E3 2011: 10 Thoughts on… Silent Hill Downpour (Microsoft Xbox 360, Sony Playstation 3)

So I’ve not been the biggest advocate of the more recent Silent Hill games. While Silent Hill: The Room was a fine experiment (even if it wasn’t meant to be a Silent Hill game in the first place), Silent Hill: Origins was a poor effort, Silent Hill: Homecoming was only marginally better, and Silent Hill: Shattered Memories was simultaneously one of the better games in the series mechanically and one of the most unnecessary remakes/reimaginings of a plot ever, not to mention a bad one on top of it all. As such, if I can be honest, I have had absolutely no hope for Silent Hill: Downpour since its announcement whatsoever. None. Zero. You could fit an infinite number of angels the size of my hope on the head of a pin, is what I’m saying here. The game is being handled by a largely unknown entity, Vatra Games, and while their parent company, Kuju, has had a hand in some okay games, Vatra has released only one game so far: Rush “Ëœn Attack: Ex Patriot, which can politely be described as “okay” and is not a good indicator of how Silent Hill: Downpour will be, honestly. The lack of Team Silent developing the franchise has been obvious for a while now, but the loss of audio master Akira Yamaoka, who was replaced by Dexter composer Daniel Licht, Is telling, and not in a good way. Licht is a great composer, absolutely, and his work in Dexter is amazing, but Yamaoka is basically one of the best parts of any Silent Hill game, and, well… at this point the franchise has basically become something that bears the name, but isn’t actually the franchise anymore.

So, anyway. Right. Silent Hill: Downpour. I played it, just to see where it was going at this point and what we can expect of it. Here we go.

1.) The plot focuses on a convict named Murphy Pendleton, who is in transit between prisons when the bus he’s in crashes and he’s free to run away. The introductory cinematic showcases a bit of the expected beginning plot, as we see a police officer come after him, and Murphy’s failed attempts to save her before she falls off of a cliff. At this point, the plot focuses on Murphy’s attempts to escape the woods and… wherever he is (well, we know, but he doesn’t), alive. The demo hits all of the appropriate notes; we meet a mysterious character (the mailman), see the Otherworld first hand, and deal with all sorts of mysterious happenings in the brief time we spend with Murphy. As such, it all works perfectly fine, and while it rings a little hollow and isn’t especially moving or scary, it’s fine enough for what it is.

2.) That said, Jesus Christ does this game want to be Alan Wake. There, I said it. Murphy spends the entire demo wandering around in the woods, the demonic entity he meets in Otherworld is this lethal anomaly that bears resemblance to the Dark Presence, and the few enemies you meet appear to be engulfed in black goop. It’s fine to take inspiration from someone else’s game, but this comes across as somewhat blatant in a lot of respects, and I didn’t even complete Alan Wake, so I’d hate to see how someone who was a fan of that game would react to this.

3.) The game looks nice enough, at least, as the game world is detailed and the various special effects are pretty to look at. Murphy looks good in motion, though when he’s talking to himself we never see his lips move… I’m expecting that this is simply a case of the developer not bothering to implement this in the demo copy, but it’s possible this may be so in the final product as well. The rain and water effects in the game are very good, at least, as the game seems to spend a decent amount of time focusing on this thing. The music is also very good, though a composition that plays from the jukebox that sounds suspiciously like the work of Yamaoka is the best of the lot, so either Licht is experimenting with that style (and doing well at it) or Yamaoka’s one tune that pops up in the game blows everything else out of the water, take your pick. The voice work in the game, what little there is to show in the demo, is perfectly fine as well.

4.) That said, the press kit emphasizes the 3D technology used in the game and the theme song as big selling points. Regarding the former, as I wear glasses, I was leery of trying it out, but Matt gave it a shot and was, to be exceptionally polite, not pleased with it at all. Regarding the latter, a theme song made by Korn has no place in a Silent Hill game. Period. I don’t care what their recent record sounded like. I don’t care that Jon Davis did a song with Infected Mushroom. This is a terrible idea and the exact opposite of a selling point. Did no one pay attention to the whole series of jokes that came out when Godsmack’s “I Stand Alone” was used as the theme song for Prince of Persia: Warrior Within?

