I'm a big Silent Hill fan. It's been a long time since the golden days of SH2 and as the ps2 era was coming to an end, fans looked ahead for a new game to bring the series into the next generation which sadly never arrived. Instead of a next gen equivalent of SH2 we got a couple of badly made spinoff titles, remakes and fan service cash ins. Origins was a weird remake style mess, homecoming missed the point so far it may aswell have been shot backwards, and the wii game... oh boy. I am starting to see why the original japanese developers bailed after the ps2 gen.
So what is Downpour like? well, it is better than all of the games post Sh4 but falls short of the brilliance of the first 3 games. If you are a silent hill fan, it is worth your time. If not, pick up the forthcoming SH HD classic pack for ps3 which has the best games in the series.
- Story, spoiler free
A shining example when compared to modern games, but James Sunderland would be turning in his grave before it knocked Sh2 off it's pedestal. We play Murphy Pendleton, a thirty something convict who finds himself in Silent Hill when his prison transport bus crashes into a forest during a rainstorm. Little is given away as we wonder through a foggy forest into town. The story unfolds in the same way it always does via notes on the ground, flashbacks, symbolism in environments and monsters. Without spoiling much, our Murph has a troubled and violent past - which is the Silent Hill equivalent of a season ticket. Lots of twists/turns and a well written tale. Sadly the voice acting is a bit of a letdown with most characters not reflecting the emotion they speak very well. Overall, the story is the reason you should buy the game.
Excellent. I was more than happy to see they returned to the roots of the series with genuinely creepy art design, whisping fog and some great sound effects. Daniel Licht (the master composer behind the Dexter tv series) scored the soundtrack to the game and did a good job. The world is lonely, dark and foreboding. Top marks here, and no out of place appearances of Pyramid Head or Sean Bean.
Here is when things start to fall apart. Fortuntely though we have the traditional medikit health system instead of the popular "never die health regen" crap that is in most games these days. This helps to build tension thst is sadly dispersed by the woeful combat. It feels as though the devs recognised that SH games had pretty woeful combat in general, but oversaw it as some kind of game design choice. The combat is limiting and unfair in SH 2 for a couple of reasons, the biggest being that you are supposed to be a regular joe flailing pipes and wood around in terror rather than a hulking meat head smasnhing skulls with regenerating health. Downpour seems to imitate combat elements on purpose, probably in attempt to stay traditional to the series, but it fails and becomes both frustrating and tedious. I generally groaned when monsters where around because the combat leaves much to be desired. Blocking is glitchy, weapons such as fireaxes break as if they where made of cardboard... but i am glad they went for SH 2 style melee combat with only a few guns and very rare ammo pickups, rather than the weird 3rd person action/quick time event mess that was Homecoming.
I play and review based of the above points, but it is only fair to include graphics at the end because they do look nice. Whispy fog, realistic water effects and some great art design. Silent Hill looks good. Sadly though it has some pretty dodgy texture popping and frame rate issues..
So we have a lot of bad design choices on display in this game, to put it nicely. It was not too bad at first but as time goes on I was starting to wonder if anyone at development bothered taking time to playtest some of the clangers of game design that are in here. Quick time event sequences that have you repeating cut scenes because they pop out of nowhere, false moral choices every now and then that dont change outcomes despite what you chose to do (Why bother!?) and somewhat game crippling combat being the biggest issue. It also suffers from a seriously busted auto save system that regularly sends you back half an hour upon death, sometimes making you view the same unskippable cutscenes 5 times over until you get to the next checkpoints. NO ONE could possibly look at this and think "yeah, this wont piss anyone off". Another totally baffling element is the police cars that roam the streets, spawning monsters arcade style if they spot you. Thankfuly if you complete the side quest in the police station they dissappear for good. There is also far too much combat in the last quarter of the game for my taste, and when it is not very enjoyable it becomes frustrating. One level in particular on hard mode made me rage after seeing the same battle intro over 10 times. The combat system just was not built for more than one enemy on screen at once... so when there's 3 guys kicking your head in from all directions dealing 25% health dmg per second while poor old Murph swings his cardboard axe once every 5 seconds before it breaks I gurantee you will rage. (Not to mention he turns around and blocks at the pace of a pensionner!) Dear oh dear... and to top it off, while Murph is getting beaten to death as you mash the tempermental block button, the semi-fixed camera is spazzing out doing 360's. It's just a nightmare and whoever thought it was a good idea needs a slap.
Fortunately the story and side quests which deepen the experience were top notch and kept my attention. There are 6 endings to get but i doubt anyone will care enough to suffer the issues again for the minor differences in each. The biggest question of all for fans - is it scary? well, it is creepy in places, and does have a handful of genuinely scary moments, but it is not as unsettling as previous outings. One last niggle - the main character is a COMPLETE moron with as much personality as a plank of wood. He reminds me of the derp from Heavy Rain (I wonder if it is the same voice actor as they sound alike, too).
It started out so well but about half way through it becomes one of those games that you wish had better gameplay to match the great story. Sadly this experience is hindered with bad / tired game design and combat, but the great story makes it worth a pickup if you are a fan of the series. If you've never played one of these games before, this wont show you the best of Silent Hill. I would say pick it up when its cheaper. Fortunately though, the developers seem to respect the franchise and did their homework on what the original games where about - atmosphere and story. I suspect they were pressured into including all the crappy cliches of modern games by the publishers or something.