Silent Hill was once known as the definitive videogame series as far as twisted insanity went. Other games had their jump scares, zombies, and ghoulies, but Silent Hill was the franchise that went the extra mile and took mind-fucking to a new level and made your experience as discomforting and terrifying as possible. After the release of Silent Hill 2— and arguably 3— it started to go downhill, and what was once utterly horrifying became nothing more than diluted storytelling with tame visual metaphors; games that resembled nothing more than a hollow husk of its former, disturbing self.
With Silent Hill: Downpour, players have their chance to return to the titular town and once again live through the terrors that inhabit it. Unfortunately, Downpour continues the downward spiral of the franchise and while the side missions found in the game do retain some of the warped storytelling the series is known for, the main story itself just lacks any real “what the hell?!” moments.
You play as a prisoner named Murphy Pendelton and during a prison transfer, the bus you are on crashes, allowing you and the other inmates (those still alive) to make your escape from the wreckage. As you try to figure out just where it is that you are, you stumble across Silent Hill after a brief trip through a system of caves which lends nothing more than to give some history to the town that once was. Once you reach Silent Hill however, the game starts in earnest and from there your only goal is to find a way out.
Through your travels you will run into a few characters; a radio station DJ who occasionally has words to say to you through radios found around the town; a mysterious postman who just happens to show up out of the blue, and the prison guard from the bus who is very intent on making life miserable for you, for reasons which unfold throughout the game’s many, many, flashbacks. Although these characters are seen maybe twice through the entire game– minus the officer who pops up here and there– they are there just to spout a sentence or two to help push the story along and are then oddly never heard from again. There are also times throughout the game where you are given choices to make which would seem to have an impact on the characters encountered, and yet they don’t seem to affect anything at all, no matter what choice you made.
Along with the characters you meet, there are also the not-so frightening inhabitants of the town. This time around you’ll only face five different varieties, and only four of those that are actually in the town. When dealing with the enemies, the combat is what you can expect from a Silent Hill game if you have ever played one before. The combat is basically follows the path of “take a step towards the enemy and back up as they swipe at you and then step in and repeatedly wail on them till they fall over.” There is a block ability that you can use, but unless you want your weapons to last more than a few minutes, just walking around enemies is preferred. There’s also no way to tell if your weapon is about to break- another poor hold over from the previous games- nor can you hold more than one melee weapon at a time. To make things easier you can find pistols and shotguns through the town, but ammo is scarce and generally not worth the time to look for.
The enemies in general aren’t that much of a bother when traveling around the foggy town –until the rain starts to come down. When the skies open up and the thunder and lightning start to rumble and crack, the enemies will start to arrive in larger numbers, being more aggressive and more powerful. As tense as that sounds, simply entering a building and then leaving it again will make the rain pass and leave you free to walk around unscathed, for the most part. There are also grisly police cars that roam the streets blaring their creepy sirens, that when you get spotted, will vanish and have enemies appear, but again like the rain, a simple task to disable the police cars will make travel around the town almost worry-free.
If there is one thing that Silent Hill games are known for, it’s “the other world” where the town seems to change before your eyes and takes on a sinister, oppressive, and rusty, metallic form. The good news is that it still happens in Downpour. The bad news is that it is usually nothing more than a chase sequence from a blob of light that eats away at you the closer it gets. Seriously. You will have the usual puzzles to solve in the other world, but once you figure those out, the light blob will come after you and you’ll have to run through corridors, having doors close on you as you reach them, and other annoying things that make these sequences get played over again through trial and error.
As I mentioned earlier, the main story of the game isn’t all that interesting. Throughout the game, you are shown brief flashbacks that involve your son and your incarceration, leaving you to fill in the blanks until the end; which with the number of possible different endings doesn’t answer a lot of questions as to just what really happened. The real dark side of Downpour’s storytelling is in the side missions you can find. While most of them don’t take long to complete, there are about fourteen of them that you can do by entering buildings or by picking up items around the town. Most of the missions involve rather disturbing tales of suicide and murder, among other things, and dish out the creeps that the main story lacks.
Downpour has all the ingredients of Silent Hill game; an amazingly atmospheric soundtrack, the sadistic other world, the melon tweaking puzzles, but it just fails to give it that extra push to not only reach, but to get even close to the grotesque and disturbing line that its predecessors crossed. Everything seems to have been done so much less than its potential. Resorting to jump scares instead of psychological frights, the lack of creative and diverse enemies, the lack of any real bosses, and the lack of a main story that –although not horrible—it just doesn’t hold any real interest, Downpour permeates with the feeling that if it could have gone that extra little bit, it could have been the revival the series needed.
Title: Silent Hill: Downpour
Developer: Vatra Games
Release Date: March 13th 2012
Platforms Available: Xbox 360, PS3
Platform Reviewed: Xbox 360
Retail game purchased for review