Survival Horror has been a festering corpse for a while now. Resident Evil and Dead Space have mutated in shooting games with limited ammo and we're left with the Silent Hill series that's been struggling since SH3. Nowadays we have Demon’s Souls (ish) and Amy, the later being my (and probably Matt's) frontrunner for worst game of the year.
I'm all for giving Silent Hill: Downpour a shot as it has to be better than SH: Homecoming at least. And I'm glad to say it is. Thankfully, the new developers, Vatra have at least played Alan Wake, one of the rare gems the genre has produced in recent times. Hold it; I should probably put a hold on the semi-optimistic slant this review was heading. This game's no Alan Wake beater, just so you know.
For this visit to Silent Hill, you play as an escaped convict, Murphy Pendleton. The introduction sees him boarding a transfer bus to be moved to a different facility, with a fantastically atmospheric walk through the prison setting up a tense start, in large thanks to the music more than anything else.
Soon enough the bus crashes with everyone having disappeared by the time you come to. You're not quite at Silent Hill yet, you're at the tourist attraction of a giant sinkhole called the Devil's Pit, a nearby American mountain town. Wait a minute, exactly how much of Alan Wake has inspired this game? For many parts of the game it's like reading the homework of two kids that copied off each but changed a few names and words here and there. Of course, if we took these accusations to the developers it would turn into a giant 'they copied off me sir, I isn’t copied nothing.' Sure, Alan Wake wasn't a new dawn of originality, but it was more subtle in showing its influences.
There's not an original bone in Downpour's body. Scares are ripped from the poorest of modern horror films with Paranormal Activity’s slamming doors and scraping noises, or we get the typical crying/laughing/scampering children. Even the way the local radio DJ keeps talking at you over the air has been lifted from Alan Wake. Moral choices are a rare occurrence but the game usually ignores you, and you end up with the same result anyway.
However, I found myself wanting to find door combination codes at 3am just too see more of the story, despite the raft of generic 'are they real or in your head characters' that the game rubs in your face like a chloroform soaked pillow. The flashbacks to your prison days and random notes do a good job of drip-feeding you back-story too.
The combat is faithful to the series, focusing mainly on melee weapons like wrenches, sticks, pipes, axes, spades and the odd firearm. You can swipe and block and that's about as technical as it gets. You can't move while blocking or dodge-roll, but the block button is reliable and I never felt cheated when dying in combat.
The puzzles offer a break from braining monsters and swearing at broken doors and often require extensive exploring to find items or clues. It's a nice throwback to older games before developers decided pulling a lever was all gamers could take.
Trips to the game's Otherworld, the nightmarish version of reality that was well realised in the film adaptation, are present from a very early stage. Way too early to be honest, if you're new to the series it may have been a real 'what the fuck' moment, instead of just a meh. These sections aren't very strong either as you're usually forced to run away from a chasing vortex through a maze of corridors. When you're not fleeing, you'll be running up endless hallways or rotating rooms around with valves. It's all so horribly brown and rusty that you'll be craving the foggy streets and grey buildings sooner than you think.
Whichever dimension you're in, Downpour is an ugly game. Textures are murky, poorly detailed and there's more than enough pop-in. They could have at least included a traditional grainy filter option to hide some of the bleurgh. Character visuals never inspire the same sense of wonder that we got from SH2 and the enemies don't have any of the brain-scraping horror that the PS2 games provided either. Instead, we’re left with oiled soaked people, brutes and lanky types.
Technically the game struggles to exist, despite a hefty install size. The frame-rate frequently stops when you turn around, only catching up when you've already turned 180 degrees for example. It's visually jarring and immersion breaking. Even autosaves and Trophy notifications seem to halt the game for a few seconds. Load times are irritatingly long too.
Clocking in at 8-10 hours isn't too bad and there are always the side-missions if you want to stretch the game further. Because that's what a narrative-driven horror game needs, side-missions. Jesus H Christ.
If you can keep the game on track, you can really get into it over the course of a few days. The generous autosave system does remove much of the tension, but as retreading old ground is one of my pet peeves, I can let it slide. Anyone looking for a Demon’s Souls-esque challenge will just have to play it on hard and drag a cheese-grater across their knuckles to get their pain fix. Or play Amy. Actually, Amy can fuck right off. Pass me the grater.
- Reasonably engaging story
- Side-missions add replay value
- Better than Amy
- Awful generic enemies
- You’ve seen it all before
- Ugly and technically sluggish
The Short Version: Downpour's not a bad game. But the lack of scares, or even mildly disturbing scenes, show a studio lacking an understanding of what is required from the Silent Hill name. Is it their fault, seeing as Hollywood and other games have failed to create anything truly great in the horror genre for so many years now? If the game at least looked good and wasn't a technical lurch I'd forgive it more, but it isn't, so I can’t advise more than a rental.