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Friday, 23 January 2015

Silent Hill: Downpour.

Silent Hill: Downpour.

I'm a little surprised that this isn't on here. After all, I played this ages ago.

('I played this', in this instance, actually referring to me watching and clutching a pillow while one of my learned colleagues played it, but for the purposes of this review we'll assume that all my colleagues are just animate extensions of my will. I'm sure none of them will be at all offended by this.)

Silent Hill: Downpour is the story of Murphy Pendleton, a convict who, during a prisoner transfer, ends up wandering in the town of Silent Hill, where there are monsters, evil rainstorms, and generally unpleasant stuff. Why anyone still goes to Silent Hill is a mystery to me: Some people just aren't put off by all the mysterious death, I suppose.

In terms of gameplay, it is completely what you'd expect. Gameplay in Silent Hill, all told, has not really progressed since the days of Silent Hill 2, nor does it need to: It's very basic hack-and-slash gameplay, just with a focus on suspense rather than action. Pendleton doesn't carry the iconic radio, leaving you without an early warning system for monsters, but monsters come out more frequently when it's raining. 

Like this fine gentleman. Hello, sir! Are you feeling quite well? Love the mask!

The biggest - perhaps even the only - gameplay change is in the occasionally chases from the strange, voidlike monster that haunts the darker, MC Escher side of Silent Hill that only appears when things are sufficiently moist. Drawing inspiration from similar chases in Silent Hill: Shattered Memories, these sections involve you fleeing for your life from a monster you can't see, but who will pursue you with a maze that I feel you almost certainly cannot figure out how to navigate on your own, especially during later chase sections. If you get too close, it will suck you in, and it's very fast.

This is not fun. These sections are, in fact, the least fun parts of the game by a country mile. They're frustrating, very difficult and confusing without a walkthrough, and result in more game overs than the entire rest of the game combined. They were a bad move.

The storyline is also very typical Silent Hill fare, enough that you do start to wonder at points when this franchise will stop trying to relive Silent Hill 2. As is often the case, the story revolves around Pendleton confronting his past trauma, which the town has manifested for him in horrifying monsters and scenery form. In Pendleton's case, his trauma relates to his son being violated and killed, Pendleton going to prison, murdering the man who killed his son, and then helping to kill a corrections officer. That is a hefty list of traumatic experiences, but the game does manage to balance them all pretty well, in fairness to it.

Get a haircut, Pendleton.

It's not a bad storyline. A touch formulaic by the standards of survival horror games, but since it was the Silent Hill franchise that created that formula that has now been so widely imitated within the genre, I feel compelled to give any game from it a pass, at least somewhat.

Pendleton is an interesting character with a really great first name, and the game throws him up against some interesting monsters, including one (which you never fight) which seems to be the monster form of a man who just committed suicide, and the Bogeyman, who while essentially just being Pyramid Head Mk. 2 is still very intimidating and memorable. The story falls down a little at the end, as it gives you multiple options as far as what happened in the past, which just frames Pendleton's entire backstory in a really odd way: It's traumatic, sure, but it now becomes Schrodinger's Torment, where it could be any of several terrible experiences until you find out what it is. That's a little offputting to me.

(You do get to briefly play as the Bogeyman, incidentally. It's fun! More fun than his actual boss battle, which was depressingly easy.)

For the man with a hammer, everyone is a nail.

The scenery is beautiful, and used to good effect in the semi-open-world Silent Hill that Murphy is passing through. It's at its best in the dark world, which adjust the laws of physics into strange, damp MC Escher paintings, requiring that you navigate bizarre alien geometries to escape danger. Of course, that is ruined a little by the frequent and sudden scripted appearances of the void monster in these sections, but you can't have everything, I suppose. The OST is good too, and the voice acting is strong: Neither of them are really remarkable, but they serve their purpose adequately. 

All in all, it's a good game, but it's definitely not one of the better Silent Hill games. While very fun to play, and certainly better than its deformed and bizarre brothers Homecoming and Origins, it isn't anywhere near as atmospheric as either the game it's emulating, Silent Hill 2, or a handful of other games in the series. Still, if you see it on sale, I would recommend picking it up, especially since we're going to be seeing Silent Hills hit our shelves before too long.

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