Thursday, December 22, 2016

VGR Silent Hill: Downpour

While I'm still having some issues with my computer, I was finally able at work today to prepare this review I illustrated last week.

Let's go back to SILENT HILL one more time and see if there's anything worth looking back!

VGR: Silent Hill: Downpour also known as Silent Hill 6 (or alternatively as Silent Hill 7 for those that count Origins as SH5, or Silent Hill 8 if you even count Shattered Memories as SH7)
From Vatra Games/Konami Digital Entertainment
Played on Xbox 360
Also available on PS3 and PC

Type Psychological horror/
Survival horror/3rd Person Action game
Year March 2012

The Silent Hill series is one of my all-time favorites. After some cult classic games back on the PS2-era, the series was slowly being ditched over more profitable modern titles.

The problem is not that the formula grew stale, in my eyes. It's mostly that Konami has never been able to recapture the magic and has been messing with a perfectly fine concept for no reason.

Long gone are the days of the original Team Silent, and since then some Western developers have tried to bring Silent Hill up to speed with more or less success.

Some simply tried remaking the original first game with simplified gameplay and not much heart, others tried a completely modernized approach with too much emphasis on action and finally some attempted to completely reimagine the nature of the series in a very polarizing entry.

Silent Hill: Downpour is the last title to date, not mentioning the odd spinoff or scrapped canceled sequels. Chronologically it should be Silent Hill 6 if Konami still numbered their games, but you can call it Silent Hill 7 for those that count Origins as SH5, and it's technically the 8th episode if you also consider the alternate game that was Silent Hill: Shattered Memories.

Our story opens in prison. Downpour revolves around this mysterious convicted criminal Murphy Pendleton. Murphy appears to have repressed his memories (at least, to the player), but he is set by a prison guard to execute a criminal in the locker room.

During a prison transfer, the bus crashes, and so Murphy ends up on the run.. but the more he tries to run away from his problems, the closer he gets to... Silent Hill!

Murphy is also closely followed by a cop, Police Officer Anne Cunningham. She really seems to have a thing against Murphy and won't stop chasing him wherever he goes.

While trying to run away from the town, Murphy encounters all sorts of people, all tormented by the creepy town in one way or another. A very enigmatic postman, some DJ that keeps playing the various tunes Murphy will have the chance to listen to during his journey, a nun and even a very weird creature on a wheelchair...

Bit by bit we learn what events lead to Murphy's situation. And how he lost someone very close to him...

The town will take Murphy through both familiar and new streets. And set all sorts of misshaped humanoid creatures. And Murphy's own demons might be responsible for this huge creature following him around, carrying a giant sledgehammer... or is that Anne Cunningham's own Bogeyman?!

Silent Hill: Downpour is an attempt to blend both old and new. It's a culmination of all previous games in terms of gameplay.

It mostly feels, looks and controls like Silent Hill: Homecoming. It's a modern 3rd person action game that tries to update some classic survival horror formula. To keep the gameplay balanced enough to provide some tension they kept health and defensive items pretty scarce. Murphy is not as capable a fighter as
Alex Shepherd was in Homecoming (who was really over-powered for the genre..). But gone are also the little touches that made combat less a pain as it was in past Silent Hill games (meaning no dodges or proper lock-on system).

And since giving the player the option to pick whatever they want as a weapon would mean getting to overpower monsters, they made weapons breakable like in Silent Hill Origins.

There's a great new idea that really suits the series: the game takes place now in an open world sandbox of the Silent Hill town. You can basically explore and go anywhere you want right off the bat. So they added a really great first act, a prologue, that takes place just outside Silent Hill. To allow you to learn the ropes before getting lose in Silent Hill. This prologue takes place in really stunning creepy dark caves in "Devil's Pit" that perfectly sets the tone of the game. There's a great sequence on a tourist train with weird hallucinations.

Once Murphy arrives in Silent Hill, the game completely changes tone. No more focus on the story, you're free to roam, explore the town for great side quests or trying finding what passes for a narrative.

But the problem is they didn't want to make you defenseless either, to avoid frustrating some players, so they literally covered the streets with all the breakable weapons you can find. You see some specific weapons can help you progress through the story, like axes can break thin walls or wooden plans...

Silent Hill: Downpour was made by Czech developer Vatra Games, a studio formed by ex-employees from 2K Czech which only other title was the 2011 Konami game Rush'n Attack: Ex-Patriot.

And despite their lack of experiences the were able to craft a relatively original, well-crafted and polished modern action/horror game.

