Cutting to the chase
Our spoiler-free reviews can significantly improve your overall gaming experience. Yet, we know some of you prefer short pieces. This section is for you.
Pros and cons
- One of the best games in the Silent Hill series.
- Ambient, haunting, immersive.
- A new original story.
- Great environments and original puzzles.
- Combat system could have been a lot better.
- A few frame rate issues apparently caused by background-loading.
- Too few boss battles.
In terms of ratings, our breakdown is as follows:
A poor combat system somewhat spoils otherwise easy-to-pick-up controls.
Your perennial Silent Hill vacation. The locals want you dead and sunshine is a memory.
Fitting to the Silent Hill universe, but uneven.
As creepy as necessary and always disturbing, as prescribed.
One of the best entries in the series. Maybe the best.
This section is addressed to gamers ; other parties may benefit from its content, but gamers are its intended audience.
Every Silent Hill game begins with an introduction depicting a soul in pain. A soul destined to slip slowly from a bleak reality into a world of despair, fog, isolation, nightmare and, ultimately, madness. Silent Hill: Downpour follows the same pattern and sets the tone swiftly: You are Murphy Pendleton and your miserable life as an inmate is about to take a turn for the worse, as your transfer to the Wayside Maximum Security Prison is interrupted near Silent Hill...
As prior games in the series, Downpour is a journey of discovery, where you, as Murphy Pendleton, will be invited to unravel the shrouded past of a broken-down protagonist. Along the way, you will be confronted with events that will lead you to question the mental sanity of the protagonist, without ever being able to determine whether Silent Hill ever existed outside the confused psyche of a lost man.
The first Silent Hill game was released in 1999 for the PlayStation. Harry Mason was its protagonist. Harry was destined to discover the origin and fate of his adopted daughter. His journey would lead him to Silent Hill and gamers around the world would be tasked with the mission of surviving through it all.
In many ways, Silent Hill was rather corny and derivative. It borrowed from the venerable Alone in the Dark (1992), Resident Evil (1999) and a few other games that had garnered a cult following. However, Silent Hill carried its own brand of horror, akin to the psychological horror of the Clock Tower games (1995, 1996)...and it ultimately received its own cult following.
Hence, it wasn't long before a sequel was announced and produced: Silent Hill 2 was released in September 2001 for the PlayStation 2. The sequel was more of the same, with less originality.
Nevertheless, Silent Hill's fan base had grown sufficiently for a new franchise to flourish and no less than 5 titles followed, with varying levels of success.
Silent Hill 3, Silent Hill: Homecoming and Silent Hill: Shattered Memories were well received, while Silent Hill 4: The Room was met with disappointment.
Yet, more than 10 years after the release of Silent Hill, we are now offered Silent Hill: Downpour and we are pleased to discover the product of a decade-long refinement process.
Silent Hill: Downpour
What is it?
Silent Hill: Downpour is a third-person, action-adventure, survival horror game. I separated "action-adventure" and "survival horror" to emphasize the fact that Downpour has a strong action-adventure component to its gameplay. The game still belongs to the "survival horror" genre, but, at its default difficulty level, is not difficult-enough to qualify as a hardcore survival horror game.
As Murphy Pendleton, your goal will be to escape Silent Hill. Obviously it won't be easy, and you, the player, will learn more about Murphy, as you meander through the many environments the game offers. Murphy's past is a confused drama, most of which seems confusing to Murphy himself. Is Murphy suffering from a terrible case of amnesia caused by a traumatic event? Are you playing the last thoughts of a dying man? Is Silent Hill Murphy's purgatory?
Answers will be revealed as you progress through the game.
Here is a laundry list of activities you will take part in as Murphy Pendleton:
- You will wander through various environments, trying to escape danger or reach safety.
- You will solve puzzles to unlock areas, passages and progress towards and through Silent Hill.
- You will engage in various side quests, which will help you gain new perspectives on the history and population of Silent Hill.
- You will fight terrifying creatures and run away from paranormal phenomena.
- You will collect items that shed new light on Silent Hill's lore.
- You will free abandoned birds. (Yes, you will.)
- You will step in and out of the Otherworld. (the dark dimension in which the laws of physics do not apply)
- You will balance across dizzying precipices.
- You will use your sleuthing skills to piece long-forgotten secrets back together.
Everything in Downpour is well above average.
The controls are easy to pick up.
The gameplay never feels repetitive. The game includes many interesting puzzles, which require a bit of thought. The graphics are nice, with rich environments and excellent lighting.
In the sound category, everything is stellar: No technical issue of any sort, excellent score by Daniel Licht, excellent sound effects with excellent placement throughout the soundscapes.
