Known for its scares and psychological horror, the Silent Hill series was developed internally at Konami, by Team Silent, until the fourth title in the series, Silent Hill: The Room.
All the games after this were developed by external, mostly western studios and couldn't reach the heights of the first four titles (especially Silent Hill 2).
Silent Hill Downpour continues this trend, being developed by Czech studio Vatra Games, whose only other credit is last year's downloadable title, Rush'n Attack – Ex Patriot. Let's see if Konami knows something we don't.
Setting the scene
Silent Hill Downpour tells the story of convict Murphy Pendleton, in prison for stealing a police vehicle. As Murphy is transported to another prison, an accident occurs, with his bus rolling down a hill.
Knocked unconscious, Murphy wakes up in the forest and attempts to escape. Anne Cunningham, a corrections officer, follows him with the attention of apprehending him.
Murphy comes across The Devil's Pitstop diner, where he encounters a strange mailman, telling him that the only way out of The Devil's Pitstop is by cable car. Little does Murphy know that this cable car will take him to infamous town of horrors, Silent Hill.
Traditionally, Silent Hill games had the protagonist trapped in the nightmarish town of (where else?) Silent Hill, trying to survive and find a way out. The town has a nasty habit of changing from what would seem like reality, to a nightmarish world, complete with metal rust everywhere and organic objects like meat walls, dead bodies everywhere and an evil creature only know as Pyramid Head.
Silent Hill is also covered in fog, making visibility practically non-existent. To make things worse, you are stalked by creatures that are quite disturbing to say the least. And through all this, you have to solve puzzles that can be real mind-benders. Silent Hill Downpour follows this template closely, but has a few differences that make it stand out.
For the first time in the series, weapons are degradable, so if you're not careful, your weapon might break in the heat of a brawl. You are only allowed to carry one firearm and one melee weapon at any given time. You are also now able to accept side quests as you explore Silent Hill.
Another first would be the morality choices you can now make, influencing which ending you will get. An example of this is early on when Anne, trying to apprehend you, falls down a mountainside, but grabs onto a ledge. At this point you are given the option of saving her or letting her fall.
Lastly, as in the title, rain plays a big part by making the creatures more aggressive and more abundant. All this sounds really interesting, but how does it play?
The first few hours are really a chore as there's not much to do other than finding puzzle piece A to fit into puzzle piece B, with the odd creature to fight here and there.
Once you get to Silent Hill proper though, the game really starts getting into its own, reminding you of why you like Silent Hill games in the first place, thanks to puzzle solving and backtracking.
The story is also quite interesting too because, traditionally, antagonists are normally drawn to or trapped in Silent Hill for a reason and it's not clear until the very end why. Murphy's story pans out in the same way and it's quite interesting to see what type of person he is, not knowing much about him at the start.
The puzzles are quite well designed (for the most part) and I really enjoyed them. The eerie soundtrack, whilst not done by series regular Akira Yamaoka, is quite good considering. Now for the bad...
In need of more development time?
The first impressions you get from this game aren't good. Movement of your character is fine, but the combat is really a chore. Clunky controls are the order of the day here. The developer is on record stating that it it's not necessary to fight every creature in the game and that sometimes running is best.
Well, after experiencing the combat I can see why they would say that (there is actually a trophy for not killing any enemies in the game, by the way). But Silent Hill fans will tell you that the combat is only half the game, so how does the rest of the game fare?
Not good I'm afraid. The severe lack of polish will hit you like a bulldozer. Character models are decent, but the backgrounds are downright ugly in parts. But that's not the worst though.
This game has severe framerate drops at random times. Now, when you are faced with 20 enemies in a small space, it's understandable, but not when you want to pass a set of drawers or walk into the bathroom.
Glitches like broken weapons remaining stuck to Murphy's hands until he dies are commonplace too. Also, when you struggle to go through a doorway with nothing in your way, then you know the game has issues.
I already covered the combat, but it's so bad that I need to mention it again.
The biggest upset though is that the game isn't really scary, bar a few moments when Murphy is in complete darkness except for his torch.
All I can say is that Silent Hill fans should at least give this a try as the good just barely outweighs the bad and the new additions are worthwhile.
It's just that Silent Hill: Downpour is not as good as more recent horror titles such as Dead Space 2 or Alan Wake (not to mention 2001's Silent Hill 2) and I doubt newcomers to the series will find it appealing because of this.
Score: 6 out of 10