Sunday, April 17, 2016

Review #320: Silent Hill Downpour

 When it rains, it pours.
 Downpour was the second Silent Hill game to be released during the first generation of HD consoles. As with any post-SH 4 game in the franchise, it was not developed by Team Silent. It's... It's an interesting game, it has some rather neat ideas, a relatively engaging plot and a couple of flaws. There's also a lot of rain.

 The main character is Murphy Pendleton, a prisoner who you join on the day he's being transferred. As luck would have it, disaster strikes, the prisoner bus spins out of control and crashes right on Silent Hill. But that's OK, because Silent Hill is one hell of a Therapy Session, and Murphy has a lot to come to peace with. I really liked the plot, it's a very mature, serious story that deals with a rather large variety of themes which I'd rather not even mention as not to spoil anything. I also liked the way its told, not only through cutscenes, but through various paper clips and notes found throughout the game, I enjoyed piecing together Murphy's past myself, even before the game made it more explicit through cutscenes. That said, there were a few... weird moments, with certain characters popping at just the most opportune moments, but I'm willing to let them slide. As per usual for the series, there's a lot of alternate endings, however, the way you act through the game not only changes the ending, but also some of Murphy's backstory. Some would call it cheap, but me, personally, found it an interesting idea. It makes sense for a... meaner Murphy to have had committed more serious misdemeanors in the past than a Murphy who's being nicer. I dunno, I think it works. Where the game does suffer is monster design. Both in behavior and design they are all very... humanoid, with predictable movements and robotic animations. Silent Hill has had always had enemies that reflected the psyche of a character, being the hero or an antagonist, here.... they look pretty generic and uninspired. That said, there's this 'Wheelchair Monster' that actually falls right in line with what most of Silent Hill has to offer, and is actually related to the hero. The game really could've used more designs like that one.
 You'll spend most of your time running throughout the streets of Silent Hill. While you could simply go straight away to your destination, exploration is rewarded with sidequests. You may come across certain open doors(or windows!), NPCs or even notes that trigger them. Not all of them are equally rewarding, but some of the are very memorable, like this one scene where you have to spin a music record backwards, and you get to see a murder scene in reverse. It's very creepy, creative and, in a very twisted way, cool. That said, some of the quests can be very vague, there aren't many pointers or hints, and Silent Hill is rather large, so it can be a bit of a pain solving these by yourself. As a matter of fact, sometimes even getting to your next plot-related objective can be tough, since Murphy won't always mark the next destination on the map. When all is said and done, I liked the idea behind the sidequests, although more hints would've been nice, and I actually enjoyed most of the puzzles in the game, even if a few of them were reused, like the 5-lock vaults.

 Then we've got the combat, which is serviceable. Murphy can either carry two guns, or one gun and a melee weapon. Guns work as you'd expect, and you can walk while you aim and shoot, which bears mentioning seeing how many survival horror games root you to your spot. Melee combat is a bit... spotty. You can both attack and defend with your weapons, but you also have to keep in mind that they will eventually break. You shouldn't worry too much though, as the streets and building interiors are littered with weapons, so you'll never find yourself defenseless. And in the very rare case that you do, Murphy can always count on his weak fists to help him put some distance between himself and the enemies. Still, combat never really felt... smooth, most of the enemies gained super armor after 2-3 of your strikes, forcing you to block incoming attacks. It's hard to explain, but it doesn't feel very well. Regardless, it's not terrible, it simply lacked more polish. Lastly, the way swapping equipped weapons work is a bit weird, as equipping your gun will make Murphy drop his melee weapon, instead of storing it or somethin'.
 The graphics may be a bit bland, with some rather jerky animations, and the voice acting left a lot to be desired, but they actually nailed the atmosphere. They actually spooked me once or twice, as a matter of fact. While the Horror is at times a bit different from what one would expect of Silent Hill, the Silent Hill brand of horror is definitely present in the game, with otherwordly rusted environments making themselves present every now and then, plus, your trusty radio is always there to warn you that danger is nearby... even if you can't see it. Still, where this game's style differs from the other Silent Hill's is that this is probably the most 'mundane' of them all, with mostly humanoid monsters, in a very grey/blue/brown city. You could probably argue that the art direction they went with was a bit soulless, and I'd agree a bit. Luckily, the game makes up for it with some truly frightening scenes.

 Sadly, it seems like the game is a bit broken. From what I could gather, it seems the PS3 is the worst version, although a patch came out, which is how I played it. Still, sometimes the framerate can take a huge hit, mostly, but not exclusively, when the game is saving or loading, which isn't unheard of, but whenever you earn a trophy the game might even freeze for a second or two. It's a bit worrisome at first, since you think that it's a honest to goodness freeze, but you get used to it eventually.
 Downpour is far from being perfect, but its a genuinely creepy, fun game. I liked exploring Silent Hills, I liked solving its puzzles, I liked figuring it out Murphy's story and I liked the story itself. With a little more polishing the close-ranged combat and the techical issues, and a little more time spent designing better monsters, it could've been a really great game. Regardless, one's gotta acknowledge all it does right as well: The fun, sometimes challenging puzzles, some of fantastically creepy scenes and moments, the interesting story and how its told and, of course, how well they managed to create a creepy atmosphere that lasts all the way through to the end.
 7.0 out of 10

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