The combat system is not very precise and can be frustrating at times, but it works well enough. A lock-on targeting system could have been welcome, but I guess it would have eliminated a lot of the tension during enemy encounters.
In terms of difficulty, the game is well balanced. You will be challenged as much as you chose to (the game offers several difficulty levels), but you won't have to curse and repeat certain portions of the game ad nauseam.
Functional reviews do not determine how fun or how worthy a game is. Yet, they cover aspects that directly affect your enjoyment of a game. Therefore, read or skip this section as you see fit.
Downpour's controls feel comfortable after a reasonable period of adaptation.
Silent Hill: Homecoming did not offer the option to invert camera control along the Y-axis, but Downpour corrects this "oversight". (It was said that omitting this option in Homecoming was a design decision made to instill panic when quick reaction times and precise actions were required. This theory is doubtful, however.)
Downpour let me control the camera most of the time, but a number of areas had a fixed camera take over control. Awesome! This brought back some wonderful memories!
Indeed, Alone in the Dark (1992), as well as Resident Evil (1996) and Silent Hill (1999) relied heavily on fixed cameras in order to direct the player's attention in a more cinematic and dramatic manner.
Strangely, fixed cameras are perceived negatively nowadays, but they very well serve the purpose of creating a sense of discomfort in horror-inducing environments.
As far as gameplay is concerned, Downpour is a well-rounded product:
- The AI is as sophisticated as you would expect in a game featuring otherworldly creatures. Your foes will seek you out and relentlessly try to end you. (Except in a few situations, where they seem oblivious to your presence, or struggle with path finding issues.)
- At its default difficulty level, the game is well balanced, challenging, but rarely frustrating. A few blind-run sequences required multiple attempts, but I learned a little more about the path I was supposed to take with each attempt...so, these trial-and-error sequences never got frustrating.
- The game has few innovations but shows great respect for the fans of the series. Downpour is everything any fan would expect from a Silent Hill game, executed masterfully.
- Replayability is certainly limited, but could have been greater if I had ignored the side quests during my first playthrough. Yet, side quests make the game seem more open, so I did not try to avoid them.
Silent Hill games are rich in puzzles.
Downpour is no exception. By the time the credits start rolling, you will have pulled many levers, turned quite a few cranks and valves, labored through numerous key pads and combination locks, using clues, brute force or sheer luck.
After so many years, the Department of Puzzles is in great need of revitalization. I even dare say there is a need to dedicate entire teams to the development of a new kind of puzzles. Moving boxes, pulling levers and lining up objects has probably reached a final limit. Not to say that Downpour's puzzles are not interesting, because they truly are state-of-the-art. However, it's hard to avoid the feeling that some of them are very familiar.
For players who are new to Silent Hill, it is also important to mention puzzles are used as obstacles: You must solve them in order to progress towards your goals. Oftentimes, their occurrence is arbitrary and unnatural from a logical standpoint, but this is no disappointment or surprise, as it comes with the genre and territory.
Downpour's graphics are well suited to the genre Silent Hill epitomizes.
Animation and character design are on par with current expectations, not record-setting, but certainly not bad.
The game has many "monsters", but, alas, it's often hard to notice the level of detail that went into their design, as the camera stands quite far back and rarely focuses on their features.
The game's environments are detailed, rich and successfully produce that Silent Hill-y impression of decomposed, stagnant mystery. Environments often include damp, dark, earthly and otherworldly landmarks and sites ; all of them striking the right immersive ambience.
Finally, the game manages to provide a great balance between the comforting calm of well-lit areas and the frightening recesses of darkness, thanks to its excellent lighting.
Alas, towards the end of the game, some textures are very flat and some cut scenes look downright poorly animated and blocky. It almost looks like some of these parts include pre-viz materials.
Downpour's sound engineering is excellent throughout.
Sound effects successfully convey the true nature of Silent Hill's mesmerizing strangeness.
The game also features a haunting soundtrack that fits the atmosphere of the game perfectly.
Having composed scores for Children of the Night, Hellraiser IV: Bloodline, Dexter and many other eerie television series, Daniel Licht was well prepared to tackle Silent Hill, but he also had to prove Silent Hill's essence did not solely result from Akira Yamaoka's incredibly otherworldly melodies and sounds. In this instance, fans can lay their fears to rest, Daniel Licht did an outstanding job and this new Silent Hill game will be recognized for the great quality of its soundtrack.
Finally, voice acting is also very good for all the various characters Murphy comes across.
