Silent Hill Downpour Review
I hold the first three Silent Hill games in high regard. Unfortunately, the franchise that was once considered to be the be-all-end-all of survival/psychological horror has – as of late – been relegated to lower tier after a number of barely average releases. With the exception of Climax’s Silent Hill: Shattered Memories, every other recent Silent Hill game have been serviceable at best, and unfrightening at worst.
That’s why I was surprised at how Silent Hill Downpour managed to surpass my expectations for the franchise. When you start Downpour, you’d think that this new game from developer Vatra Games was just another typical visit to the titular town. However, once you really get into the game’s story, you’ll notice that Downpour is different from Silent Hill games from the recent past. Lo and behold, Silent Hill Downpour is actually a surprisingly scary game with an intriguing premise and a unique semi-open world . Yet like many of the games before it, Downpour also suffers from clunky combat as well as technical and design issues that keep it from greatness.
Read our full review of Silent Hill Downpour after the break.
Silent Hill Downpour casts players as Murphy Pendleton, a prisoner with a dark secret. As he gets transferred to a higher security prison, Murphy’s bus careens and crashes off the side of the road, scattering the prisoners. Control is then given to the player to guide Murphy and help him survive his ordeal as he flees a guard with a vendetta (and a gun) and into the town of Silent Hill. I’m not going to dive deeper into the story in this review as to not give away any spoilers. I’ll just say that the characters you’ll interact with in the game are fully realized and believable. As well, Murphy is perhaps one of the most relatable characters in franchise history. By the end of the game, you’ll sympathize with his situation and the decisions he has/had to make.
One of Downpour’s most intriguing changes to the Silent Hill formula is in it’s semi-open world and brand-new mission structure; there’s a number of unique places to visit, items to collect, and side missions to complete. The world map opens up the farther you get into the game and the more tools you get that help you get access to more locations. Sure you could go ahead and just go about the main storyline, but you miss out on Downpour’s interesting side-missions.
These side-missions give more personality and backstory to the town and citizens of Silent Hill. These also provide some of the creepiest, most disturbing moments of the game. For example, one mission has you looking for a lost autistic child, and the closer you get to finding her, the more disturbing the situation becomes. The game’s new-found focus on exploration adds to this because you slowly open up more new locations to explore. (Think Metroidvania-type games and you get the idea) You also never know what kinds of creepy side-quests you’ll find in the darkness of each of the abandoned locations you visit.
Silent Hill Downpour also eschews traditional health bars for a more visual feedback system. Players will be able to tell that Murphy is inured when he’s scratched up, bleeding, and changes his mannerisms. You’ll also notice spatters of blood on his flashlight’s illumination. The closer Murphy is to dying, the slower and bloodier he becomes. However, instead of being helpful, this new system actually made the game harder because it’s really hard to tell how injured Murphy is during combat since he employs the same animations (injured/non-injured) when in combat.
Speaking of combat, fighting in Silent Hill Downpour is perhaps the worst part of the entire package. Melee combat is made up of attacking, learning you enemy’s attack patterns, blocking, and countering. However, because of sluggish controls, slow animations, and inconsistent blocking, combat becomes a lot more difficult and more of a chore than it should be; especially when you’re surrounded by multiple opponents. Thankfully gun play fares a bit better and allows players to get the bead on enemies with little trouble; too bad ammunition is scarce and Murphy can only carry two weapons.
Some of the weapons you’ll get in the game serve as tools that help open up more locations in the game world for exploration. For example, ladder hooks can be used for combat, but can also pull down fire escape ladders. Then there’s the axes (hand axe, fireaxe) that can break boarded doors. While this makes sense, some questionable design decisions open up one of my biggest issues with the game; why can the fire axe open up some boarded doors but not others? Why does the ladder hook pull down some ladders and not others? There are a number of invisible walls that block what look like places you can go to, and some of these can be as stupid as a trash bin blocking a stairwell. However, anyone with half a brain will know that they can just clamber over it to access the damn stairwell.
Another issue I had with the game was it’s unstable frame rate. The game often stutters just before a scare or surprise that it ruins the moment. Also, the farther you get into the game, the more the game stutters to the point where the choppiness during combat may result in Murphy dying because he couldn’t defend against that one fatal blow.
Finally, the journey to the end game is quite a ride because, even with the games technical issues, Silent Hill Downpour does feature genuinely scary parts. It also continuously teases the player with tidbits of what really happened in Murphy’s past, slowly unraveling events that lead up to the climax. I did find the endings a bit underwhelming, each ending felt like a Hollywood horror film in that everything is explained to the player and there was really no room for interpretation as compared to the first few games in the franchise. Don’t get me wrong, I loved Downpour’s story and appreciated the endings, however, I felt like it was missing those open-ended epilogues from Silent Hill 1, 2, and 3 that made the franchise all the more mysterious and alluring to gamers all over the world.
AUDIO – You’ll find nothing but top-notch audio in Silent Hill Downpour. New series music director Dan Licht managed to create music that didn’t feel out of place in the game’s universe. I didn’t even realize Akira Yamaoka was missing from this production. Sound effects help in creating a tense and disturbing atmosphere throughout the game, especially when Murphy gets transported into the “other” Silent Hill.
GRAPHICS – The game looks its best when Murphy gets transported to the “other” Silent Hill, employing the rusting and peeling off effects previously seen in Homecoming and the Silent Hill films. The game does surprise occasionally showing impressive effects like a tornado within a building, rooms shifting in real-time, and shifting/moving barbed wire fences (creepy stuff). However, in normal Silent Hill textures and environments look muddy and at times look uneven; there was also a fair bit of texture pop-in from time to time.
+ Engrossing story/Relatable main character
+ Genuinely scary
+ Distrubing side-quests that give personality to the titular town
+ Focus on exploration
+ Amazing soundtrack by Dan Licht
– Framerate issues (stuttering)
– Uneven visual presentation
– Sluggish controls/awkward combat
Despite of a number technical issues, I found Silent Hill Downpour to be a thoroughly engaging survival horror experience. The story was a blast to get through and the town of Silent Hill a joy to explore. It’s also a relatively long game with lots of replayability thanks to multiple endings and side-quests. Developer Vatra Games sought to change a few things in the town of Silent Hill and they mostly succeed, making Silent Hill Downpour one of the better Silent Hill games to come out in recent years.