5.) The demo offered the option to explore around a bit or get straight to the action, so I opted to explore a bit to really get a feel for the experience. The exploration sections aren’t bad, if the one provided in the demo is any indication, as they’re your typical Silent Hill/adventure game fare of figuring out where you need to go and getting there. After meandering around in the woods a bit you find various items, like a crowbar (which you use to break a lock), a map and a flashlight for navigating the area, but most of this segment of the game is meant to allow you to just poke around and see what you can find. In fact, until the very end of the demo there’s no combat to speak of, and until the second half of the demo there’s no real danger at all, so there’s a good balance, so far, between basic exploration and life-threatening scenarios.

6.) You come across an old car, which triggers a scene where a mailman converses with Murphy. The mailman seems like one of those typical enigmatic characters with a dark secret, similar to Dahlia Gillespie or Maria or what have you, as he mostly speaks in riddles, implies he knows more than he lets on, and disappears abruptly. His role in the story isn’t clear at this point, but it’s fairly apparent it will be a big one, whatever it might be, and the scene was written interestingly enough to make me want to know more about what’s going on, even if I know part of the end results anyway.

7.) Shortly before moving on, I came across a monorail platform with a sign indicating that I could win a ticket if I won at a particular game, but the game had been ripped out of the wall. Some minor exploration didn’t reveal the location of the game, but this seems to tie into the Sidequest system in the press materials, where the player can unlock new stuff for completing the quests. If so, I couldn’t complete it, but it may not have been fully implemented, I’m not sure. We eventually come to a diner, dubbed “Hell’s Diner”, because I guess someone here isn’t a fan of subtlety. The diner itself is mostly unremarkable, aside from the jukebox playing the aforementioned tune, though there are a few weapons available in the bar to pick up. One thing that was noted in press releases previously is that Murphy will have to cycle through weapons, as he can only hold one and they can break, so this seems to be the motivation for why there are so many random weapons lying around. Of all the concepts the developers could have borrowed from Alone in the Dark, I don’t know why they borrowed this one, but it seems to be a fine enough system.

8.) At this point, we have to set off the pilot light, even though Murphy smells gas, which seems like the worst possible solution to a puzzle ever (“Quick, we need to move forward! KILL YOURSELF!”), but we do this thing, and as expected, the entire diner bursts into flames. Hitting the fire alarm triggers the sprinklers… which then, in turn, sends us to the Otherworld, where we now have to turn a valve to open a door to escape electrocution. That was… different. The developers don’t seem to have a particularly good idea of what they’re supposed to do with the Otherworld, though, as aside from the initial room, there’s a puzzle involving dropping a dead guy on a grate to open a door… and then an anomaly shows up that can kill us instantly, as a voice shouts “Murphy, run!” This triggers a chase sequence where we have to knock things into the anomaly’s path until we find a hole in the wall that allows us to escape. The whole sequence was fine enough, though it comes across as kind of awkward for a Silent Hill title, but I find I’m saying that a lot, so let’s just move on.

9.) The final sequence seems to be more about testing combat than anything else, as two women covered in black goop attack me and I brain them with my crowbar before the demo ends. The person playing before me ended up using a chair and had great difficulty killing them, but I managed to take them out with the crowbar relatively easy, so when the final game comes out I’m holding onto that crowbar for dear life. Just saying.

10.) Taken as a game with no context associated with it, Silent Hill: Downpour is a generally fine enough experience so far, as it looks good, sounds good, plays good enough to be manageable with little difficulty, and is engaging in some respects. Taken as a Silent Hill game, however, this is essentially a massive letdown in nearly every respect, as the game comes across as being envious of Alan Wake and completely ignorant of what the parent franchise was ever about. If you’re a fan of survival horror games in general, you’ll likely want to keep an eye out for this when it comes out, but if you’re a fan of Silent Hill, well, this game doesn’t even seem to know what Silent Hill is, except for a town where weird things happen, because nothing in this demo indicates that this game is a part of the series except the title screen.



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