Tired of horror games where you just shoot an infinite number of enemies? Do you long for that classic horror game with a creepy atmosphere and where reliance on puzzles and logic is regarded more highly than action? Silent Hill: Downpour is exactly what you need. This game is reminiscent of what is considered a classic survival-horror game.
The protagonist, Murphy Pendleton, is a prisoner for currently unknown reasons, which are revealed throughout the game. During a transfer to a new prison, the bus runs off the road and, as luck would have it, Murphy escapes. On the unlucky side, Murphy has escaped into the town of Silent Hill, a place no one should ever visit. The game’s main premise is simply trying to escape the town, which is a lot harder than it seems.
The town of Silent Hill is indeed creepy and sets a wonderfully horrific atmosphere. It’s run-down, dark, dirty, and the hazy fog makes you question what exactly is in this town besides you. When the weather turns stormy, things get even worse, since there is an increase in monsters with bad weather. Entering buildings intensifies the atmosphere, as you see bloody smears on the wall and other disturbing scenes. Going deep into an abandoned mine and accessing an old orphanage are just two examples of places that should be avoided at all costs, yet, you must enter all the same. The Otherworld, which is a staple in Silent Hill titles, is a different dimension that teases the boundaries of physics and logic. Whenever the real world tears away and the Otherworld takes over, your skin crawls as you desperately try to escape, and you know something horrible is about to happen.
Some games are terrifying because of the actual creatures. Downpour is the opposite: it loses almost all its fear once a creature shows itself. However, before the creature appears, there is an immensely scary vibe hovering in the atmosphere. The eerie soundtrack adds to this effect, and there is also no HUD display, which means there is no distraction from the horror. But what really sells the atmosphere is how strange Silent Hill is. You creep throughout a house, not sure what might happen with the next step, and it makes you tense throughout the entire game. If you’re looking for a good scare, this game will certainly give it to you.
The game plays out from a third-person view, and the gameplay consists of collecting items to solve puzzles. Puzzle solving could involve discovering a safe combination or figuring out how to operate mining-carts. The puzzles are very creative, and while some will seem random, with some thought and patience, they are all within reach. There is never a point where a puzzle hinders advancement of the game for too long. Even if there is one that gives you trouble, there is a difficulty setting for the puzzles. This is a nice addition to the game because no one can get stuck and it keeps the story moving forward. However, if they puzzles are too easy for those puzzle enthusiasts out there, you can turn it up for a real challenge.
There are a surprisingly large amount of side-quests in this game, and most of them are puzzle based. There are many instances where you need to use some tough logic to discover the truth in a given situation. Downpour has an open-world setting, so all the side-quests allow gamers to side-track from the main story and get lost in the exploration the creepy world.
There is combat to fight off those strange creatures which will undoubtedly attack you. The fighting isn’t the most fluent, and claiming this is a horror game doesn’t fly as a proper excuse. Aiming swings and defensive positions can be difficult for the wrong reasons, and the camera will certainly cause frustration. When an enemy falls to the ground, you need to continue striking it. However, it is the same button as regular attacks, which gets confusing when there are other enemies around you. When it comes to guns, the aiming gets even worse.
Don’t worry, though: the combat isn’t unbearable, and there is more of an incentive to run in this game instead of fighting the entire time. Fighting one enemy is easy; fighting two takes concentration; add in a third and things quickly get out of hand. It adds the feeling of a man desperately trying to survive instead of some action hero making snappy one-liners before taking out a hundred enemies.
What adds to this incredible realistic feeling of desperate survival are the weapons you actually use. Bullets, money, and health don’t simply pop out of dead bodies. You also won’t stumble upon a hidden arsenal of submachine guns, sniper rifles, and grenades. You must find everything yourself in a realistic location that an item may be in. You can only carry one melee weapon at a time. Maybe you’ll get lucky and find a nail-gun or handgun if you look in the right place, but most likely, you will be fighting with backyard tools. This game is tense enough, but when you are caught off guard and scramble to defend yourself by grabbing the nearest item, which turns out to be a rock, it increases tenfold. With a strange creature eyeing you hungrily, what other choice do you have if you’re cornered? You hold that rock tightly in your hand and prepare for a tough battle ahead. This makes finding a good weapon, like an axe or knife, feel all the more rewarding as you hold onto it for as long as possible. However, weapons break after long-term use, meaning you need to always keep an eye out for the next weapon since it will be the factor that keeps you alive.
This game has a couple serious flaws holding it back. The most obvious is the graphics: they are nothing to brag about and many characters look lifeless. There is also an atrocious frame-rate issue that seriously takes away from the immersion of the game. Not only does it get horribly annoying, but this can happen during the already troubled combat, making for a deadly combination. The Otherworld settings are cool to look at, but you simply don’t have the time since most of those levels involve being chased. An impressive set design is only impressive if you have a chance to actually see it. The creatures aren’t very scary and are rather uncreative as well. Every now and then, there will be a fixed camera angle, but it takes away from the experience more than anything else.
Silent Hill: Downpour does a good job of portraying a man simply trying to survive in a desperate situation. This is a true survival-horror game, since you are actually using random items you find to help your survival. Piecing together different clues to solve a puzzle leaves you feeling satisfied. There are enough fun side-quests to give extra life to this game, and there are even different endings to check out. Most importantly, the sheer terror this game can generate at the right moments really gives the gamer quite a scare, and that is exactly what players want.
Final Verdict: Even with flaws, Downpour carries a classic survival-horror vibe that is well worth checking out if you’re looking for a good horror game.
This review is based off a retail copy of the Playstation 3 version of Silent Hill: Downpour developed by Vatra Games and distributed by Konami.