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Silent Hill Downpour (PlayStation 3) artwork

Silent Hill Downpour (PlayStation 3) review

"Written in crayon, broken beyond repair, offering pre-watershed scares, and headlined by Korn."

Silent Hill Downpour asset

I've been doing this reviewing lark for a while Ė perhaps for too long -- and in the decade or so I've been writing about video games, thereís not much ground I've not covered. So hereís something a little bit new for me. I've exhausted a subject. I'm just plain tired of talking about Silent Hill.

See, I've championed this series as much as anyone can. Look at the (eventual) end of this piece, and youíll see a timeline that, should you click on a cover art, will take you to one of several reviews I've written on this series. But thatís not even half of it. Rotting away on my hard drive are partial drafts for the games no one else has covered or cared about. I've travelled out of my way to sink time and pound coins into a bizarre light gun arcade cabinet you probably didn't know existed. I've played through the Japan-only choose-you-own-adventure re-imaging of the original game on the GBA. I have the mobile phone Silent Hill releases. Did you know there were four? I've fanatically followed a series that has done nothing but spit out duds for years and I've tried to find the sparkle beneath the grime. Now? Now, I'm done. Downpour broke me. I canít bring myself to care anymore.

I refuse to believe Konami does either. For a while now, the franchise has been shipped out to inexperienced developers who have released, and letís be frank, poor imitations of the original handfuls of horror Team Silent released back in 1999. The latest console effort was passed over to Vatra Games. You remember them, surely; they previously boast [a] title (singular) such as Rush ĎN Attack: Ex-Patriot. Not ringing any bells? The update to the 1985 Konami arcade game of a similar name? Not sure how that one slipped you by. It received universal critical indifference.

Despite this, they do manage to get the odd thing right. It was a huge blow that long time high point of the franchise, series composer Akira Yamaoka, decided not to return for this version, but heís capably replaced by TVís Dexterís composer, Daniel Licht. Licht, to his credit, comes away from this title looking like a champ, taking Yamaokaís surreal industrial dirges in spirit, but maintaining his own identity. He managed to keep this role for the latest Silent Hill, the genre-confused Book of Memories. Good for him, and good for Vatra for getting such an important aspect right. However, they also signed much maligned nu metal atrocity-mongers Korn to supply the headline track. When this was predictably met with the ire of a fanbase who like to think of themselves as the sophisticated side of horror, Vatra didnít understand. Lead writer, Tomm Hulett insisted that Korn were the natural choice for such a project one minute, then feebly promised that everyone who did not like this direction (which, by the size of the online petition this kicked up, was everyone, ever) would not see their enjoyment of the game effected. Perhaps he knew there was no enjoyment to be had. And perhaps that, if Downpour was any reflection, he was an awful writer.

But I digress: the summary, then. Downpour does get things right. Licht was an inspired and brilliant choice, and he made the project his own. But when put up against the sheer quantity and quality of the projectís cons, it becomes clear that the sporadic high points are nothing more than pure luck. Korn debacle aside, bad points like how trips to the otherworld are a barely-featured event, so briefly used that youíll spend more time by end game reading your journal than you will traversing the seriesí once staple perversion. Or how, in the rare event you do slip into the rust coloured hell, itís more or less the exact same chase sequence from some reality-tearing voidball that has you running round enclosed circuits, stacking up game over screens until you memorise the correct route. Or how the game regularly has you traverse balance beams the likes of which were last seen on an unimaginative Wii mini game. Or how just plain uninspired the monsters of the game are, and how ludicrously bad it is to battle them. Or how the camera can go into fits if you back yourself into a corner, not knowing where to auto focus, and spinning around like it was in bloody orbit. OrÖ

Okay, this could be one hell of a list. Letís start from the beginning.

