Do you remember the last time you got stuck on a game?
Not wandering about because you missed a switch. Not having to pause the game and check the map/objectives. Stuck, as in have to use a guide and then reload your last save.
This is the main failing of Konami’s latest fright-fest. The signposting is so poor that a guide is necessary just to find your next objective. Much of your time is spent wandering around, not quite sure what to do or where to go. The decision to add a sandbox element and side missions compounds the problem.
Side missions are so well hidden they can only be found by chance. One such example is only indicated by a basement window with a light on, around the back of a house, on a street that you don’t have to go down. There’s encouraging exploration, and then there’s hide and seek. This is a shame as some show a level of imagination that is often absent through the campaign. Oddly there is no reason why these missions couldn’t have been integrated into the campaign, sustaining atmosphere, and making this content easily available.
Despite this, when the game gets going, it surely impresses. Silent Hill as a town and entity is the scariest it’s been for some time. Moments of the game are truly horrifying and there is a good balance of jumpy scares and eerie terror.
The protagonist Murphy Pendleton, trapped in Silent Hill after his prison bus crashes, is at first a blank slate. Details of his past and crimes are drip fed, and despite the flaws of the game you are driven to reveal his story. A solid job has been done of striking a balance between dangerous and sympathetic, especially once the true extent of his crime and punishment is revealed.
The premise for the fighting system is sound. It is melee focused and the decision to only allow you one breakable weapon at a time puts you on the back foot, especially when said weapon breaks mid-fight and you scurry around searching anything to stove some monster’s head in with. In practice, the inability to move whilst blocking or choose which enemy you are locked onto throws skill out of the window, and it is often the preferable option to simply run away rather than tangle with the controls.
Enemy design, usually a series highpoint is somewhat lacklustre. The exception to this is “The Void” which can only be described as a red black-hole that relentlessly pursues Pendleton in several breathless chase sequences through the town’s Otherworld.
The Otherworld sequences are another high point when the dark(er) side of Silent Hill is unleashed. These sections are kept to a minimum, making them all the more jarring when they occur. Another clever move was to shy away from the school/hospital fare of every other game in the series in favour of previously unseen parts of Silent Hill.
More a heavy shower than a downpour, it is an unfortunate case that the game is less than the sum of its parts. Some great ideas and a captivating story are let down by tedious exploration and poor design choices. For those who are willing to make the effort Silent Hill: Downpour will provide genuine scares and a satisfying campaign, and despite its flaws, certainly bodes well for the future of the franchise.
Score: 7/10– Not the washout I expected.
Silent Hill: Downpour
Developer: Vatra Games
Platforms: PS3/Xbox 360
Format Reviewed: PS3
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