|Silent Hill: Downpour|
|Developer: Vatra Games
Release Date: Out Now
Players/Online features: One
In Silent Hill: Downpour you play as convict Murphy Pendleton, and the game's interactive intro cut–scene has you viciously killing a repulsively flabby fellow inmate in the not-so high security Ryall State correctional facility. After this minor infraction of the correctional system’s rules you’re transferred to Wayside Maximum security, and seize the opportunity of freedom when the prison bus you're being transported in crashes on the edge of the foggy and overcast, seemingly deserted town. I’ll bet you can't guess what the name of a town is… Tracked by Correctional Officer Cunningham (who just happens to be an attractive female) Murphy stumbles around the woods and the story soon becomes a typically confused mess of exploration, investigation, retribution, bizarre supernatural occurrences and psychological terror. The weather is foggy, frequently rainy and generally ‘yuck’. Heavy rain brings out more monsters and makes them more aggressive, so if it starts to rain you’d better look for an indoor location to explore for a while or get ready to fight for your life with any makeshift weapon you can find.
Most of the game occurs in the real world but events sometimes transfer Murphy to the otherworld, which usually consists of a kind of f*cked-up nightmare sequence in which you're being chased by a red twinkly something or another—presumably this is death incarnate as being caught means game over and reload the last save point. To put it bluntly, these sequences are a right royal pain in the ass, with the likelihood of painful death and a slow load and return to a sequence some time before the chase began, and they shouldn’t be in the game. They’re no fun, not clever, and make the game feel old.
The controls are fairly typical; movement is with the left stick, you look around with the right. You hold 'RB' to Sprint or walk more quickly, press 'A' to interact with objects, 'X' is punch or use weapon and 'Y' is block. The combat is clumsy and although it plays much like the older games and it's fairly intuitive, it’s also as easy to be good as it is easy to mess up thanks to the vicious monsters’ AI and Murphy’s painfully slow movement. The camera sometimes gets backed up against a wall leaving you with no view of the enemy whatsoever so it makes you feel like you’re not only fighting the monster, but the cameras too. As there is no lock-on facility you'll often swing and miss and it could cost you a death or twenty because of a combination the combat’s vagueness and the camera’s unhelpful tendencies. I even died on one occasion because when you’ve got the inventory open the game isn’t paused and monsters can still attack you, but you have no control over Murphy until it’s closed. You don’t do that twice.
It might seem like an insignificant thing but Downpour has a rather cool door opening mechanic; you press ‘A’ to open the door and ease the left stick forward to have a peek through-if you don't like what you see can slam the door closed again or keep pushing forward to open the door wide. While this ramps up the tension I was baffled as to why it is hardly ever used as I expected it to be; in other words at some point you to open the door, see something horrible slam the door and run the other way, or at least make plans to change weapons or some such. Other questionable aspects of the design include occasional fixed CCTV-like cameras that make the game reminiscent of the early Resident Evil games, and a typewriter font, that's used for every typed document in the game, that no official body would actually use because of its childish, jumbled look.
As you explore Silent Hill you unlock side missions, some of which unlock new weapons and bonuses, but the game is nowhere near as ‘open world’ as I hoped it would be. One set of missions in particular seemed remarkably fiddly to me and involved a lot of to-ing and fro-ing and searching, even involving travelling to and back from a distant location, the reward for which was a shortcut to that destination—thanks a bunch! The game frequently makes you visit areas over and over again, and for me at least the result was confusion rather than familiarity mostly due to the muddy, samey looking locations. Also every now and then game throws choices at you such as the option to either assist someone or not help them and possibly take the more selfish option, that supposedly affect which of the 6 different endings you experience.
The game has some very fussy ‘use item’ or ‘enter door’ prompts as well, sometimes you have to stand in exactly the right place in order to pick up an item or open a door or use an item or climb down the ladder, amusingly sometimes you can be standing too close to an object to use it or to open a door! The controls are pretty well instinctive, as you'd expect, but one issue arises due to the ‘use first-aid kit’ button being set to ‘Right’ on the D-Pad. With your inventory set to on ‘Up‘ on the D-pad, this can easily cause unwanted and unnecessary uses of a precious first-aid kit because of the vagaries of their 360's D-pad (The PS3’s is slightly better), and it's a completely unnecessary hassle.
Downpourdoes a good job of ramping up the tension, and a walkie-talkie gives you an original Silent Hill-like radio static forewarning of impending monsters if you want it. As I mentioned earlier the game has hours of seemingly aimless wandering and searching interspersed with panicky moments of terror that you'll either love or hate depending on your fondness for the genre and the Silent Hill franchise in particular. Personally I’ve had enough of rainy weather in games (I think a mixture of too flippin’ many rain-affected races in F1 2011 and PS3 exclusive Heavy Rain put me off rain-sodden games for life) and this particularly dreary visit to Silent Hill made me long for games that are clever enough to scare you shitless in the sunshine. The attract mode song by Korn will probably be the highpoint of this game for some, but the game generally sounds good with a host of eerie sound effects and monster groans.
I was looking to Downpourto bring something new to the survival horror genre, and instead of that despite some excellent main character models and a few destructible items of scenery it just feels old. There’s a lot to be said for not fiddling with a successful formula but it's almost as if games-that I think advanced the genre-like Resident Evil 5, Alan Wake, Dead Space and even the first-person Dead Island never existed, or at least the Downpour developers weren't aware of them and didn’t learn anything from them. Some Silent Hill aficionados may love this game, but I can’t help thinking that developers Vatra should have been more adventurous and pushed the boundaries beyond “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it”.
- Genuinely scary in a few places.
- A lot of lifespan for your money.
- Multiple endings.
- Terrible shearing.
- Almost constant frame rate stutters.
- The monsters aren't varied or even particularly scary, and attack in the same way all the time.
- Clunky combat.
- Too much dark.
- Unhelpful camera at vital moments.
- Downpour will leave a lot of newcomers baffled and confused.