Silent Hill Downpour
Developer: Vatra Games
Platforms: PlayStation 3 [reviewed], Xbox 360
Silent Hill is known for its focus on delivering psychological horror rather than visceral horror. The series wields disturbing imagery and unpredictable scare tactics in order to take players on a horrific journey through the eerie, ill-fated town. The second title in the series delievered the most mature and possibly the best story in the series. However, the franchise was not consistent in terms of quality, and lost relevancy amongst the horror genre. We now find the series with a new developer and the result is Silent Hill: Downpour, a true return to the psychological horror introduced with the first Silent Hill.
Silent Hill: Downpour, developed by Vatra Games, is the latest entry in the series, and an ambitious attempt to bring the series back to a relevant spot in the horror genre. The team behind Downpour has done a wonderful job of creating a consistently creepy and dreary atmosphere throughout the game, accompanied by a dark and enticing story. However, the game suffers from a subpar combat system, and marred with technical issues that pulled me right out of the experience.
The story follows Murphy Pendleton; a convict with a past shrouded from the player a majority of the game. Pendleton’s psychological terror is unique to his own story much like the protagonist in Silent Hill 2; he encounters multiple metaphors in the form of monsters and environments unique to his plight.
I was enticed by the story the more it progressed. Its dark and mature tone complimented Vatra’s focus on psychological horror in Downpour. I became increasingly attached to Pendleton, only hoping for a happy end to a story of self-torture and guilt over a heartless act of cruelty on the part of Pendleton in the intro moments of the game.
The level design for a majority of the interior environments adds a uniqueness that is hard to come by in the horror genre these days, and that criticism stretches to other entertainment mediums, not just video games. I’m not necessarily saying Downpour’s environments are the best the horror genre has ever seen; it’s hard to say something that bold when games like Resident Evil 2, Dead Space, and even the original Silent Hill have established settings that define the horror genre. What I am saying is that Vatra gives the interior environments a sense of importance but also a greater sense of danger, something I find appealing and important in the horror genre. I found myself walking through rooms and hallways with an unwavering sense of tension that often times concluded with no threat. Downpour’s greatest scare tactic is leading players into a false sense of security.
The gameplay is where Downpour begins to show its flaws. Not all of the gameplay is rough, however; I really enjoyed exploring all of the environments thanks to a forensic light the character can carry to reveal clues and hints. The combat is where I found myself frustrated the most with Downpour.
In Silent Hill fashion, combat is focused mainly on melee weapons, with only two types of firearms, a pistol and shotgun, which are sparsely spread out in the game. Pendleton can store one firearm in his inventory at a time, but can’t store melee weapons. Players can find weapons just about anywhere in Downpour. The weapons come in various types ranging from bricks and knives for close range; shovels or pitchforks for longer range; and middle range weapons like axes. Each weapon has a durability factor to consider, however there was no way to tell when a weapon was about to break, which left me unarmed in a few encounters. However, my main issue with combat in Downpour is its unreliable and frantic controls.
There was really no tactic associated with combat, other than turning around and running away from a fight, which the game does encourage. The blocking mechanic allows some defense against the barrage of attacks from the enemies in Downpour, but it does little to keep the combat from falling apart.
I’m happy to see Vatra not create a character that is unstoppable and a complete badass when it comes to fighting. However, I wish there was a tighter focus on combat when more than one enemy entered the picture, and trust me, you’ll often run into more than one enemy at a time.
Downpour also suffered from some technical issues that marred much of my experience with the game. Frame-rate issues were most of the problems I ran into. I found myself bouncing around in rooms, especially in the alleyways while outside. I thought the game froze in a few instances, and these issues would only get worse as the game went on. Whatever the problem was for the constant frame-rate drops, it’s a shame that some of those moments that were meant to scare me, caused frustration instead.
Downpour features side missions that are uncovered by exploring Silent Hill. There are a variety of side missions players can check out to break up the story, and many of them serve to flesh out Silent Hill’s lore. Some of the side quests that I completed were as unsettling as the main story, and were great distractions that kept me interested in exploring the entire town.
The Final Word: Vatra Games attention to detail in the level design and mature story telling makes Silent Hill: Downpour a psychological and emotional roller coaster. Unfortunately, the sub-par combat and technical issues pulled me out of the experience far too often. I hope, however, Konami leaves Vatra at the reigns of Silent Hill for at least one more game, because I strongly believe, thanks to Vatra, that Silent Hill is a relevant force in the horror genre once again.
– MonsterVine Rating: 3.5 – Fair