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Silent Hill: Downpour (Xbox 360) artwork

Silent Hill: Downpour (Xbox 360) review


"Some might argue that the canon was lost once it left the hands of its original developers; since that time it has been passed from studio to studio, each with ingenuous intentions of making the first ‘next gen’ standout. Regrettably, that still hasn’t happened."



It’s been years since the last truly great Silent Hill game came out, but that doesn’t stop them from coming out, nor does it stop the forever optimistic faithful from hoping against hope for a return to form for the series.

Some might argue that the canon was lost once it left the hands of its original developers; since that time it has been passed from studio to studio, each with ingenuous intentions of making the first ‘next gen’ standout. Regrettably, that still hasn’t happened.

Silent Hill: Downpour asset


Newcomers Vatra Games, make a valiant effort with Silent Hill: Downpour; they've even managed to make us mostly forget that series' constant Akira Yamaoka was not involved to score their work--which is no small feat. But ultimately, for all the game’s more easily identified faults, the game’s overriding shortcoming is that it becomes rather boring to play the further you proceed.

Things start off promising enough (once you get past the blaring incongruity of the intro rock music): the opening finds you, as Murphy Pendleton, in Ryall State Corrections Facility. Apparently, you’re doing a stretch for stealing a police cruiser and going on a joyride. You encounter some very up-close-and-personal prison violence almost immediately, which certainly gets your attention.

The next thing you know, Murphy is being transported to another facility by bus. The bus crashes and you’re able to escape, a la The Fugitive. The ensuing trek through the quiet-vestured forest brings to mind the bone-chilling run that begins Silent Hill 2.

Regrettably, the forest parts also bring to mind the far superior rendition of a horror protagonist trampling foliage that is Alan Wake. To be sure, Downpour’s graphics are unimpressive. Colours are decidedly washed out and environs are generally bland. I found myself longing for the striking lighting effects that were a hallmark of the game’s predecessor, Silent Hill: Homecoming. Worse still, the game suffers from very noticeable frame rate stuttering.

Silent Hill: Downpour asset


Still, I was able to put those criticisms aside and enjoy moving about in the anxiety-inducing, too-quiet world, putting distance between myself and the recent wreck of the prison bus. You come across a female police officer who has also survived the crash, and the game introduces the first of its several ‘moral choices’. The issue with this function is that your choice only affects the game’s ending--not the actual flow of the game. Whether you want to be the good guy or not, the same things will happen.

Soon enough, I happened upon the first ‘mission’ of sorts, and thereafter, the first puzzle the game had to offer. The puzzles presented by Downpour are well done, and not as far out as some have been in the series; I actually enjoyed solving them.

Where the game began to stumble was when enemies were introduced. Combat has never been the series’ strong suit, but here it is more tedious than ever. Gone is the dodge function from Homecoming; we can do two things--block and attack. Generally speaking, you’ll want to immediately hold down the block button and wait until whichever nasty thing has beset you finishes wailing on you, and launch a series of counter attacks which will eventually be blocked. Then you’re on the defensive again.

Silent Hill: Downpour asset


This, ‘your turn, okay now my turn’ exchange is as lame as it sounds. Things might’ve been more exciting had the enemies actually been original or scary. The scream attacks that the wraiths launch is innovative, but aside from that, we are met with a generally uninspiring menagerie of adequately drawn humanoids.

The fact that your melee weapons break easily adds to the tedium of battle. Every twenty steps you’ll come across some new weapon that you can ditch your old one for: bottles, rakes, axes, frying pans, fire extinguishers--they’re all on offer. Some are a bit more resilient than others, some do a bit more damage, but there’s nothing here to get excited about. I applaud the decision not to allow the player to hoard these items, as was possible (and frankly ridiculous) in Silent Hill: Origins, but the constant weapon swapping becomes a chore.

I appreciated Downpour’s attempts to inject freshness into the Silent Hill world; with pervading rain replacing fog (hence the title), with a more open world approach, with side quests like returning stolen property to rightful owners, with fewer incursions of the blood-stained otherworld into our rainy reality, and finally with the introduction of the inexorable, chasing red mist.

Unfortunately, all the tweaks in the world can’t change the fact that Downpour loses steam due to fundamentally weak storytelling. Silent Hill has always had clunky combat, stretches of too much running, stretches of encountering too many locked doors. But when the series truly shone, with its first two installments, we would suffer these annoyances, these challenges, because a truly engaging premise compelled us to press on.

Silent Hill: Downpour asset


Where did our daughter Cheryl go? What had become of her? Was she kidnapped? Was she not who we thought she was? Was she behind all this? Or similarly: how did Mary send us a letter, an invitation to come see her here at Silent Hill from beyond the grave? How was it possible? Would we find her here? Would we find something else?

