Silent Hill: Downpour Review

Konami is not a very smart publisher at times. It was incredibly stupid to release the Silent Hill HD Collection and Silent Hill: Downpour on the same day. This essentially split the sales for both games, and probably lost them a lot of sales for both. I for one picked the HD Collection as more of a sure bet then the most recent Silent Hill. Downpour was getting mixed negative reviews, while the full extent of the HD Collections’ technical problems were yet known. It is the summer lull now before the fall rush, so I picked up the wayward Downpour under the recommendation of a friend to see if it was really as bad as some reviews have said. I will admit that I rely too much on IGN versus other news sites, so my opinion was immediately tainted by their egregious 4.5 review. To put this into context, a 4.5 game rating means that the game is barely playable, extremely not fun, and in general a huge mess. In short, a very bad game. Not to tip my hand for this review too early, but I cannot even begin to imagine what caused the reviewer at IGN to give this game such a low score, and I’ll tell you why.

Seriously, if you go to Silent Hill on your own at this point, you deserve what you get.

Pretty amazing first playthough, but not worth picking up again

The Silent Hill series has been in trouble for a long time. Boasting the worst fanbase outside of the Final Fantasy series, most Silent Hill games fail to impress the largely jaded fanbase, who cling desperately to Silent Hill 2 and 3. Homecoming was seen as a trite movie adaptation, Origins as a sub par derivative mess, and Shattered Memories was seen as not scary with zero replay value. That isn’t to say that many people have not enjoyed these games fully, but there has been a lot of criticism over the years. Downpour may be sitting at a 64 (68 for 360) on Metacritic, but it certainly deserves far more praise than many past Silent Hill games, and the fanbase seems to be a little more accepting of it (Although, maybe I’m just on the wrong forums).

The story for the game follows Murphy, an escaped convict who may or may not have committed some heinous crime. You begin the game with no knowledge of anything about Murphy, but the story gradually lets slip more and more details. Of course like most people, we assume, Murphy winds up in the horrifying hellscape that is Silent Hill to pay for his sins. The side characters in this game are weak and barely worth any attention whatsoever; however, Murphy is a very compelling character, and his voice actor does a tremendous job at bringing him to life. I can think of no Silent Hill protagonist I was routing for more than Murphy.

You’ll care for the character in the front a lot, but you probably won’t give a damn about the one in the back.

For the first time ever, this Silent Hill offers sidequests. These are, largely, unnecessary but they encourage exploration of the town. For once, quite a bit of Silent Hill is open for exploration, and it is actually worth your while to not beeline to each new area. Exploration reveals sidequests and new equipment that can make your time in Silent Hill much easier. Some quests offer neat rewards like new clothes for Murphy, but most of them reward the player with more tangible benefits such as health and ammo. While these quests are hardly necessary and can be easily missed or skipped, they add a nice fun layer for those who are more interested in exploring the town, than progressing with the story.

If you ever wanted to explore hell in a meaningful way, this is your chance.

The combat in Downpour is weak and that is an excellent thing. This sounds weird, but let me explain. If combat is fun, rewarding, or too easy, a player will never feel threatened by the enemies, and, thus, enemies will never scare the player. Combat in Downpour is disjointed and inaccurate, which makes enemies much better to avoid, and gives little incentive to kill every enemy you run across. Downpour takes a queue from Silent Hill: Origins, and all melee weapons have durability, and each weapon will become less effective eventually breaking with use. This encourages the player to constantly be on the search for new weapons, adding more to the exploration elements. The player can block an enemies attack, and 1 on 1 battles can be boring when you have the handle on blocking combos then countering, but multiple enemies make combat far more dangerous and interesting.

When the head of that breaks off, you’ll be sweating.

Downpour takes the otherworld chase moments from Shattered Memories and uses them to a much better extent. At times, Murphy will have to run away from a nameless horror light/blur thing. This changes up gameplay nicely, and only occurs a handful of times so it doesn’t really outstay its welcome. Fortunately, unlike Shattered Memories, there are other enemies outside of the chase sequences, so there is a reason to fear outside of the otherworld. The enemies are a mixed bag. They are  very similar in actual design. They are all  humanoid, and there are only five enemy types. Most of these enemies act in a similar way with only the Doll enemy, who attacks via shadows, standing out.

While the enemy designs are not scary, their presence is, as groups of enemies can devastate your health with little effort. It is safe to say that Downpour is the scariest Silent Hill in a very long time. The environments are dark, and scary, but filled with the same level of thought and symbolism that you expect from the series. It is good to see that Downpour refused to reuse old environments like the hospital, which has been seen in far too many Silent Hills. Going its own way with the environments is one way which Downpour manages to stand apart from the rest of the series. Sometimes this works very well, and sometimes it isn’t perfect, but it is all very different and that is worth praise on its own.

Totally not creepy

The weakest part of the game are its technical aspects. The graphics are not amazing by any stretch. These look no better, maybe a bit worse, than Homecoming, which was released years ago. That being said, horror games are a niche market, and it is unrealistic to expect a huge budget for its graphics. More troubling are the bugs and slowdowns. Slowdown and screen tearing does happen on a regular basis, but not in any meaningful way that will impact gameplay like the slowdown found in Silent Hill 3 in the HD Collection (Officially fixed on the PS3 now by the way). However, the bugs can be meaningful. There are some gamebreaking bugs, which should have been patched out by now, but mysteriously have not been. I encountered a bug which did not let me finish a sidequest. It wasn’t  a big deal, and barely affected my game, but it did cost me some trophies, which I’m a little bitter about. These bugs aren’t terrible, but they are present, and do detract from the experience.

Despite its 64 on Metacritic, I personally think that Downpour is the best Silent Hill since the third game. It wraps an interesting tale around an interesting lead. Sure the concept of Silent Hill isn’t new anymore and the bugs drag the game away from greatness, but it manages to be legitimately scary at times and provides far more fun than pretty much any console horror game in years. If the Silent Hill series survives into the future, it could do a lot worse than attempting to imitate what the developers did with this game. The Silent Hill HD Collection earned a 9 from IGN despite the fact that it was almost unplayable and this gets a 4.5. IGN is a great place for news and reviews, but they really dropped the ball on these two games.

Pros

– Great story
– Compelling lead character
– Actually tries to be scary
– Exploration elements work well
– Good environments

Cons

– Prone to technical difficulties
– Lack of enemy variety
– Not the prettiest game

Score 8.5

– Mistranslations for the Modern Gamer

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