As a massive fan of the Silent Hill franchise, I have enjoyed each and every main entry of the series, though I can aptly spot the problems with Homecoming. When it came to Downpour, however, I struggled to understand many of the criticisms, and while the general consensus is dislike, I found myself standing firmly on the other side of the fence.
I was bound to at least enjoy Silent Hill Downpour, but instead of being merely satisfied, I was contempt. This is, without a doubt, one of my favourite entries in the franchise (controversial statement, I know).
Just to clarify, Silent Hill 2 ranks very high amongst my personal top ten. The original also grabs a spot, and I thoroughly enjoyed Silent Hill 3 & 4, even if they didn’t quite enthrall me as much as the original two games. I can happily say that I enjoyed Downpour around as much as I enjoyed 4, and that itself speaks volumes, as many others have simply told me that Downpour is not worth playing. Insanity, I say!
Starting on the outskirts of Silent Hill, the game is instantly intriguing, tense and very successful at slowly providing more of a semi-open world to explore. The atmosphere simply feels exactly how it should do within a Silent Hill game; a lack of visibility, a fear of what is awaiting in the unseen, and a thick mist of mystery. Just why is Murphy Pendleton in Silent Hill? Who is the Postman?
And, after a sadly far too action-orientated section in a famous mine, you begin cautiously wandering down the all-too-familiar streets of Silent Hill…
The horrible creatures in this game scare the hell out of me. Whether it is the ultra-quick critters, or the ghost mannequins, they are so well done that I really do not look forward to each and every encounter, and yes, in a horror game that is a good thing. If I wanted to sprint from enemy-to-enemy and face smash each and everyone, then the game would be doing something terribly wrong. I unlocked the ‘run away from a lot of enemies’ trophy within the first hour of play, and I’m a horror game aficionado.
The ‘Otherworld’ sections are a little disappointing, however, with most of them boiling down to ‘run away from evil giant laser circle that is chasing you’. If they could have kept the same game but upped the risk within the ever-so creepy Otherworld, then the enemies you face would have been perfect for the game.
Why it works so well is further demonstrated by the combat, which is discussed further below.
The game features side-quests! And only a few of these are fetch quests!
My favourite part of the game was the small, individual adventures that you stumble upon, and many of them had some really interesting lore behind them. One such saw me rewind time to piece together what happened to a young family; while the result was really unwarranted (angry ghost man decided to carve my face off) the actual short story was quite touching. Then I set the family portrait alight and continued on my business. Another day in Silent Hill, eh?
The town itself is masterfully constructed, too, with small sections given to explore at each stage of the game, stopping the player from getting lost too easily while providing plenty of interesting locales to visit.
Wait! Before you discredit this entire article based on this entry, I find that the combat is so bad, that it is good. Personally, when it comes to horror games, I enjoy being helpless; to me, Dead Space was in no way scary because I felt so powerful. When it comes to the Silent Hill series, the fact that the combat is poor further increases the feeling of helplessness. Bad combat quickly becomes a game mechanic!
Also of note is how I enjoyed the inventory system; you use whatever you can find as a temporary weapon, and you can also hold one firearm (depending on its size). This was perfect for me, and I had to make that key decision whether to drop my nail gun and take the empty pistol; these decisions come into play in the next horrific encounter, and you’ll likely call yourself an idiot from time to time.
So, Silent Hill Downpour certainly doesn’t deserve the amount of hate it gets, but it is far from perfect. If the developers Vatra get another go, however, below is a list of improvements they should follow.
1. Technical Issues: One of the universal gripe with Downpour was the numerous frame-rate issues, as well as the awful checkpoint system. Hopefully these will be non-existent in the next Silent Hill title, and checkpoints themselves should be scrapped for the traditional Silent Hill save system. Knowing where you have saved and straying far from it is a little bit of horror on its own.
2. Story: Sure, Downpour doesn’t do a horrible job here, and the protagonist is actually rather likable, but elements of the plot come off as poor because of bad voice-acting and writing. Cut-scenes are also consistently awkward, and many of the characters you come across are throwaway.
3. Rain: As exaggerated by the title, Downpour promised to use rain as a gameplay device. All it boils down to, though, is that you should get inside when a storm starts, otherwise you’ll be swarmed by enemies more frequently. It would be nice if this was ever explored again in another game, but just overhauled to make more impact.
4. Prompts & QTEs: Tense scenes and situations are really destroyed when you have “HIT X” pop up right in the middle of action. Find a way to incorporate them into the gameplay, or leave them out completely!
So, if I have managed to move you in any way, then give Downpour a try! It might not be perfect, but it deserves far more praise than it gets.
Silent Hill Downpour is available at many outlets for the PS3 and Xbox 360.