Over the years we’ve seen many a wanderer venture forth into the town of Silent Hill. More often than not, they never make it out again, and if they do their voyage taunts them for the rest of their lives. Despite the bitter and downright depressing stories surrounding the town, we just can’t stay away for too long, eager to see the next prey explore their deepest desires and furtive fears. No wonder we embraced Silent Hill: Downpour with open arms. So just who is victim number eight?
Murphy Pendleton isn’t your typical run of the mill Silent Hill character, he’s not searching for a relative or spouse, despite how much he looks like Henry Townshend’s twin brother. No, Murphy is a convict. As he’s being transferred to a higher security prison (that’s right, he’s that deadly) his bus crashes, sending him and a handful of others tumbling down a hill, deep between the trees on the outskirts of Silent Hill. Inevitably, he only treads deeper into the depths of dismay, unable to leave.
But hey, a convict like him has got to be handy with a weapon right? But then again, how handy can one person be when their weapon breaks every few enemies? For the second time in the series, weapons can crumble through your fingertips at vital moments, leaving you defenceless, with just your fists to rely on. Or that rock on the floor if you think that’ll help. The fact that your weapons can break and the idea that you can pick up almost anything that looks handy really brings realism into the game and stresses the survival part of survival horror. It’s certainly an improvement on the last game, where you had to run as fast as you could any time an enemy popped up its ugly head, but then again, what more do you expect from a dangerous criminal?
Saying that, it’s still probably a better idea to run rather than face the crowds of dangerous monsters gathering behind you. Although Murphy certainly knows how to use a heavy object well, obviously the projections of his mind have a fair amount of knowledge too, making the creatures you face much tougher than the ones you may have previously met within the series. Especially if you have the wrong weapon. However, there are times within the game, even with the best weapon you can find, that you feel as though you’re hitting a wall rather than the fleshy being in front of you, leaving you disappointed and as though you’re not doing any real damage.
Despite these being more difficult to keep down than before, the game does help you along by regenerating your health back up to 40%. Wait a second, is this a survival horror game or a beat-‘em-up? Where’s the horror in your health regenerating? Sure, it helps you along sometimes but by doing so, leaves the genre of the game lagging behind, teeth bared. You know that as long as you get into safety for a while, you’ve got another shot at beating its brains out and there’s certainly nothing terrifying about that.
However, unlike many of the games before, Downpour seems to realise that each character’s experience of the town is different, seeing as everything is created from their own phobias, dreams and regrets, including the enemies. It’s not all that different though as you’ll come across a few monsters that may look familiar, but Murphy conjures up brand new types too. Further enhancing this aspect is the lack of Pyramid Head which may disappoint some people. He’s definitely a loved part of the series and one that inflicts fear into the best of us, but he’s just not what Murphy is looking for. (keep your eyes peeled in one of the endings of the game though, you may see a familiar triangular clump of metal). In his place are just a small handful of bosses, which have a nice little touch to them. They’re not the usual ‘fight until either of you die’ type though, they’re much more interesting and a lot more personal to the main character.
What would a Silent Hill game be without a few good puzzles here and there? Well nothing really, so it’s a bloody good job Downpour includes quite a few. So some of them may not seem taxing to the veterans of the town and require a quick look through your inventory to see what’s available to you, but others are as brain bending as ever, leaving you tugging on your hair as you try to figure out what to do. If that’s not the case, then you can change the puzzle difficulty on the starting screen, either making things either a breeze or blizzard.
Between the puzzles and the running for your life is a nice chance to explore the area around you. Tread into a building and there’ll be numerous doors to encounter. Some lead the way forward, some locked forever, some offering new items or weapons but others seem to have no purpose at all. This may become frustrating as you meander along, fighting for your life but how likely is it that you walk into an abandoned town and every door you come across has something useful behind it? If you think about it, the pointless rooms have a very important point, confusing you as to where to go next, disappointing you as you hope to stumble upon a much needed healing item or new weapon. They’re there to put fear in our hearts, and that they do.
