on 10 July 2012
S T O R Y
You play as Murphy Pendleton, a convict incarcerated for several years at Ryall State Corrections Facility. An unspecified incident requires Murphy to beat the crap out of another inmate, which has been orchestrated by a shady corrections officer, George Sewell. Sometime later, Murphy and a few other inmates are scheduled for transfer to a maximum-security facility. The bus journey takes the inmates towards the outskirts of eastern Silent Hill. The road suddenly turns into nothingness, and the driver violently turns the steering wheel, crashing through the road barrier and tumbling down the steep hill. You awake from the wreckage and slowly make your way past some rocky surroundings, eventually venturing into Silent Hill. An eerie meeting with a mailman and a cryptic sighting set the tone for many bizarre events to come. Your objective is quite simple - escape the spooky town!
Murphy is definitely one of the more interesting protagonists the franchise has offered, but the story still suffers from the plot branching out into different areas, and never giving them true closure. What I admired about Murphy is that he is vulnerable when wandering Silent Hill, which is further enhanced by his girly screams he lets fly when being chased by all kinds of monsters. Support characters are interesting, but they are very underdeveloped. The strongest character is the creepy town itself, it takes on a life of its own and it warps reality incredibly well. The dialogue is quite effective throughout the game, which helps backup the shaky performances of some characters.
G R A P H I C S & S O U N D
The gloomy fog; industrial rust of the nightmarish world and the decay of environments are all synonymous with the visuals of the franchise. Built on the Unreal Engine, Downpour presents mood and atmosphere incredibly well. The viscosity of the fog engulfs the town, obscuring the surrounding view and creates a very unnerving experience. The town is completely free roam, which is a fantastic way of adding exploration and giving the players the freedom to fully immerse themselves in this abandoned hellhole. There are a lot of obstructions that can block roads, which may limit some freedom, but it helps streamline navigation.
Downpour uses rain to great effect, sometimes it drizzles, but other times it will seriously drench you. Adding to the atmosphere, lightning flashes across the sky when there is heavy rain, it looks amazing and oozes a chill factor. The other world is Silent Hill's nightmarish state; the real world peels away to present a darker version of itself. The result is fantastic, walls have deteriorated with rust, strange creatures lurk around corners and an evil entity relentlessly chases you. The colours consist of slimy oranges and grungy reds, which just adds to the foul nature of these environments. The lighting is a strong component, which applies to the use of your flashlight amidst dark environments. Certain levels can become incredibly dark, this may seem like a blinding sensation, but the illumination from the flashlight works well to aid your path ahead.
Animations are smooth, but there can be annoyances with collision detection when running through tight spaces. If you are easily disturbed by blood, then Downpour is sure to make you cringe with some truly gruesome effects. There are some violent moments to witness, but I have to say that the visceral aspect is an eye-popping spectacle. Voice acting is generally very good and never borders on melodrama. Sound design is strong, the shift between reality and nightmare create some spine tingling effects.
Unfortunately, the quality of texturing is an odd inconsistency. Outdoor environments are pretty sharply detailed, but the indoor areas suffer from repetitive designs and predictable art direction. Character models are also a mixed bag, but this can be most attributed to the uninspired designs of the creatures. Daniel Licht attempts to bring Downpour's soundtrack out of the ashes since the departure of famed composer Akira Yamaoko. Licht may not succeed in outdoing Yamaoko, but he competently creates a bond between the music and atmosphere.
G A M E P L A Y
Murphy can only carry one weapon at a time (excluding pistols that he holsters), which puts a greater strategy on how effective your chosen weapon can be. Handheld weapons range from rakes, fire axes, steel pipes, knives etc. Firearms will consist of pistols and shotguns, but ammo is a very scarce resource throughout the town. There are a generous amount of weapons to be found and it will help to experiment with different types. I'd advise blocking often, as enemies can use a quick succession of attacks to throw you off guard. Weapons can also break from over usage, so it's very wise to chop and change your instrument of death. Med-kits, a flashlight and other essential items are stored in your inventory, but pressing the D-pad can quickly access specific items. What the enemies lack in design, they make up for with anger and unpredictability. There are screamer types that send out high-pitched noises to give you a serious earache, muscled brutes that use heavy attacks and creepy mannequins that project aggressive poltergeists. At certain points during the game you'll have no choice but to square off against enemies and defeat them, in order to progress further.
Gameplay can vary between light and dark environments, which is where your trusty flashlight will come into play. There is also a UV light available to help discover hidden clues. Downpour's main story will take players all over the town and introduce new characters along the way. There is also a morality system, which will enable Murphy to make certain decisions. These decisions will affect the outcome of the game's ending. At key points in the main campaign the town will shift into its other world state. The other world is infested with terror and an extremely hostile entity, which sadistically enjoys chasing you. I loved these sequences, as they add a level of desperation and struggle to the gameplay. Moving away from the main quest, there are a healthy dose of side missions, which involved locating missing people, searching for valuable items, and solving some cryptic puzzles. The puzzles are a strong element of the experience, they require thought, and for those who want to be riddled a little more, it is possible to adjust the difficulty of the puzzles before a new game is started. There are also multiple endings to unlock, so it's wise to keep an eye on the choices you make throughout the game on subsequent playthroughs.
The combat just doesn't come together, and it provides more frustration rather than satisfaction. Murphy's movements are clumsy and not responsive. Enemies will find it very easy to attack you and, if many surround you at once then you rarely stand a fighting chance. Using firearms can be difficult, the aiming is very erratic and it is very easy to miss your target when firing repeatedly. The side quests are a decent distraction, but a handful of them begin to feel all too familiar.
O V E R A L L
Vatra Games should be commended in trying to capture the essence of the franchise and not straying too far away from the proven formula. The story is a hit and a miss, the morality choices could have been expanded upon, and the relationships between Murphy and other characters needed a little more substance. The visuals are atmospheric and pull you in, but the creatures form a weak link to the presentation. The gameplay feels dated, but the moments in the other world are truly heart stopping.