It’s a franchise that carries plenty of pedigree, but for the last few years Silent Hill has failed to make an impact on the genre it used to single-handedly dominate. Following its fourth instalment, Konami detached the series from Team Silent, handing subsequent development duties to up-and-coming Western studios.
Though Portsmouth-based Climax Games managed to deliver with Silent Hill: Origins and 2009′s Shattered Memories for PSP and Wii, Double Helix missed the mark. It wasn’t by a wide margin, garnering middling reviews, but it didn’t resemble the next-gen revolution Silent Hill fans had been anticipating for nearly half a decade.
Sadly, Downpour isn’t the return to form some were (perhaps foolishly) holding out for. Developed by Vatra Games of the Czech Republic, Konami has once again risked one its most beloved flagships with a largely untested studio.
Downpour maps the story of Murphy Pendleton, a tormented prisoner whose nightmare is taken to staggering heights after brutally assaulting another inmate. After winning himself a one way ticket to a neighbouring high security compound, Pendleton awakes just hours later to find himself lost, wandering the fog-swept outskirts of Silent Hill, the transport vehicle derailed with not a convict or copper in sight.
The Otherworld sections are definitely the highlight of Silent Hill: Downpour. Though the bizarre chase sequences could have been better, racing down a giant sewer pipe is one of the game's most memorable set pieces.
However, whilst players may come to relate to Murphy, Downpour is fairly short on secondary characters, only two or three having any real presence. It would have been nice to meet up with other prisoners and gauge their reactions to the events unfolding around them, though at the same time their absence enhances the isolation of Murphy’s grim struggle through his own personal hell.
In terms of structure, the game is fairly linear, though there are open world elements at work. After leaving the crash site and trawling through an abandoned mining facility, players will get their first taste of Silent Hill (the town, that is.) It’s relatively small in scale and with numerous roads and alleys blocked by debris, it often feels as though you’re being herded.
That said, if you stray from the beaten path, there’s a good chance you’ll pick up a number of side quests along the way. In fact there are several sizeable locations, including a derelict movie theatre, that are completely optional, though often tied to puzzles and side quests. These areas may not have huge significance in the grand scheme of things but they act as substantive diversions, elongating Downpour’s shelf life considerably.
So, there’s a degree of freedom to be enjoyed but when exploring the vacant outlets of Silent Hill, things are much more structured. Pockets of enemies and tension spikes are mixed between puzzle sequences that will regularly task players with retrieving keys or combinations. Puzzles are fun for the most part, although they become repetitive at times.
There will also be the occasional brain teaser that will completely fly over your head, often forcing you to scour each room with your torch pixel by pixel until you find a solution. With hints scattered throughout the game quite sparingly, it can be easy to lose the thread. Now, I’ll put my hands up and say that I needed the assistance of a walkthrough once or twice, though it was no way near the most frustrating aspect of Silent Hill: Downpour. No, that particular award goes to the game’s melee combat.
Combat, and particularly melee combat, has never been the central attraction of the Silent Hill series; the last instalment, Shattered Memories, encouraged players to flee more often than fight; enemies were often too strong to engage, or there were chase set pieces that needed to be activated. In Downpour, however, players will find themselves trying to escape from the close quarters gameplay more than anything else.
With one button to swing with a weapon and another to block, the system is extremely primitive, “last-gen primitive” perhaps being too much of a compliment. Sure, no one should expect something akin to Rocksteady’s Arkham series, it simply wouldn’t do the franchise justice but in Downpour, having no combat at all would have been preferable.
Enemies will often sprint straight towards Murphy when spotted and whale on him continuously. Attack patterns are too sporadic to analyse, the zombie-like residents also having the ability to recover after being knocked off balance almost immediately, even if pummelled in the face with a two-handed sledge. Combat dissolves into a game of chicken, both parties waiting for the other to drop their guard before unleashing a wave of rapid attacks. It’s an absolute mess, and though a dodge mechanic would have improved matters considerably, a total overhaul would be more welcome.
Even if your time with previous games in the series has been limited, there’s a disturbing sense of welcoming when the familiar sheet of fog begins to descend and the eerie ambience starts to kick in. For better or worse, Silent Hill hasn’t altered its distinct visual appeal one bit since its first iteration more than a decade ago.
Sure, there are new districts to explore and creatures to encounter, but at its core, it successfully manages to retain the series’ iconic atmosphere. From time to time players will also peel back the grey, crumbling brickwork of Silent Hill to unearth the Otherworld, a blood-soaked parallel universe that reflects the persistent theme of chains and imprisonment.
As with any horror title, audio is a key element in building tension and Downpour does just that. There’s a constant barrage of eerie background noise, whether it be the hissing of Murphy’s walkie talkie or footsteps of approaching enemies, all layering together to create paranoia-inducing audio feedback.
Voice acting can be a mixed bag, though the only gripes to be had mainly concern scripting. Dialogue won’t always gel between two or more characters in a conversation, though the overall quality is above average, especially the portrayal of Murphy during a few of the more emotional sequences.
- Captures the essence of Silent Hill.
- A satisfying narrative with multiple outcomes.
- Plenty of optional side content.
- Decent voice acting, great soundtack.
- Otherworld transition is well done.
- Melee combat is absolutely dire.
- Puzzles can get too obstructive.
- Little replay value for non-completionists.
- Enemies lack variety.
Going into Silent Hill: Downpour as a fan of the genre, it’s easy to overlook a number of the game’s niggling issues and instead focus on the immersive atmosphere. However, for those yet to build a rapport with the iconic franchise, this may not be the best place to start. It may be a visually sound package that throws a few unique spins on the Silent Hill template, though the sometimes awkward puzzles and irredeemably abysmal combat are enough to drag Downpour down the gutter and towards mediocrity.