Silent Hill: Downpour Review (PS3)

Played on: PS3
Played for: 8 or 9 hours to finish the game on the default settings.

Being a huge fan of the Silent Hill series, it was hard for me to review Downpour without comparing it to other games in the franchise and, in turn, overcoming my personal expectations for the 8th installment. As much as I wanted to express my disappointment over what I didn’t like or things I didn’t agree with, I don’t want to deter anyone from actually playing Downpour because, in the end, it was a fun experience and worthy of the Silent Hill name.

First, let’s talk plot. In a nutshell, Silent Hill Downpour puts you in control of Murphy Pendleton, a prison inmate, who is being transported from Ryall to Silent Hill. The transport bus crashes along the way and you wake up un-cuffed and one of only two survivors. As Murphy explores Silent Hill, Downpour slowly reveals his past based on decisions you make throughout the game.

As the name “Downpour” implies, the 8th installment in the series focuses on the use of heavy rain rather than fog. The harder it rains, the more monsters appear and the more dangerous they become, so Downpour really emphasizes a “fight or flight” gameplay mechanic. Murphy isn’t ex-military like in Homecoming and therefor isn’t a seasoned veteran at giving the business end of a crowbar to a bunch of monsters. Swinging a weapon is spastic and aiming a gun is sketchy on purpose, but that really doesn’t mean that combat should be as terrible as it is.

Apparently when it rains, members of Slipknot come out of the woods to attack you.

I understand that Murphy is supposed to suck and is in a situation where he’s in panic-mode 24/7, but combat is so sluggish and poorly executed to the point where I dreaded every single encounter, and not in a good way. Monsters continuously stun you from a distance or drop from ceilings to knock you down which adds nothing but frustration when you can’t see them due to a wonky camera angle. Yes, you can choose to run from everything. Hell, there is even a trophy to unlock for beating the game without killing any monsters at all.. but forcing you to avoid combat because it was poorly executed isn’t an excuse. That’s just my opinion though. Combat was awful in the original Silent Hill and I still loved the game, so asking for a decent combat system in a series that has never really focused on such is asking a lot.

Downpour departs from other entries in the series by eliminating a few things that we’ve all gotten used to. It centers on one character’s story rather than weaving it in to a history lesson for the town itself. Silent Hill never once takes center stage as a method to explain Murphy’s intentions, but rather just a creepy setting for the game to take place in. Murphy’s story is excellently told through solid voice acting and flashback sequences, but the town of Silent Hill was basically used like Hyrule in the Zelda series. It’s there, but only by name. Silent Hill itself was grounds for exploration and combat while the “otherworld” was generally a massive chase sequence (just like the ones in Silent Hill Shattered Memories) where Murphy has to run from a red vortex down maze-like corridors or be melted in to man soup. The chase scenes were both frustrating and satisfying but never once did I actually know where in the hell I was going. All I knew was that a massive vortex was on my ass and if I didn’t keep running toward those gnarly monsters spitting blood that I was going to be turned inside out and faced with another “Load last checkpoint?” screen.

Graphically, Silent Hill itself is pretty boring to look at but it’s an ordinary desolate town in the middle of a rainstorm.. it’s not supposed to look like Skyrim. The “otherworld” is more visually impressive with creepy imagery and, what I thought, was an awesome use of camera work. Long staircases seem to stretch and give off a sense of vertigo while hallways seem to keep extending in to a never ending nightmare of WTF. Running around a corner might lead you right back in to the same hallway you just came from, while turning around reveals an entirely different area altogether. It was like being in A Nightmare on Elm St where your sanity is truly put through the test and that is what Silent Hill has always been about – Questioning reality. With so much detail put in to otherworld, it’s a shame that the enemies feel thoughtless and uninteresting, coming across as generic concepts thrown in to the game to meet time constraints.

One of my biggest worries was the absence of long-time series composer Akira Yamaoka, but Dexter veteran Daniel Licht stepped

Run from the red vortex or become a victim of the Silent Hill slave trade!

to the plate and nailed a grand slam (that’s really good, for those of you that don’t like baseball). Radios spread across Silent Hill play “real” music while the world itself was full of the moody stuff you’d expect. Licht admitted to studying the sounds in the previous games for queues and it definitely paid off. Yamaoka would be proud.

Overall, Silent Hill Downpour took my girlfriend and I about 9 hours to beat. We explored pretty thoroughly and did a few of the side-quests but hit the “point of no return” and couldn’t go back in to finish up the rest of them. Most of them were pretty short, so completing everything 100% would have only taken about 12 hours or so, which is great for a survival horror game. We both really enjoyed the storyline and the complete and utter craziness of “otherworld”, but felt the combat could have been executed a lot better. We encountered lag on various occasions and some questionable camera control in tight spaces, but nothing was bad enough to stop us from playing.

The Verdict – C+

Downpour isn’t perfect and there were plenty of times when we just felt the game was mediocre at best (even bad at times), but the last few hours of the game was extremely well executed and we both felt satisfied in the end. Downpour has some of my favorite moments in series history (the entire scene where you reinact Hanzel & Gretel with the amazing music playing in the background – see video below) but also some of my biggest letdowns (no reason for Silent Hill, awful combat on par with the original, terrible monster designs). I think we both wanted to love the game more than we did, but we still enjoyed Downpour for what it was. With that said, Downpour is a welcome addition to the Silent Hill franchise despite its shortcomings. Oh, and my girlfriend accidentally threw our pre-order axe in to Toluca Lake while picking up another weapon.. that alone was worth $60.00.

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