth exploring. There are many nooks and crannies with things to find, and navigating around Silent Hill just feels right... like, it's easy to get lost and yet it isn't. You have a general idea of where to go Well, considering the fog around us, it ought to feel like that, or else, it's not doing its job right.
Exploration is more than just looking around town for items (either clues to puzzles, files that clue you in on the story, health restoration items or ammo); there are also sidequests that you can go through. Sidequests can range from investigating murders to finding missing children, but whatever the case may be, you'll find yourself involved in puzzle solving or fighting, and at the end, you'll learn more about the story and the history of Silent Hill while getting an item, like a better weapon or something. I just love the fact that it gives you an incentive to explore Silent Hill, but the sidequests themselves are well executed, almost on par with the main game itself. It's just wonderful that the sidequests are given care and attention, unlike a lot of other games which just put in some shitty fetch quests and don't give you anything worth shit for our trouble (coughskyrimcough coughkingdomsofamalurcough), and I like that in a game, especially one that hasn't dabbled into this realm prior to this game... it's quite interesting, actually, as if Vatra cared...
But yeah, those puzzles I keep mentioning... I should actually talk about them, huh. A lot of the puzzles have you interacting with items - whether they're in your inventory or out where you are depends on the puzzle you're solving, but nevertheless, they're all pretty damn well laid out. But it's not just moving stuff around and cracking codes; you'll have moments where you have to use UV lighting to uncover codes, and even travel into horror movies to figure out passwords and whatnot. Not only is there a good variety of puzzles, but some of them can be real brain busters (and sometimes, even ball busters), and at the end of the day, they're actually rather well executed. Of course, you can lower puzzle difficulty if you're having trouble, but come on, don't deny yourself true satisfaction so quickly.
Now for what reviewers consider the big one... combat. What it boils down to is paying close attention to the sounds that your radio is making - if it goes all static-y, that means there are monsters on the way, then it's a matter of finding stuff to whack monsters with, or shoot them with. When using guns, it's as simple as aiming and firing. Like the older games and unlike all of the Resident Evil games (even the majority of the modern ones), you can move and shoot when using lighter weapons while bigger weapons will have you standing there. It's not all that common to have a gun on you, and given how quick monsters move, well, let's just say I hope you have an itchy trigger finger. As for melee combat, here's where people are getting their panties in a bunch. If you can find any objects that you can swing, grab one and ready yourself for combat. In saying that, it does feel a bit clunky, and when you're facing groups of enemies, fighting is like signing your death warrant as you'll be mercilessly gangbanged before you die. Running away is often a good solution when given the choice, but when you're forced into a combat situation, it becomes a puzzle in and of itself.
Every movement has conviction behind it, especially your swings. When you swing, you better have a decent amount of room to breathe both before and after swinging, because the monsters here are aggressive and will kill you if you aren't careful, plus they like to block at times. Hitting them will damage your weapon, and after a few swings, it'll break and you'll need to scramble to find something else before you die. For SOME people, this is bad, but for me and given the context that you're not supposed to be a demon slayer of justice or whatever, it works. Murphy may be a convict, but he's not a natural born fighter nor is he a member of the SWAT, and thus his actions aren't going to have as much control as, say, Chris Redfield's would. Keeping that in mind, the combat actually feels right, and even if you don't, the combat isn't nearly as bad as people make it out to be. It DOES have a learning curve, but nothing that you can't overcome. Plus, combat isn't all that common anyway, so it's at moot point whether it dramatically influences the game or not.
The graphics are mostly great, even with the problems that are present. At times, the textures feel muddy and blurry, with some textures and even the odd object popping in, though at their best, they do add a good amount of detail to your surroundings and the characters, which actually makes them look impressive. The monsters look good, if a tad generic at times. None of them are all that memorable and don't really have the same presence as something like Pyramidhead, but for what they're worth, they do look pretty fearsome and aren't to be underestimated. The fog does its job just finely by not compensating for some technical issues, but also giving you the feeling that there's always something lurking in the distance, leaving you feeling uneasy. When in conjunction with the rain, it just adds to the suspense due to it slightly further impairing your vision. Then there's the Otherworld, which looks *bleep*ed up enough to really send chills down your spine. I could add more, but why ruin the surprise? If I did, I'd also ruin the scares...
Now, without Akira Yamaoka doing the sound design, you'd think that this game would have shitty sound, like how everyone thinks Final Fantasy XIII's sucks ass just because Nobuo Uematsu isn't composing the soundtrack. Surprisingly, Daniel Licht does such a great job of the sound design that it's like Akira never left. Perhaps he sprinkled Dan with some pixie dust? Who knows, but what I do know is that every song - or lack thereof in some cases - is used in just the right situations. It moves you during more emotional moments, it tenses you up when they want you to think something scary is coming up, and it gets rather eerie when it drones on because you never know what's going to come up. I don't know why they have Korn playing the intro song, but whatever, they set up the mood finely enough, so no real problem there. Same sort of deal with the sound effects (minus Korn). Everything is used to keep you on your toes. From footsteps to wails, and even the police radio that turns to static when there are monsters nearby - it all works in keeping at least some tension while you're playing it, and for a horror game, it works very well.
So that's Silent Hill: Downpour for you. It may not feel right at first, but as you play the game and it opens up to you, you'll find yourself falling in love with it too. The story is deep and intriguing, the puzzles are hard as balls at times but are truly satisfying when you solve them, and it's got a lot working for it in terms of a strong atmosphere and some big scares, both subtly and not so subtly. Maybe it's not that great when dealing with some framerate hiccups and coming to grips with the combat at first, but those are minor spoils in an otherwise fantastic package. *bleep* the haters, this game is *bleep*ing excellent and well worth the purchase not just because it does the old survival horror formula justice with the appropriate modernizations, but also just because it's a hell of a game.
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