Murphy Pendelton is a man incarcerated for a crime he sure as hell did commit. His story opens up with a bloody bit of prison violence, before his unlikely freedom is granted by a familiar looking chasm in the road during a routine transfer. He picks his way around some woodland, obtains a few essentials like a radio and a flashlight, and then partakes in the first of two meaningless moralistic choices throughout the game which decide which ending he gets. The next half hour is spent wandering around aimlessly, picking up frying pans and rocks. Downpourís fresh contribution to combat is that the environment is littered with items you can use as short term weapons until theyíre overly damaged and fall apart, so youíre constantly swapping metal poles for fire axes, or wine bottles for wrenches. This might have been considered new to video game horror if it was not used by PSX release Koudleka back in late 1999. It at least might be considered new to the series, had it not been similarly employed by Silent Hill: Origins.

Itís almost a step forward from the Origins system, as it doesnít let you store a stupid amount of weapons to act as backups. However, any good will built up is immediately banished when you take part in your first fight. Iíve mentioned the unintuitive camera angle that seems determined to focus your view on anything but the advancing evil desperate to claw off your face. Thatís not a plus. What helps even less if just how downright rudimentary and uninvolving combat is.

The first couple of Silent Hill games made combat frantic slices of panicked survival, but developers seem to think that passť. Previous title, Homecoming, made combat overly easy but manageable by adding a dodge command -- that's gone too. There's now a block button that blocks seemingly anything. Therefore, combat boils down to hiding behind your block until your attacker finishes their pre-set combo, then wailing at them yourself until they block. Rinse, repeat.

This didnít have to be a game killer, because combat should always be the very last option explored in Silent Hill, and Downpour certainly does a better job than Homecoming in ensuring you can run the hell away more often than not. However, the monsters you run away from do not inspire fear; theyíre probably the most laughable collection of nasties to be assembled since Silent Hill 4ís army of flatulent nurses. These creatures arenít scary or fearsome Ė theyíre a unique blend of annoying and vanilla. Each draped in a lack of imagination and completely deficient of the subtle symbolism the series has long been known for. Thereís nothing like Silent Hill 2ís Abstract Daddy, a surreal walking bed containing two embraced figures covered in putrid skin. Or Silent Hill 4ís Twin Victim, a legless figure that walks on decrepit arms, shrouded in the remnants of a disintegrating cloak that just about fails to hide its matching infinite heads.

Downpourís cast of evil includes The Screamer ô, a pale humanoid female in a rotting dress with long nails. The Prisonerô, a pale humanoid male in rotting trousers with what seems to be a 1920ís dental brace attached to his face. And The Dollô, a pale(r) humanoid female that sends out invisible (or are they so pale as to appear clear?) clones. Chilling and original, all.

The worst of them, though, is The Weeping Batô, who, to the shock and awe of none, is a lanky, pale humanoid. The only bat-like qualities they seem to retain is that they can cling to ceilings and roofs, which they do frequently for no other reason than to troll you. Our bat-ish friends roll everything thatís wrong with Downpourís battle system into one perfect, pale bundle. To use their clingy powers, you mostly find them in claustrophobic areas that the camera seems to especially hate, so youíll battle them while looking at the patch of wall nearest to your left ear while youíre slashed and clawed at. You can just hit block and hope, of course, but woes betide your attempts at a counter attack. By the time you start trying to cause some damage, theyíve hopped back on the ceiling, out of your melee range, and are merrily swiping at your face.

Exploring a tower block vilifies them the most. After solving a puzzle about a stairwell flooded with water (I say solve; thereís a fire truck with an extendable hose ten feet away. In case you miss it, the siren is on) you find yourself exploring a mini maze made of book shelves with a newly discovered UV flashlight. The idea is to follow hidden blood trails that show up once your forensic light is shone upon them, but these smatterings of gore show up as luminous white. Despite this, following this trail doesnít lead you to the lair of a heavily masturbating monster; it leads you somewhere much worse. Into a series of tightly enclosed dead ends where the camera wonít let you see the monsters on the roof clawing at your scalp. The payoff? A pointless collectable page for your scrapbook, or a solitary health kit you had to spend a further three or so to obtain.