Outside of buildings, you have a whole town to poke your nose into, as long as you don’t mind meeting a monster along the way. As you walk around though, the map of the town doesn’t mark where you’ve been, what’s been useful or not like previous games used to do and so you may become a bit disorientated. If this really becomes a problem though, you can always find one online and do your own marking, this method being one that can immerse you further into the game, though it’s a shame you don’t get a little help along the way. On top of this, there aren’t many familiar locations to discover, but rather plenty of new ones. Most notable is the lack of hospital and school which put in perspective would be strange for a convict to want to visit anyway (much like the monsters seen before would be strange to meet).
Before you start panicking about the whole game being different to the successes that came before it, you should note that it does take a lot from previous parts of the series, most particularly the most recent ones. The whole game, combat exploration and appearance all feels a lot like Homecoming, along with the transition from the ‘normal’ Silent Hill to the otherworld, which, in turn, was taken from the film. The way the paint peels off the walls as they crumble into the heavens puts a great sense of eeriness into you, knowing that things just got ten times more intense.
The effects of the fog (as well as the new idea of rain) and the style of map all goes back to the roots of the game, when the town of horrors was fresh-faced and new, before the deformities mangled the pretty vacation spot and it became as infamous as it is now. Seeing as the previous game, Shattered Memories was looked upon with disgust from quite a few players (even though it was still a fun experience), the developers have really turned the tables and welcomed those people back with friendly arms. Speaking of old additions in the series, try to count how many times you repeat Mr. Townshend’s favourite line of ‘what the hell?’ as you discover new rooms and watch the town transform before your eyes.
Multiple endings are achievable too, adding a sense of replayability and challenge into Downpour, whether you decide to strive for the best ending possible or laugh at the joke ending created to lighten the mood of the oppressive town. Many things affect the type of ending you get, such as how you act towards other people you meet (who are just as eerie as ever) and the amount of enemies you bludgeon to death. Undoubtedly the first ending you come across won’t be the one you’re expecting so you’re given the chance to start again until you get the balance just right.
Other features that only enhance the horrific genre of the game are ones that have been seen before, whether in the series or other games of the same genre. Once more, you get the chance to peek behind doors before you fully open then, giving you a quick glance around the room. The beauty about this is that more often than not, this glimpse of the new room puts you off stepping another foot forward rather than being helpful on your adventure. Doors and other cheap frights such as trees breaking and birds cawing as they rattle the leaves all keep you on the edge of your seat, determined that as soon as you blink, you’ll be attacked. That’s what horror games should be about and that’s what makes this game so great.
Warning you about these sudden dangers is the noise of your walkie-talkie (which acts as your radio in this game), known to make things worse as you know that something is nearby but you’re not quite sure where it is, bringing the fear of the unknown into the game, just like many before it. Music and voice acting in this game are fitting to the atmosphere and really put across the emotions of the characters, though both of these sounds are scarce. The sound of silence isn’t as heavily focused on as you may have thought though but instead is replaced by everyday noise, created to keep you shaking in your boots, palms sweaty as you try to hold onto the controller.
Looking at the game, you would have expected this to be one of the earlier releases of the consoles, especially the character models (have you seen their hair?). It’s not up to the standards that can be achieved at the moment but such a petty argument means nothing when you think back to the first game – blocky, awkwardly animated and difficult to see anything, yet it still captured the hearts of many people. Obviously, being years on, the animations in Downpour are incredibly smooth for the majority of the time, though sometimes things will seem clunky and lagging a bit, distracting you for a few short seconds.
Overall, the game takes what was best of the old games, mixes it with a few original ideas, plenty of
horrors and it’s all packed onto a nice little disc. If it wasn’t for the few niggling problems such as the regenerating health and no clue as to where you’ve already risked your life, this could quite possibly be one of the beauties that make this generation something to look back upon and smile contently. Not that it isn’t amazing in its own right of course.
If you’ve set out looking for a brand new, incredibly innovative game then this isn’t the one for you, but if you’re looking for a good scare-fest, then please, step right into Silent Hill. 8.5/10
Loved every second of Murphy’s adventure? Wishing you could send this game into the middle of the town itself? Whatever your opinion, don’t be scared to share it below in the comments section.