Silent Hill: Downpour
Developer: Vatra Games
Publisher: Konami
Release Date: Out Now
Players/Online features: One
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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.

The vast majority the gameplay consists of wandering around looking for items to pick up to use as a weapon or to open a door or activate an item that you’d previously discovered. You’ll soon notice that there’s no HUD or on-screen health bar to clutter up the screen. As he takes damage Murphy gets more bedraggled and scarred and starts to limp rather than having a health bar indicator icon which, if not exactly new, is a rather cool idea. Murphy gets patched up and his clothes get cleaned up if you use a first aid kit. I did however find myself occasionally, even on the ‘normal’ difficulty setting, wandering around limping for long periods because I'd run out of meds and couldn’t find any anywhere. This’d be fine but Murphy’s visible condition (and limp) is only a vague guide and the damage indication is next to useless-the only way to accurately gauge Murphy’s health is to hit ‘Start’ and select ‘Statistics’ from the menu-truly basic and incredibly clunky.

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.

Silent Hill games have never been about producing sudden jumpy-type or spectacular scares, and work by slowly elevating the feeling of dread until the shit really hits the fan. This holds true for this latest episode but at times it pushes its luck too far, and becomes little more than a dull search-fest. This remains the case for much of the game until the end, where the game changes and it becomes more about killing monsters that are in your way. Some doors are boarded up and can be smashed open with an axe or something similar, although I did think it was daft that we could perform this action with an axe but not with a large heavy wrench. Picking items and makeshift weapons (there are hardly any guns or ammo in the game) is also unnecessarily clunky as sometimes, because if it’s dark or the item is partially hidden, you won’t be able to tell what you’re swapping your current weapon for until you pick it up; and who wants to swap a shotgun, an axe or a sledgehammer for a stick, or a rock or a bottle of beer? To add to the irritation, when picking up a new item it’s possible to unintentionally toss your current weapon into an area from where it’s irretrievable, and boy do you feel stupid if you swap a pickaxe for a pebble! There are lots of items to pick up and examine and they can be quite hard to see, but in the options menu you can turn ‘object highlighting’ on and this makes useful items glint.

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.

Downpoursuffers from what could generously be described as a “choppy” frame rate. I thought this may be due to background loading of new areas or the autosave feature, but it actually seems to be quite a random occurrence, and installing a game on the HDD didn't solve the problem. Loading as a whole is kept to a minimum, but you do inexplicably sometimes enter a new area only to be greeted with a static loading screen, which isn’t good for the immersion factor and doesn’t exactly make the game feel state of the art. The frequent “autosave” feature would appear to be removing some of the ‘survival factor’ from a survival horror game, but don’t be fooled, when returning to the game you will sometimes have to retread a lot of old ground despite what the on-screen autosave icon tells you. The only time you can be sure the game is saved is when you change areas and get a static loading screen, even reaching a sequence with a cut-scenes doesn’t necessarily mean a save point.

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.

Much like the previous Silent Hill games there's often no point in fighting monsters you may as well as or just run away from them, there's even an achievement for completing the game without killing any monsters! I find that kind of bizarre and having completed the game with 3 endings, wonder how this is possible without comical amounts of Benny Hill-style running away. The Silent Hill games have always been about exploration and experimenting with the items that you find on your journey, but Downpour is so vague that you could be wandering around wondering what a certain inventory item does for weeks on end (being able to make annotations on the map would have been a real help here; designers of games with maps please take note), and with a lifespan of 15 to 20 hours (depending on how much you explore and how many side missions you attempt) it could literally be “weeks” worth of gameplay if you’re the type of gamer who finds that sort of thing satisfying, entertaining or interesting. I suspect most will get hopelessly lost and trade the game in, or alternatively resort to a YouTube walkthrough.

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.

The problem with Downpour is that despite a couple of interesting variations on the theme, it doesn’t really do anything new. The game also doesn’t look particularly good (the game using the Unreal 3 engine inexplicably exhibits both horizontal tearing and a terrible frame rate, which could be connected to its loading routines). The misty locations, and consequentially short draw distance makes this inexcusable. The yucky run-down dwelling textures in the virtually deserted town are used over and over again, as are the enemy creatures (there are only about five or six different ones, and they aren’t as scary as many of the previous Silent Hill monstrosities) and so, like me, you’ll probably feel like you’ve done it all before and probably enjoyed it more the first time around.

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”.

Best Bits

- Genuinely scary in a few places.
- A lot of lifespan for your money.
- Multiple endings.
Worst Bits

- 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.

by: Masonic Dragicoot

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