May 31, 2012 Seth Perkins

Game Review : Silent Hill Downpour


silent-hill-downpour-cover (Photo credit: Dekuwa)

Like many, I had been eagerly awaiting the arrival of Silent Hill Downpour.  While the game does have its issues in both design and execution, it does not deserve the flat out panning it has received at the hands of IGN and other reviewers.  Silent Hill Downpour is an engaging experience, worthy of your gameplay time and dollars.

One of the significant changes in Downpour is the “open world” concept.  While not absolute, the game allows the Player a significant amount of freedom to explore Silent Hill in a non-linear fashion unlike its predecessors.  While this does make for a new mode of play which opens up SH  (“Silent Hill) to wider audiences, this method does inhibit certain elements of story which has always been the hallmark of SH.

The Downpour story fits well within the Silent Hill tradition : person with a dark secret becomes trapped in a town mirroring his/her inner demons.  That history is revealed throughout gameplay in a manner similar to Silent Hill 2.  However, the reveals can be broken by circumventing certain areas of play through the open world concept.

The main character is strong, while others are more like actors delivering lines, which works for this game.  SH has always had a sort of detached relationship between protagonist and supporting cast that evokes alienation.

Gameplay has some serious issues.

  • Framerate – the rumors you have heard are true!  There are moments where framerate stumbles to a few frames per second or even a few seconds per FRAME!  These especially coincide with enemies on screen.  The more enemies, the worse the framerate.  This is an unexcusable flaw, so visible it points to the publisher obviously rushing the release of the product before the necessary polish had been applied.  Frustrating doesn’t cover it.  This QA issue should never have happened.
  • Attack Mode – camera work in attack mode is horrendous.   There are moments when the Player needs to run just to avoid the camera issues because attacking is just imposible.
  • Artifacts – “God Beams” – the ray effects you see from sunlight filtering through trees, building, etc.  SH is the first in the franchise to implement this effect, however, the implementation is blocky.  It just gets in the way of enjoying the game.  Whereas games like “Uncharted” so fluidly execute this effect.
  • The Chase Sequences – in my review of the SH remake : Shattered Memories, the one thing I really couldn’t stand were the chase sequences.  They were clunky and broke apart an otherwise surreal experience.  The same is true in Downpour.  I wish the designers had axed that idea rather than possibly turn it into a convention.  Some chase sequences are almost comical in their over-the-top awfulness.  There’s chase sequences where the world turns upside down, cars fall from ceilings or the protagonist is suddenly walking upside-down, this kind of carnival fun-house weirdness is too blatant for what is historically a cerebral experience.  SH is all about the character.  From Harry Mason in SH1 to the present, the game is about a protagonist thrust into a quasi-hell borne of his/her mind and the struggle to escape.  Downpour’s chase sequences interrupt an otherwise solid take on an internal character struggle.  Man vs Self, not Man vs Fun House Mirror.
Environment.  This is where Downpour shines and deserves your time.  In the same way Shattered Memories took a series and reinterpretted the world of SH through snowy New England, Downpour puts another filter over the camera and produces something that is tangible to any person who has been through a thunderstorm.  Downpour evokes  the aura of SH through the use of rain in a way that is so universal, it can really open up the experience to new users.  Do I miss the ash from the sky?  of course, but from an artistic angle, focused on the game in itself, the rain works really well.  This combined with the interplay of light and shadow / flashlight vs darkness makes for very tense gameplay.
There are some incredibly innovative moments in the environmental / gameplay interaction.  There is a particular scene in an orphanage involving a play that is just incredible where reality and something else intersect.  These moments within the design deserve your gameplay time.
Music.  This is the first game in the series without Akira Yamaokaand you can feel the difference.  The music is extremely sparse and often carries

throwbacks to Akira’s scores in the form of radio broadcasts.  It does work for the game in the context of the environment.  If this game were set in the Silent Hill evoked in SH 1 – 3, then I would say otherwise, but in Downpour, the sparse touches of music work well.

All in all, this game is a good play.  Does it live up to precedent of SH 1  – 3?  No.  Unfortunately gameplay and QA issues inhibit that mark, but it does serve as a good followup to Homecoming and Shattered Memories (minus QA).  I am still hoping for a solid return to SH2, but that might just not be possible with shifts in the game market, the dissolution of Team Silent, the departure of Yamaoka.  Still, do check this game out if you are a fan of the series.  Look at it as a piece in-and-of-itself; prepare for the flaws, and embrace the hallmarks.

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