Silent Hill: Downpour Review
- Posted April 10th, 2012 at 14:08 EDT by Michael Harradence
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Despite clunky combat and various frame rate issues, Silent Hill: Downpour is still a solid survival horror romp that any fan of the genre should take a punt on.
- The superb atmosphere and gripping story
- Great puzzles
- Lots of replay value
- Choppy frame rate
- Poor melee combat
- Generic monster design
Debuting in 1999, Silent Hill has consistently remained one of Survival Horror’s tent pole franchises alongside fellow Capcom juggernaut Resident Evil. However, while in the past half a decade or so many series have slowly made the transition into full-blown action territory. Konami’s psychological scare fest has for better or for worse largely adhered to the conventions that made it such a standout experience in the first place. Sure, there’s been a few times when Silent Hill has teetered precariously on the edge of authentic survival horror and action, but for the most part it’s had two feet firmly wedged between its roots. Silent Hill: Downpour, the latest entry in the series developed by the fresh-faced Vatra Games, is a perpetuation of this design philosophy, offering what is undeniably old-school survival horror.
Downpour shines the spotlight on floppy-haired chap Murphy Pendleton, an inmate imprisoned for reasons unknown. At the start of the game he finds himself being transferred to a new facility. However, in typical fashion, the transport bus makes the mistake of travelling in close proximity to Silent Hill and before you know it, there’s a crash and Pendleton awakes to find himself alone in the middle of the woods. Seizing the opportunity to leg it, the convict heads for the town of Silent Hill to find a way out of the area and to freedom – that’s the plan, at least. Unfortunately, without spoiling anything, things don’t go according to plan, and Murphy soon discovers that all is not right in the area and his path out of town inexplicably blocked. Thus begins his journey through Silent Hill, and more importantly, it gives players a glimpse at the past actions that lead to him being banged up.
In an industry full of explosive triple-A action blockbusters, Downpour feels like a breath of fresh air despite much of the experience rooted in the past. At its core, the game follows much of the fundamentals laid down by the progenitors of the survival horror genre, splicing exploration, combat and puzzle solving into one atmospheric package. This is a methodical game, with the action fed in small doses and the plot drip-fed in small chunks ensuring the mentality of playing on ‘just to see what happens next’ is prevalent throughout. Most interesting however, is the pseudo-open world setting that makes up the bulk of the game’s setting. While the first hour or so is relatively linear – with players navigating a spooky mine shaft and a couple of buildings on the outskirts of town – the meat of the game takes place in the southern district of Silent Hill itself, which is ripe for exploration. The foggy streets have been expanded allowing you to roam around as you see fit, picking up side quests along the way. While not a sandbox in the traditional sense, it’s certainly far more open than previous games, and allows for a degree of freedom not previously seen in the venerable franchise.
Quests are pretty varied, ranging from anything from following a trail to locating a missing girl, scattering a pensioner’s ashes in a ‘special place,’ to freeing birds locked in their cages. I found these bite-sized distractions a nice spin on the relatively linear storytelling nature of past games, plus the rewards are usually pretty meaty. Of course, the main narrative is the backbone of the experience, which sees Pendleton exploring numerous areas including the town’s streets, a monastery, prison complex and centennial building among others while unravelling his past. One of the most pleasing aspects in Downpour are the puzzles, something which many recent horror games have either dumb-downed or eschewed outright. Not here, though. In fact, Downpour gave me more of a mental workout than any other game I’ve played in recent memory, with its wealth of diverse riddles really providing a cerebral treat feast.
Sadly, Downpour’s combat dampens the experience thanks to some pretty ... (continued on next page) ----