Downpour, like many of the entries before it not named Silent Hill 1 or 2, poses none of these questions. It offers precious little at stake as an impetus. All we get is: Why was I really in jail? And, Why did I do what I did in the opening scene? Had Murphy been given some all-consuming task that resonated with the player, we might be more inclined to see him through his seemingly random and aimless movements.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that things started to go downhill for the series when the developers stopped giving their protagonists something worthwhile to do. It seems to me to be a crucial thing, to lead us through a confusing, depressing, bloody world where puzzles are obtuse and combat is difficult. Why should we go through this? Give us a good enough reason, even if it is proven later to be false, and we will suffer these trials in order to discover our truth, and more than likely, some greater truth.

Silent Hill: Downpour is simply the latest sequel to have our anti-hero flounder (whether in darkness, fog, or rain), until they and we both ultimately peel back the layers of symbolism and often cool but sometimes contrived obfuscation, to figure out why this is all happening. It’s also the latest sequel to bring interesting new things to the table, and make the dangerous assumption that we will care without doing the work to make us.

Rating: 5/10

Masters's avatar
Staff review by Marc Golding (April 03, 2012)

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zippdementia posted April 03, 2012:

Hmm... good review. It got me thinking about Silent Hill storylines. Silent Hill 1 and 2 did have the best so far, I'd guess, though Shattered Memories is also worth a go for a fantastic ending. Silent Hill 1 was the only one I found genuinely frightening, though I haven't played a fair number of the games. I hear The Room is pretty frightening, though it often gets labeled a terrible game in the mix.

So was this Silent Hill scary at all or psychologically twisted? I'd guess from your review that the answer is no, but I'd be curious to hear more if you have more to say.
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Masters posted April 03, 2012:

Thanks, Zipp. It's not scary, no, apart from some moments when an enemy popped out of nowhere when I was playing without the sound on.
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EmP posted April 03, 2012:

The saddest fact is that I know I'll pick the game up as soon as I see it cheap. I can't help myself. But at least it'll give us something else to bitch about.

Good work -- and look at you putting in your own screens! I'll be obsolete soon.
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Masters posted April 03, 2012:

As much as I'd like to take credit (with my usual tech savvy assistant going missing when I needed him), it was actually Jason who put the screens up. ;)
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overdrive posted April 03, 2012:

Mixed emotions with this review. Happiness on one hand because it was a good review that I enjoyed reading. Sadness on the other because...damn it! Why can't we get a good NEW Silent Hill game for once. After reading your words about why should we care about our protagonist in this game, I read the Wikipedia synopsis of the plot and came away basically feeling like I'd have been totally ripped off if I'd spent full price for this game to wind up with that sort of finale.
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Masters posted April 03, 2012:

Rob: thanks. I felt that way too. I was like, "okay, so that's what's going on. I see." It had none of the gravitas of the SH2 big reveal.
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JoeTheDestroyer posted April 03, 2012:

Excellent review, Marc. I have yet to play Downpour, but it sounds like it's precisely what I feared it would be. Honestly, it feels like the downward spiral started with SH3 and continued from there. It's like anyone who has touched it since hasn't realized what made the first two games great.

Had Murphy been given some all-consuming task that resonated with the player, we might be more inclined to see him through his seemingly random and aimless movements.

To me, this isn't only an important part of a good Silent Hill game, it's an important part of a great horror story. It's not just the monsters, the death scenes, the visual shocks, the psychological scares, and the metaphors, but whether or not writers/developers/directors can make those things resonate with readers/players/viewers. Resonance is an important element for me in great horror works, and I'm really glad you touched on that.
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pickhut posted April 03, 2012:

Pretty good review. I watched a stream of the game being played the week it came out and the first few hours looked boring, and the main character was pretty much a jerk. Reading your review, it sounds like the game doesn't change much later on, unfortunately.
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Masters posted April 04, 2012:

Thanks. Joe: I had a lot more to say on similar matters, but I didn't want to necessarily wear out my welcome on my soapbox; it's a review, not a blog entry, after all.
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JANUS2 posted April 05, 2012:

I've never played a Silent Hill game, but I always enjoy reading a Masters Silent Hill review. Good stuff.
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bloomer posted April 05, 2012:

I agree. A very good review that also made me moderately depressed.
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Sise-Neg posted April 05, 2012:

I enjoyed Downpour for the first few hours, but toward the end it did get a little boring. I think the biggest problem for me was that combat was a bit too in your face at times with this one, and what held it back even more were the highly unimaginative enemy designs. All in all I'd say that Downpour is not as good as SH 1-3, but better than SH4, Origins, Homecoming and Shattered Memories.
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Masters posted April 05, 2012:

I've got it SH 1>2>Origins>3>>Homecoming>Downpour>4>Shattered Dreams.

Edit: thanks to Janus and Bloomer.
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zippdementia posted April 06, 2012:

Hah, "Shattered Dreams." Was that a Freudian slip?
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Masters posted April 06, 2012:

Ha, no. That game is so lame.
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sclemmons posted August 30, 2012:

Marc, I still come back occasionally to see what's up on this site.

Good to see you're still writing. Keep up the good work.

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