Saturday, May 25, 2013

Silent Hill: Downpour (Review)

According to Konami, 2012 is going to be a good year for Silent Hill fans. With Silent Hill: Downpour, the Silent Hill HD collection and Silent Hill: Book of memories, all being released this year, things are looking quite promising.

Nevertheless, fans of the franchise have been complaining for a while now that the series has lost its spark, and that the recent Silent Hill games were not up to the standards that the first games -developed by Team Silent- had established.

This time around the new Silent Hill installment was developed by Vatra Games, the Czech development studio who has given us last year’s Rush'n Attack: Ex-Patriot. Vatra and Konami managed to create a great feeling of anticipation for the new Silent Hill release, promising a big comeback for the series and a gaming experience similar to the one of Silent Hill 2. Well, Silent Hill: Downpour is finally available, but does it actually live up to the hype?

The game’s story follows a pattern similar to the previous Silent Hill games; this time our protagonist is Murphy Pendleton, a convict whose back-story remains vague at first. We get to know that Murphy’s son Charlie is dead and that he blames himself for it, but we don’t get to find out anything beyond that the incident has caused our protagonist great misery and depression.  Downpour’s story begins showing Murphy along with a few other convicts being transported to another prison. When their bus has an unexpected accident, Murphy escapes and starts heading towards Silent Hill, and soon enough, he comes to experience the town’s darkness first hand. From that point on, Murphy’s main goal is to get the hell out, but of course things are not going to be that easy. Overall, the story is not anything groundbreaking but it does have a few interesting twists and manages to keep the player intrigued, especially as more details about Murphy’s past and the death of his son are revealed.

Silent Hill fans will initially get a familiar feeling when playing Downpour. Murphy’s sense of loss and self-blame manifest quite well into Silent hill’s environments and hostile creatures and they provide good basis for psychological horror; unfortunately, this aspect of the game never reaches its full potential and in the end the player doesn’t come to care about the character, at least not to the level we cared about James Sunderland or Heather Mason (of Silent Hill 2 & 3 respectively). On the plus side. moving around Silent Hill has somewhat changed, as the player can now teleport from one place to another using the subway stations. The town, and generally all the environments which Murphy visits are very well designed and full of details, adding to the whole eerie atmosphere. On the other hand, the game resolves to jump-scares way too often, which eventually stops being frightening.

As in previous games of the series, the player will come across a few puzzles they need to solve in order to progress; the puzzles are rather on the easy side and will not be any trouble to most players, additionally they are interesting enough so they will not bore. Unfortunately the same cannot be said about the game’s side quests, which mostly feel like errands with no significant purpose and add nothing to the game. On the downside, the game’s battle system is frustrating to say the least. Murphy’s movements feel ‘heavy’ and at times the character seems to not be responding to the player’s commands. Furthermore, Murphy can use a big range of melee weapons from knives and axes to a fire extinguisher; these weapons though get broken and become unusable after a while. In addition, Murphy can only carry one melee weapon and one firearm at a time, which doesn’t make things any easier. When the melee weapon brakes in the middle of a fight it can become pretty annoying, as even if the player enters the menu in order to equip their other weapon the game does not freeze and Murphy remains vulnerable to enemy attacks.

On the visual department, Silent Hill and all of the other locations look quite polished. The designers’ efforts to make the town look abandoned and gloomy are obvious. In other words, a lot of attention has been paid to the little details making Silent Hill feel as creepy and horrifying as ever. The character models though, do not show the same level of detail, and most of the monsters – with the clear exception of the Bogeyman - seem a bit uninspired. Sadly the game also suffers from a serious case of tearing and frame drop, which become more than obvious at times.   Another new feature of Downpour is the 3D option, which isn’t anything special and does not add much to the gameplay experience.

Silent Hill: Downpour is the first game in the franchise not to feature Akira Yamaoka as a composer; this was one of the major concerns among Silent Hill fans. Many were disappointed by Korn creating the main song for the game, even before Downpour was released; there was even an online petition in attempt to have it removed. Fortunately, Daniel Licht – known mainly as the composer of the soundtrack of the TV series Dexter – manages to hold his own and creates an overall decent soundtrack for the game. Nevertheless, the music in Downpour lacks Yamaoka’s touches and his absence is unavoidably noticeable.

In conclusion, it is always difficult to judge a game which is a part of a well-liked series; one has to keep a balance between seeing Downpour as a Silent Hill game and also as an individual title. It is obvious that Vatra Games tried to give us a worthwhile sequel; unfortunately this attempt was not entirely successful.  Downpour looks like a Silent Hill game, but in the end it does not feel like a Silent Hill game. In general, it does not manage to rise above mediocrity. Even though the story is interesting enough, there are a couple of exciting twists, and the town of Silent Hill is very well designed, the frustrating controls and battle system make the game difficult to enjoy. Additionally, no matter how much slack one is willing to cut Downpour, the tearing issues are too noticeable not to mention; and apart from the multiple endings, there is little incentive for the player to try a second playthrough.  Even so, if one keeps their expectations low and they are a die-hard fan of the series, or if they are a survival horror fan in general, Downpour – after a significant price drop - is at least worth a try.

Overall: 68/100

Originally written for New Game Network

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