Much like the train industry preys upon those who fear flying, the survival horror genre has taken advantage of their customers by offering increasingly laborious experiences. Do you know how long it takes to get across the country in a train? It takes forever. Do you know long it takes you to find anything worthwhile in Silent Hill Downpour? I sure don’t.
This most recent Silent Hill opens with an interesting enough bang, being that you are forced to murder a fat man in a towel, but the intrigue does not last long. You play a prisoner named Murphy who eventually gets trapped/ stranded in Silent Hill. For the uninitiated, Silent Hill is an evil-ass town. Think Celebration Florida after the local raccoon population has declared martial law for about a decade. You, the player, are constantly trying to figure out a) what is going on in Silent Hill and b) what is Murphy’s past. All the while horrific monsters are trying to kill you.
The atmosphere is moody and dark and a feeling of loneliness settles upon you as you discover more about Silent Hill. The town is mostly run down but a few residents have stayed seemingly stuck in their existence. It appears that you are not the only one trapped in this cursed town. I will freely admit that the atmosphere of Silent Hill: Downpour is its best feature. Little bits of information are spread around to give you just a taste of the strange and twisted nature of Silent Hill. It actually feels a bit like an adventure game since you are collecting data and solving puzzles across the world. Find a power cord, use it to turn on a coffee maker that steams up a window giving you a passcode for a safe. These little touches kept me interested in Murphy’s plight, but the general lack of polish and the awkward combat system soured the whole experience.
Typically I am not a graphics snob, so when a game looks a little ugly I don’t mind. The issue for me is when poor graphics become distracting. Perhaps graphics is the wrong word to use here, but Silent Hill looks lazy and thrown together at times. The player’s job is to suspend some of their disbelief in order to become afraid of the enemies. We know they can’t hurt us but we allow the tension in anyways. The developer’s job is to provide us with believable threats to aid us on our personal path of fear. This is especially critical in the survival horror genre. If you are not the least bit anxious when a specific enemy attacks then the developer has failed to draw you further into their game. In Silent Hill this is especially true since the enemies look laughably bad. When I fought them nothing inside my brain screamed, “run away.” But eventually I started running away because the combat was so boring.
In a perfect world the combat in Silent Hill would not be its strong suit but it would be engaging. However, in our current flawed world, the combat is the worst part of an already mediocre game. Murphy attacks slowly with a limited set of animations and the enemies react the same no matter if they are hit with an ax or a stick. It would feel right at home on a PlayStation 1 but it is 2012 and we have evolved as a people. To make matters worse you are attacked more when it is raining and difficult to see. It does not create tension but it sure does serve up some grade A frustration.
To go along with the lack of polish in the combat department, the sound design is equally hit or miss. Some characters sound as though they were recorded in a tin room while the person they are talking to sounds perfectly normal. Since it is supposed to be a scary game there is that constant whisper going on in the background but I found it to be more distracting than eerie.
There are not many games released each year for fans of survival horror, so some just take what they can get. This seems to be the driving force behind Silent Hill: Downpour—just get it done so that we can release it and say we are still catering to our audience. It feels more like a checkbox on an earnings sheet than a proper entry in the series. If you are a fan of the genre you should still avoid buying this game. If you do you will be poisoning the survival horror well from which you are attempting to drink.
This review is based on a retail copy of the Xbox 360 version of Silent Hill – Downpour provided by Konami. It is also available for the PS3.