Silent Hill: Downpour PS3, Xbox 360 Review

Publisher – Konami – Developer – Vatra Games – Genre – Survival Horror – Players – 1 – Age Rating – 18+ – Other console/handheld formats – N/A

Vatra Games are the third western development team to be tasked with creating a Silent Hill game. Since Team Silent were disbanded in 2005, development has fallen to the likes of Double Helix Games (Silent Hill: Homecoming) and Climax (Silent Hill: Origins and Silent Hill: Shattered Memories). Silent Hill: Downpour, the fourth western developed game, will be very familiar to series fans, although, in some ways, it also breathes some new life into the long running series.

Like any Silent Hill game should, Downpour has a story that is full of mystery and intrigue, and one that will definitely play with your mind. Murphy Pendleton is the poor soul lost in the town of Silent Hill this time around, although being a convict and beating an unarmed man to death in the first ten minutes will lead to many questioning if their sympathy of the character is misplaced – just what has Pendleton done to land himself in a cell?  When he is being moved to another jail, the prison vehicle that is carrying him crashes in the outskirts of Silent Hill, and, even if events do become hellish, it gives Pendleton his freedom. It’s certainly a story that held my interest right up until the very end, with a typical cast of oddball characters and a very unsettling mood.

Returning from Homecoming are the story decisions, although they’re so under used that many will forget about them in the long stretches before one turns up again. More choice would have certainly been welcome, but I suppose, as rare as they are, it does give you something to think about, and some of your decisions do actually affect the outcome of the story.

Silent Hill: Downpour retains the weirdness and psychological horror that has characterised the series. This is a game that will gradually get under your skin, with unnerving moments being used liberally, and many will experience a sense of loneliness mixed in with a complete feeling of hopelessness when playing the game. It certainly captures what a Silent Hill game should feel like then.

Visually, Downpour is also very atmospheric. The familiar fog is joined by pouring rain, and some of the locations are so dark that torchlight becomes very necessary to find your way around them. When events force you into the Otherworld, things typically look very odd and twisted, and creatures, while not having anywhere near the imagination of some of the past games, are bizarre and depraved in their appearance. Sticking with negatives, the frame-rate is rather erratic at times (particularly on the PS3), and sometimes for no apparent reason whatsoever. Sound design is sadly a little mixed: Daniel Licht’s music is decent enough, although it isn’t up to the high standard of ex-Silent Hill composer Akira Yamaoka’s many excellent tracks, and while there’s some chilling sounds to be heard at times, on the whole it just doesn’t sound like a Silent Hill game.

Silent Hill: Downpour is the first game in the series to have somewhat of an open-world feel to it. True, when you are aiming to follow the main storyline you are stuck on a certain path and everything must be done in a certain order, although Downpour also has many side quests found throughout the town for you to get stuck into. Largely, the side quests don’t feel like an afterthought either, which makes them all the more worth playing.

Silent Hill: Homecoming’s combat may have been vastly improved over previous games, although Downpour is a return to the more awkward combat of earlier games. In fact, while there are all sorts of weapons to grab hold of and it’s possible to block enemy attacks, the melee combat here is so awkward that, at times, I much preferred fleeing enemies as opposed to fighting them. Shooting fairs a little better, although this is a game that isn’t based around guns. The overall combat may go down well with those who like tenser enemy encounters, although some will just write it off as completely pathetic.

The puzzles aren’t anything that we haven’t seen before in a survival horror game, although there are still some really good ones to be the found, particularly the larger puzzles, which require a little more thought to solve.

In a genre that is sadly close to extinction, and with its puzzles and tense combat, Silent Hill: Downpour remains true to its survival horror roots. This is definitely a series that has become memorable for its chilling atmosphere and intriguing storylines, and Silent Hill: Downpour, while feeling a little awkward in places, manages to tick all the important boxes.