Silent Hill Downpour Review [PlayStation 3]

Silent Hill might be the lone skinless wolf of the horror genre, but does that make Downpour at all terrific?

rating:2.5 stars

The Silent Hill series is one of the last standing, semi-successful and reputable survival horrors left. In risk of making us all - or at least some of us €“ feel old the original spark €˜Silent Hill€™ was released all the way back in 1999, and here we are 13 hard hitting years later with Silent Hill€™s latest thematically related sequel, Silent Hill Downpour. A lot has changed in that time, genres have been manifested, mechanics have been innovated, and even new interactive methods have been introduced - well, that€™s at least the rest of the gaming industry; Silent Hill has remained largely stagnant. Silent Hill Downpour is creatively uninspired and it€™s the metaphor of not only the player character€™s issues but of a tiresome project with a very reiterative gameplay structure and an unwelcoming combat system. Silent Hill Downpour follows the mysterious arch of its predecessors by throwing the protagonist into an awful accident igniting the spiral of weird hallucination and the demonic goings on of Silent Hill, or the mysterious €˜other world€™. This time you play as Murphy, a grizzly middle-aged convict with unclear moral intentions. Upon being transported from Ryall State Corrections Facility to a high security prison for recently committing a murderous deed, the bus takes a tragic turn on journey and ends up crashing down the side of a hill. After waking up slightly dazed, yet oddly reserved, strange happenings begin to unveil.

The most prominent thorn in Silent Hill€™s side is its contriving gameplay trappings. This appears on the outset. Upon escaping the crashed bus a single tree falls to the side blocking the player€™s left path, the tree is conveniently long and covers the whole side, but that isn€™t the contrivance, the tree is a foot high, an accidental hop could pass such an obstacle. These kinds of barriers even for the most non serious of games withdraw from the immersion. This, thankfully, is the worst of the worst to be found but its evidence of the game€™s old boiler plate design. If you have ever played a Silent Hill game in the past you€™ll at least be faint on its gameplay. You€™ll be doing a bit of investigating (usually item finding), item or number based puzzle solving and the odd demon stabbing. Yep, you do all of that here and in pretty much that order in rotation throughout the whole game. This could be down to age of Silent Hill€™s gameplay formula or because Silent Hill Downpour is pretty bad at it, either way this game€™s visible level design seams make it a very tedious experience indeed. The problem is that, unless you€™re a diehard Silent Hill fan, that not one of these elements is particularly exciting. Opening up that map continuously to find out where you are to then work out the next place or area you need to get to is tedious, finding numbers found paper for keypads is tedious, even smashing messed up spindly demons with a mallet is tedious, it shouldn€™t be but it is. An inherent problem that the Silent Hill series has commonly had is making combat welcoming. Silent Hill Downpour commonly suffers from camera spasms and mindless aiming; this could be in effort to focus the player on evasion but wouldn€™t it be more effective to just remove the combat all together if that was the case? The gameplay isn€™t all sour grapes, and even the combat can have its moments. The time you pick up a gun is a relieving one as then you have a manual aim method and you can relieve enemies in one confident head shot. Some of the hallucinating points when Murphy falls into the €˜other world€™, or just generally hallucinates, can be spectacular. One moment you find yourself in a mine train, you essentially have no control, but you€™re moving frantically through an evolving underground hell mine like one of those theme park flume rides just before you plunge down a waterfall. The whole experience hits the tension spot, but one scene especially as you stop and the lights flash sporadically, like a 3D flick book in light form, you become converged by a group of miners with pick axes €“ it€™s really quite frightening. Something like this happens maybe one other time, otherwise you€™re mindlessly running away from glowing red voids before tumbling back into the real world, this happens a lot more often pityingly. The main grab of Silent Hill though would probably be its atmosphere, and this offers the same. A combination of Silent Hill Downpour€™s curious characters, mysterious story and well situated setting makes this game bearable for most of the way through. Murphy is likeable and relatable and other than some odd out of place moral choices that are scattered throughout, it€™s possible to connect with him. The story is situated around him and is an uncovering into how he got placed in prison, his intentions behind committing heinous crimes and why certain characters want to murder his guts, all of this is genuinely interesting. The other characters that bump into you along the way, albeit short fleeting appearances, they€™re all convincing. The downfall here though is that the mysteries behind Murphy€™s past unravel a little too fast, disappointing when the story is one of the game€™s holding pillars. The other pillar is the setting; here is where the atmosphere really shines through. Although the whole game takes place in Silent Hill and the €˜other world€™ (the hellish demonic one) the game does a great job at varying the areas you explore, all of them horrendously bizarre, but they€™re detailed and define the bleak damning world Silent Hill is all about. All of these likeable points though have been mastered previously, and even with the advantages of this generation it really doesn€™t make the most of them.

Graphically this game suffers, and it€™s a shame as it has so much potential with the setting that has been brought to life here. The unreal engine is at use here, and it inherits the infamous texture streaming problem that has been rectified by most developers of this day. Levels are loaded up as you go and you can clearly see the high resolution textures form in front of you, although sometimes it looks like they don€™t load at all. This game is kind of ugly, to simply put it. Yet it also performs badly, too. You are constantly being interrupted by automatic saves and loading rooms, and at times halting seconds before being a bit to do anything. This could be just the PlayStation 3 version of the game, but nonetheless it€™s unacceptable. Silent Hill has never been so €˜silent€™. A design choice maybe, quiet points cleverly scattered here and there can help invoke an eerie atmosphere; too much silence however can help invoke an unfinished game. It is disconcerting at times how quiet this game is, but again bemusing as there are some brilliant moments, too. The monastery school€™s kid€™s play for example has a piercingly howling song that plays as part of a sequence puzzle, it set the scene and for a while the game felt like a qualitative horror game, and yet again, there€™s just not enough of that. As a whole this game is inconsistent in nature and it€™s aching to say this, as there aren€™t enough horror games these days, but it leans towards the more generic experience you should just avoid €“ yes, even you €˜true€™ Silent Hill fans. It€™s too easy to recommend this for the core audience, the story and atmosphere still exists in this game, but you deserve a lot better and can receive a lot better. Silent Hill still has potential it just needs to be placed in the hands of a developer willing to take risks for its franchise.

Silent Hill Downpour is available now in the US and Europe for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.


Maker of bread, jammie dodgers, clothing for middle class men and twisted dark fantasy films, in my own time I'm also a free-lance writer. I lie, I'm only a free-lance writer with a love for those predecessors, and a love for video games for that matter! I'm here to spread that love in article form for you all.