It’s no secret the Silent Hill series has been struggling for the better part of a decade. Ever since The Room, a game that wasn’t originally planned to be a Silent Hill game, Konami has made a considerable effort to bring its renowned survival horror series back to its former glory. Now this isn’t to say everything after Silent Hill 3 has been crap, but there’s no denying the fact that they really haven’t been able to capture what made the first two games so iconic.
With Silent Hill: Downpour, development of the game has again switched hands to an unproven developer outside Konami. This time it’s Vatra Games, a studio based in the Czech Republic that has only one other title under its belt. Vatra has taken a significantly different approach to the series by introducing all-new enemies, an original soundtrack by composer Daniel Licht, and an underlying theme of water. Find out if I think this is the path the series should be taking in my review. The Baby Factor: If Silent Hill 2 got together with M.C. Escher for a night of passionate and perplexing lovemaking, Downpour would be the result.
Downpour reminds me of Scream 4, in that while it most certainly isn’t as good as the originals, there’s still plenty to love, whether you’re a hardcore fan or a newcomer to the series. This is as close to an old school survival horror game as you’re going to get in a full retail game, and while it isn’t without its flaws, Downpour is a fantastic return to form for the series.
Before I get into what I love about the game, let’s get the negative out of the way.
For starters, the entire first hour of the game isn’t that great. I’m mostly talking about the mine area, where you’re introduced to a few of the enemies and puzzles that will be taking up your time when you’re into the meat of the game. It’s disappointing that one of the dullest parts of the game has been placed at the beginning, since it’ll undoubtedly turn off some players from the start. With that said, it isn’t terribly long and manages to set the bar low so you’re even more amazed when you finally escape it and enter the town of Silent Hill.
My other two major complaints go hand-in-hand. The first is the combat, which, in true survival horror fashion, is painfully bad. The ability to lock on to enemies would’ve almost completely remedied this issue, but because your only real defense against enemies is to swing wildly or turn and run like hell, it gets a little frustrating when you’re practically forced to fight. The final act of the game does this to a frustrating degree.
My last major complaint before this review transforms from a babbling brook of disapproval to a roaring river of glee is Downpour’s annoying habit of introducing one entirely uninspired enemy after another. Look, I love that Vatra decided to go with an all new cast of enemies, but if you’re going to do that you need to make sure they’re as interesting, or preferably more interesting than what fans have grown used to. Homecoming was a pretty bland game overall but even it managed to bring with it a healthy selection of scrotum-pinchingly terrifying enemies. But Downpour? For the most part, not so much.
All right, I’m ready to get real happy on you folks, so I hope you’re ready.
I’m going to begin my unabashed dry-humping of Downpour by soothing a worry you might have. Since the inception of the series, the soundtracks have been entirely composed by Akira Yamaoka. Now, this musical genius has since left to work on other games, like Shadows of the Damned and the upcoming Lollipop Chainsaw, so in his stead is the equally as talented Daniel Licht, who scored the fantastic music for the Dexter TV series. Feel free to grab your friend’s shirtsleeve so you can use it to wipe away the nervous sweat that covers your brow, because the music is incredible. I could go into this more deeply, but I feel whatever I say about it won’t match what our very own Jonny B said in his review of the soundtrack. Suffice to say, it’s easy on the ears.
For every new idea Downpour introduces there are as many features from the original games that make a triumphant return. The mind-bending puzzles are back, and while I think they could’ve used a lot more direction or meaning outside of the overwhelming message that goes something like “Try and figure this out, dummy,” their difficulty can be adjusted to make them less frustrating.
The Otherworld is back, and it’s the some of the more terrifying parts of the game, as well as some of the more frustrating moments. Transitioning between worlds is always fun to watch, and one of the more interesting things about the Otherworld this time around is it feels almost sentient. There are several areas that’ll have you walking up endless staircases, or hallways that stretch out and disorient you. Vatra relies a little too heavily on chase sequences, where you have to run from a crimson ball of light that quickly saps your life when it gets too close. More often than not these sections are all about trial and error as you desperately try to find your way through the Otherworld’s labyrinthine corridors, but it’s never too difficult to find your way through the environments without too much frustration.
Downpour has decided to jump on the “realism” bandwagon that’s sweeping the games industry like a bad case of herpes, by adding breakable weapons. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, nor is it a good thing, it’s just a thing. I’m indifferent about it, because on one hand it makes you pay close attention to the quality of the weapon in your hand, while on the other it gets annoying when a steel wrench breaks after you’ve only bludgeoned your fourth or fifth monster. The scarcity of ammunition for the guns in the game also adds to the feeling of helplessness that was lost in Homecoming as soon as you realized you could outmaneuver and beat down pretty much anything that got in your way. In Downpour doesn’t give you that option because every enemy in the game is more than capable of tearing you apart while you try to focus on your “happy place.”
This next statement might sound a little odd, but I’m going to go ahead and say that I love Murphy Pendleton. I think he’s a fantastic character who I can empathize with despite the fact that the very first thing you do in the game is viciously murder a fat man who only wanted to take a shower. His motivations become clearer as the story progresses, and as they do I think you too will come to like Murphy more than a majority of the characters introduced to us since James in SH2.
In case you’re unaware, Downpour takes place in an unexplored region of Silent Hill. You’ve seen it on the map in previous games, but until now the area has been shrouded in mystery as thick as the fog that permeates the entire town. The town itself feels emptier than it ever has, that is, until it starts to rain. You see, for some reason, the twisted mockeries of sanity that inhabit Silent Hill really don’t like the rain. If they catch you trying to sneak by them during one of the many random downpours, they get pissed. Perhaps they think you’re the cause of the rainstorm and they wish to seek vengeance upon you by curb-stomping your ugly human face, ormaybe they’re simply agitated by the rain. Either way, when it gets really wet out, I suggest going indoors.
Of course, you’re no safer indoors than you were outside, but at least you won’t have to deal with soggy shoes. There’s nothing quite as bad as fighting for your life with wet socks. Ick.
The town of Silent Hill isn’t the same as you remembered it, and that’s mainly because of the more open world setup. You can explore the town freely, and work toward completing the main story or the various side quests scattered throughout. Of the side quests I completed I was surprised at how interesting they all were. Some are great for replenishing your inventory with ammunition and health packs, while others are really all about shedding light on more of the town’s history. Few felt tacked on, and the promise of an item — or items — is enough of an incentive to take the time to complete them even if you don’t necessarily care about the story.
Silent Hill: Downpour is a flawed game. It suffers from many of the issues that have plagued the survival horror genre since, well, always. It’s also a game that’s sporadically terrifying, rich with atmosphere, and more than anything, it’s a fantastic return to form for the series. With a little extra polish this could’ve been the Silent Hill fans have dreamed of, but as it is it’s still a Silent Hill the fans deserve.
The Final Word: If you’ve been patiently waiting for a true Silent Hill experience then look no further, because it’s here.
This review is based on the Xbox 360 version of Silent Hill: Downpour.