It can be said: the game is pretty gorgeous. Homecoming certainly didn't push anything. The difference is quite visible from the start, Downpour looks great and even modern to this day, it didn't age much in my eyes.

Taking a note from EA's Dead Space games no doubt, Konami had this Silent Hill also written by a trio of external authors: Devin Shatsky, Tomm Hulett and comic book writer Tom Waltz!

The game didn't bring the lore of the Silent Hill cult back, and I'm glad for that since I think all that could be said about that has already been explored. The game tries to expand on the ideas whatever someone brings to Silent Hill shapes the world and the creatures. Murphy mostly disliking other people and his situation in prison, all monsters are notably humanoid in this game aside from a few odd exceptions. Which is a shame design-wise, it means all monsters basically look like the same creature with a few minor variations, but it does make sense story-wise. It just happens to be kinda boring to look at.

They also greatly expanded the town of Silent Hill, allowing the player to visit some memorable places while opening a huge part of the south of Silent Hill, south of the Toluca Lake (and fans have already combined all Silent Hill maps to offer a look at the entire town as of today).

The game does feel like a mixed bag despite the various elements taken from past Silent Hill games.

Combat gets a decent balance between being able to do too much and not enough. They made all weapons destructible unlike Silent Hill 4 or Origins, this was probably a bad idea. It means getting to pick lots of stuff around, which kind of ruins the atmosphere, it doesn't give much context for the ability to find everything so easily.

They wanted to keep Shattered Memories' defenselessness, so they weapons are extremely bad and quickly self-destruct, which forces you to basically run from monsters all the time. And even if you manage to fight your way the best/canon endings are only obtainable by avoiding to kill most monsters AND they brought back a few obligatory running scenes during Otherworld sequences. You see a red light, the void, chasing you similar to how it was after Heather Mason during a moment in Silent Hill 3.

Speaking of endings, the game has several of them, open to fan interpretation. They also change a lot of subtext for the game depending how you fare off. Various elements affect the ending such as a few morality choices. And while there's no UFO ending this time (BOOH!!!) at least there's one hilarious goofy ending which you can unlock on a second playthrough.

There's a few great creepy moments. But nothing is really ever scary, it's too light, open and free to create any tension.

Graphically speaking, while there's a few issues it's a gorgeous game actually. But it's plagued by a lot of framerate issues even after all this time and the few updates on the various systems rarely did anything to smooth it all over.

The game has a pretty solid beginning actually. It all feels very immersive and captivating at first. It's really well executed and directly puts you in this very bleak story.

The fact you can find any possible  melee weapons so easily and quickly around most locations sort of break the immersion.

The saving system was also automatic this time. And the game makes a of ton of saves whenever you enter or leave a building, adding a lot of clunky loading times (and pointless saves if you don't exit a place).

I really enjoyed the side missions, sometimes even more than the main storyline. It forces you to go back and forth in the town. And usually it resulted in really creepy stories and tougher puzzles than the main story despite being featured in the background.

It made the exploration of the town a lot more random than ever.

The Otherworld didn't feel very inspired this time and it didn't have as big a presence as in past games, since it mostly forces you to run around like SH3 and Shattered Memories' running sequences. It only was a minor part of those games and here it actually was the major element every time you get there.

Finally this was the only game to not feature Akira Yamaoka's music, who has now fully become the caretaker and executive producer of the Silent Hill series. He remained in an overseeing position for the game, but the music was actually composed by Daniel Licht this time. Licht's music did its job recapturing Yamaoka's work and some really good themes (particularly in the opening act in the prison and during the Church chapter), but the main theme by Jonathan Davis was really awful and didn't fit the series at all (Silent Hill and metal do not mix!).

Overall, Silent Hill: Downpour is a really big patchwork of the entire series.

As the last proper entry in the Silent Hill series to this day, it kind of fits what you'd expect from it. It blends a SH2/SH4-type of narrative with a big emphasis on the cinematic experience like Shattered Memories did, a huge town like SH1 and Origins, and gameplay based on Homecoming. But it never truly had a voice of its own.

I kind of felt it was a better Silent Hill game than Homecoming was, with some really creative moments particularly in the caves and the church, but not by much. The idea to use the rain in Murphy's "fog world" is quite unique, but not enough explored aside from a couple of instances and the title of the game.

Honestly it's not a terrible game like so many people say these days, but it wasn't a great survival horror experience. There's also a lot of questionable choices. Let's say it's a decent game that leaves a lot to be desired particularly in the story and art direction.

I give it:
2 / 3 Quacks!

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