Expending more consumable items than you want especially hurts in Downpour thanks to the use of an auto save system that ties your progress to checkpoints whether you like it or not. Just scraped through a series of especially diabolical fights that have left you low on bullets and healing items? Every other survival horror title gives you the option to reload; Downpour makes a habit of quick-saving after every fight you fail miserably at. On the other hand, want to call it quits for the day? Unless you want to lose sometimes staggering amounts of progress, not until you find a checkpoint you wonít! Outside of dungeons, you could be wandering around the town proper for an age, looking for some way to advance the game enough to trigger a save point.

This could take forever because the deadly little town itself is now the hub for a quasi-sandbox trial that means you can run around doing side quests that the game really wants you to do, and might have been found worthwhile if they didn't wallow in pedestrian. These missions range from opening cages sitting on random porches setting birds free, or wandering around a series of flats, replacing stolen goods from the home of a hanged thief. Even when youíre offered a genuinely effective distraction Ė such as trying to recover a corpse's stolen heart from a basement maze by following its amplified beating Ė the rewards do not justify the effort. Sneak through the maze and survive a frantic chase back towards the exit, and youíll receive a sum total of one (1) healing kit for your trouble. I suspect in an attempt to counterbalance the awful combat and all the damage youíll unfairly soak up during the course of the game, Downpourís world is already swimming in healing kits.

Letís slip off the pink glasses for a sec, folks; exploring the town itself was always kind of crap. You ran about to find the chasms in the road, avoided the monsters in the fog, and hoped youíd stumble upon the odd consumable. Now, the town is bigger, less linear and therein injects the extra excitement of nothing of note at all. Thereís also an odd shortage of monsters. Donít get me wrong Ė combat in Downpour should be avoided, but that just leaves pointless meandering, hoping youíll stumble upon the next plot point by sheer will. Unless it rains, monsters will actually back away from you, leading to one satirical moment where the first Prisonerô I discovered would stand a few feet away doing Christ poses, then backtrack like crazy when I got near. I had to chase a Weeping Batô down a series of alleyways until he was cornered before I could get close enough to land a blow. As I was near some walls the camera, of course, had a huge fit and I more or less bludgeoned the thing to death with button mashing, flailing and hope.

At its core, Downpour is nothing else but dull exploration interspersed with aggravating combat, forcing the gamer to trudge around drab environments hoping to spy an exit sign. Previous Silent Hill games have been built upon similarly shaky foundations, save the handicap of sheer dullness but, in its efforts to be the stand out new-gen horror, Downpourís answer is to highlight long standing flaws, then add brand new negatives to pile on top. The story, when it plays out, is by far the weakest in the series, containing none of the macabre brilliance or self-introspection of protagonists previously offered. Murphyís not led a saintly life, but heís not tracking down his missing daughter through whirling snow and drying gore, nor responding to a love letter from his dead wife. He was in a bus, and it crashed. Then stuff happens. The worldís dull, lifeless and grey. Downpour works its arse off to make a once terrifying patchwork of death, sin and futile thrashings ultimately arid and tedious.

The other games have all managed to make places before slipping into Otherworld appropriately macabre, but in Downpour, the worst that can be said about them is theyíre dirty and in disrepair. When Otherworld eventually (and briefly) hits, it literally burns away reality, leaves the rusty industrial world of pain we all know and love (plus 450% more water this time around Ė itís a theme) then has you run the hell away from the ball of energy. Five minutes pass, you escape, Otherworld fades, and youíre back in a razed building and stuff looks damp. Other games have made you invest in the people, in the story and in the town. Downpour does little more than glance at these assets in its doomed grand scheme to improve and modernise.

