Silent Hill: Downpour

It has been 13 years since the original trip to the twisted, messed up cult town of Silent Hill, but the visitors keep on coming. Can a recent change of developers do anything for this town’s tourism? There is only one way to find out: follow yet another foggy off road path in the most recent installment of the franchise Silent Hill: Downpour.

Technically speaking, its been four years since we have had a Silent Hill title on a next gen console, and after the tepid reception of Homecoming, it’s hard to hold out extreme hopes for something groundbreaking. However, the gamer in me still cannot forget the trips to Silent Hill of yore, and that nostalgia of getting petrified beyond belief still keeps the inner fires burning.

You take the role of convict Murphy Pendleton who, thanks to a mysterious prison incident, is being transferred to another facility. During the journey, the transport vehicle is forced off the road and crashes, leaving the inmates free to run from the confines of jail. Murphy, through sheer bad luck, finds his way to the Devil Pits, a broken down attraction on the outskirts of Silent Hill, and is then forced to try and escape the clutches of the town, while reliving (as always) the repercussions of his past.

Back once again are the trips to Otherworld, distorted enemies and freaky-assed townsfolk, but unfortunately they feel far too diluted. The less human inhabitants in Downpour are quite rare and incredibly unvaried. Bearing in mind that one of them is a weird black hole that chases you around trying to suck you in and another is a giant talking face, they don’t have much fear inducing factor about them, and above all else feel very vague and characterless.

Don’t expect Pyramid Head or hypodermically pierced nurses, the closest thing to an ‘iconic badie’ is the Bogeyman who looks like a rip-off of Resident Evil’s Executioner on a fishing trip; well, they have to try and make another vague reference to water somehow I guess! However, if it’s jumps and scares you’re after, it certainly doesn’t disappoint, and easily had me screaming like the girl I am on numerous occasions!

When it comes to Downpour, the ideas seem solid, it just lacks a fair bit in practise and finess. Newbies to the Silent Hill developer family, Vatra, have obviously tried to put in time and new ideas to the game mechanics, greatly increasing the number of wieldable weapons and items. However they rarely last through an attack ‒ two if you are lucky ‒ especially as weapons can now be used to interact with environmental elements such as boarded up doorways and drop down ladders, and the space in the inventory is incredibly limited weapons wise.

Although this adds a more realistic survival element in principal, instead it often leaves you running around like a lunatic, effing and blinding rather than feeling vulnerable and terrified, just begging to have some kind of customisable weapon feature a la Dead Rising 2 instead.

The combat system is a little clunky, with an odd choice of a run button, a button bash attack style and infuriating camera angles that really should have been left in the 90’s. It also has its fair share of niggles, such as no obvious health meter or item status, and a frustratingly small inventory space. Don’t hold out for guns and ammo either; apart from being incredibly scarce and usually subject to being darted around in side quests, the guns themselves are so difficult to shoot you will probably use  more ammo trying to aim than you will putting into a screamer or doll foe.

The game play map is much more extensive, with many cubby holes, nooks and crannies to explore. While previous visits to Silent Hill offered a large town to visit, many areas were closed off, and gave very rigid paths to travel as a result. The new incarnation feels much more open, and also offers many more side quest missions if you want to get the most out of the game. Also back are the hair ripping puzzles, although unfortunately not as prevalent as they should be.

The biggest disappointment was the character development. There are few encounters, and when they do occur, they feel almost stereotypical to the series. Within the first hour I was able to piece together a rough idea on the plot twist that would inevitably come in the end, and the reason for being pulled into Silent Hill at all gets weaker in every game.

A big part of the atmosphere in Silent Hill was its soundtrack and as an old school fan of the series, I was disappointed to learn that composer Akira Yamaoka would not be returning to work on the score for the game. However, if there is one man capable of filling his shoes, it is Daniel Licht, of Dexter fame; serial killer to cult town in one fell musical swoop! There are, however, many opportunities to get a nostalgic dose of Yamaoka tunes thanks to the radios darted about, but in hindsight, it adds to the fact that the game as a whole isn’t so much pushing the boundaries of what the series has to offer as living on the coattails of a decade old ground breaker.







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