Nitpicks and shortcomings
Combat system and weapons
The environment provides the player with a variety of objects that can be used as melee or ranged weapons, anything from rocks to fire axes to frying pans to wrenches to firearms. Yet, this is not a gun game ; you will often have to do with whatever you can get your hands on.
The combat system is very streamlined: A button to attack, a button to block, a button to flee a sticky situation. That is simple and quite appropriate since Silent Hill is not a fighting game.
However, Downpour's third-person perspective is not ideal for combat. It is often difficult to face your foes confidently, although the game seems to adjust to your intentions and will often land your blows onto the nearest enemy. Granted you do not fight groups of enemies often, it is not a big problem, but the combat system in general feels a little haphazard.
In particular, towards the end of the game, you will have to think fast and pick your fights carefully.
Heads-up display (HUD)
There is none. Great! But...
Murphy does show sign of damage as he receives blows and gets hurt, but it is quite difficult to decide when Murphy really needs to use a health kit.
I could have unlocked the Hypochondriac trophy 20 times over!
Load times can be quite lengthy, but the game displays helpful tips while a new area is being loaded, so...not a big problem. At various times, it seems the game tries to load assets in the background, without interrupting gameplay. Alas, this doesn't work very well and causes enormous frame rate drops.
Did I like it?
I loved it. If this had been my first Silent Hill game, I would have been totally enthralled.
There is actually very few aspects of the game I would change, which is extraordinary.
Will you like it?
If you are a fan of the Silent Hill series, chances are excellent that you will love Silent Hill: Downpour too.
If you never played a Silent Hill game before, Downpour will most likely please you if you enjoyed any of these other games: Alan Wake, the Clock Tower series, the Condemned series, the Fatal Frame series, the Penumbra series or the Siren series.
If you mostly like first-person shooters, Downpour won't satisfy your trigger finger or fulfill your pursuit of a great kill/death ratio, as the game is nothing like a modern shooter.
Vatra Games has done an excellent job staying true to the roots of Silent Hill.
In many respects, Downpour is more Silent Hill than the original game ever was. For the most part, it is an achievement Vatra should be proud of, even if sometimes Downpour faithfully repeats the shortcomings of its predecessors.
All in all, Silent Hill: Downpour is one of the best, if not the best, Silent Hill games produced to date. The only thing stopping it from glory is the fact that it is the product of a formula that has seen many years of iterative improvements. Had this been my first Silent Hill game, I would have called it a remarkable revelation. But, I played them all, so, to me, Downpour was only a fine episode in a beloved and familiar series of videogames.
This section is addressed to Vatra Games ; other parties may benefit from its content, but Vatra is its intended audience.
It is rather rare, but I have very little to say in answer to the question: How would you make a better game?
The fundamentals are sound, but the following technical flaws deter from an otherwise entertaining experience:
- The combat system could have been a lot better.
- Graphics are excellent in the first half of the game, but drop in quality in the second half of the game, as if pre-viz materials had been added back into the game late in the development process.
- Background loads and texture streaming cause frame rate issues.
- Load times are a little long.
- Unlocking trophies causes the game to pause for brief moments.
- Textures often pop into place visibly after loading a saved game.
- Boss battles are too few and somewhat underwhelming.
- Arbitrary puzzles may be an aspect of Silent Hill that didn't need to be preserved. (Then again, it would not be a "real" Silent Hill game without them.)
Among these problems, only the inconsistent frame rate is a sticking point during gameplay.
I believe you were tasked with producing a Silent Hill game, and you delivered one of the best Silent Hill games in the series. Congratulations!
This section is addressed to Konami ; other parties may benefit from its content, but Konami is its intended audience.
Marketing Silent Hill must be a challenge.
You have 3 audiences:
- Fans of the series
- Gamers who have played similar games
- Gamers who never experienced the genre
Fans are easy to reach, since they are always on the lookout for a new Silent Hill game. Fans certainly got what they were demanding: A game that stays true to the original Silent Hill.
Your presentation to gamers who have played similar games was insufficient or lacking. You have to do a better job reaching out to gamers who enjoyed similar games.
Lastly, I think you totally failed at making the game appealing to your untapped audience.
If your stance is that Silent Hill's fan base is large enough as it stands, then your marketing approach was adequate.
If you were interested in attracting new gamers, you should have spent more resources presenting the game to a mature audience, as "a book one curls up with on a cold winter night."
The point is: You can probably grow the Silent Hill fan base without compromising what makes Silent Hill a great franchise.
But, I shall not be too brash, you could have done what many other publishers have done in recent years: Changed the nature of a successful game entirely, upset a lot of fans and gained nothing. So, thank you for having the courage not to stray too far from what your fans expected.