Still, itís easy to criticise Downpour when trying to compare it to earlier titles it simply cannot stack up to, such was the strength of its forerunners. So allow me to alter my thesis a little. Downpour isnít so much a bad Silent Hill game as it is just a bad game. It simply has no real outstanding strengths, and dilutes those that might have been a boon by trying to branch out and reinvent unsuccessfully. As a horror title, it never gets into your head, leaning heavily on cheap jump scares. As an action title, itís broken, infuriating and irrelevant. As a sandbox itís uninvolving, and as interactive fiction itís not strong enough to invest in. For every snatched moment of promise thatís shown, there are over a dozen amateurish and clumsy setbacks. A major boss fight is literally press X to win; cast members pop up and then vanish forever without note; secret locker codes provided only to pre-ordering customers are readily available online to anyone with a search engine and thirty seconds to spare; the ending you achieve is decided by two yes/no questions asked near the start of the game and little else; one puzzle has a metal cord that can only be cut by a blade you find jammed into a nearby dollís gut, while the battle-axe you previously found simply isnít enough to do the job a flimsy kitchen knife canÖ

Ö Iíve started listing again, havenít I?

Downpour is the culmination of years of neglect and decay. It is a sub-par offering in a franchise that used to strive for excellence made by inexperienced developers so far removed from the source material as to only produce a parody of it. Written in crayon, broken beyond repair, offering pre-watershed scares, and headlined by Korn.

I donít see any recovery from this, and Iím done pretending otherwise.

EmP's avatar
Staff review by Gary Hartley (November 17, 2013)

Gary Hartley arbitrarily arrives, leaves a review for a game no one has heard of, then retreats to his 17th century castle in rural England to feed whatever lives in the moat and complain about you.

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If you enjoyed this Silent Hill Downpour review, you're encouraged to discuss it with the author and with other members of the site's community. If you don't already have an HonestGamers account, you can sign up for one in a snap. Thank you for reading!

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Masters posted November 28, 2013:

This is a wonderful novel review! But seriously, there are some great passages in here, too many to list (hee hee), but the last few paragraphs are especially strong. Kudos!
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EmP posted December 03, 2013:

What a girly slight slip of feedback to compliment my huge, manly review!

Thanks, Marc. Now, let's both enjoy the thought of never having to play Downpour ever again.
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Masters posted December 04, 2013:

Ha, as much as I found Downpour boring and depressing, it wasn't offensively bad like SH4, or as downright lame as Shattered Memories. That's gotta count for something, right?
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EmP posted December 04, 2013:

I would put SH4 a good way ahead of Downpour. At least it advanced a tale worth telling behind its awful, clumsy gameplay. Plus, 100% less Korn
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Masters posted December 05, 2013:

I'll have to disagree with you - at least Downpour seems like a Silent Hill game for the most part. A bad SH game, but a SH game. SH4 seems like a bad game belonging to a different franchise. Anyway, whatever, they both suck.
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EmP posted December 05, 2013:

Before we go on, let's not think me soft for SH4. I hated that game, and the review I wrote wasn't a lot shorter than this one, such was my wealth of things to complain about. But I have garnered some sympathy for it over the years. For instance, it's common knowledge that it was originally a new original title that Konami decided to nix, and then give to Team Silent to mould into the new Silent Hill. But I was surprised to learn just how late in the gameís cycle this happened. As such, Team Silent had to awkwardly shoehorn in franchise staples and alter the plot to try and tie a separate story back to the town somehow. Itís not a lot of surprise the game ended up such a convoluted mess. Iíd argue that you could have quite a lot of fun with SH4, so long as you do nothing with the actual game itself, and just read up on some of the translated plot notes, or hit up a fan-made wiki and check out the plot that should have been.

Itís just as little surprise that Downpour was god awful, but the reason is so much simpler. It was given to a developer with a single mediocre title released under their belt whose understanding of the series seemed to come from skim reading Wikipedia, and thinking that jump scares would be enough to paper over their weak barely-horror plot. I do not see a weaker Silent Hill game being released, but Konami do seem hell bent on pimping them out of unproven devs, so who knows what the future might bring.
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Masters posted December 05, 2013:

Yeah, I know about how SH4 was supposed to be something else entirely. I guess if it had actually been good we would have forgiven it (see Super Mario Bros. 2). I can't remember if you said you played Shattered Memories or not, but again, that one's also a contender.
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overdrive posted December 06, 2013:

Iíd argue that you could have quite a lot of fun with SH4, so long as you do nothing with the actual game itself,

Possibly the greatest example of damning with FAINT praise I've seen in an eternity.

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