In the year 1999 not only were we facing the apparent and mythological crisis of Y2K but we also saw a handful of fantastic games to be released on Sony’s already aging console; the Playstation One.
Developer and Publisher Konami was geared up for a release in response to the smash hit of Capcom’s Resident Evil series, and while the company had a shaky reputation for survival horror games, the 1999 release of Silent Hill proved to be one of the companies greatest moves since the release of Metal Gear Solid on the Playstation.
Since it’s initial release we have seen countless variations of the Silent Hill games, ranging from the smash hit sequel cleverly titled Silent Hill 2, and even the 1st/3rd person release of Silent Hill 4: The Room, and lastly all the way down to a more recent release on the Nintendo Wii with Silent Hill Shattered Memories which proved that combat doesn’t always make a game; your surroundings do.
But sadly enough the series has seen it’s fair share of “forgettable” titles that have only seemed to fair well with the smaller core audience of Silent Hill fans.
With the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 release of Silent Hill: Homecoming, it seemed that the series was in desperate need for a change, and change was something that developer Konami had promised to the community.
But has Konami finally restored Silent Hill back to it’s former glory?
It’s a question all of us are asking, and the only way to find out is to read further below.
Before I dive into this in depth review of Silent Hill: Downpour, I want to make some certain things very clear about the review: normally I take into perspective a general and wide audience in my reviews, and I give my personal opinion followed by who I think this may appeal to. I speak to those people directly, but with Silent Hill: Downpour, I’m going to be doing it a little differently only because this title is meant to be played in a specific way. Below I shall go into details to exactly what I mean.
As with each horror based video games (and movies) I have a specific set up I always use for playing/watching various titles. Aside from my normal TV I also have a 3D TV that I use from time to time, along with it is a full 5.1 surround sound stereo.
Normally when I review a game I will play it through a HD TV, and I will listen to sound via basic TV speakers and through top end gaming headsets such as the MMX 300 by Beyer Dynamics. With this I am able to get a true sense to how every player might view and hear the game, and I’m able to provide a detailed and rich anaylisis of the game from a perspective that normally fits the general audience. I also encourage people to go out and spend the extra money on things like a 5.1 stereo, or 5.1/7.1 headphones as it can add an extra layer of quality to your overall experience. Trust me, good audio makes a big difference with ANY game.
Now the reason I am saying this is because I am reviewing Silent Hill:Downpour on a larger 3DTV with a 5.1 sound system, and I would HIGHLY recommend these settings if you have access to them. I am a fan of 3D and I think it’s a fantastic way to immerse yourself into anything you are watching or playing, and I’m luckily enough to be able to sit in front of a 3D tv or my 3DS for hours without any issues whatsoever. If you seem to be having issues with 3D, or you’re against it because you had one or two bad experiences with it, I suggest you give it another try, and I also recommend that you “relax” while enjoying any kind of 3D experience, as the headaches you feel are from eye strain which can be caused by your eyes forcing to focus on one image. Instead of just accepting both images at the same time, as that is how most 3D effects are made. With all that said I would without a doubt recommend playing Downpour on a 3D set up as the visual effects in the game provide a entirely different experience compared to what you may experience when just playing the game in normal 2D mode. Trust me…it makes THAT big of a difference.
Konami has decided to go rouge and ditch the typical 3D effects for effects that can make you feel disoriented, confused, and can give you out right anxiety…now while I sound crazy saying that “feeling this way is awesome!”, you are playing a horror game, and horror isn’t about being comfortable, but it’s about fear, anxiety, confusion and disillusionment. The effects used through out the game can range from the more common “mild” experience where you have a nice layer of depth to the game, making you feel like you’re actually exploring these areas in real time, and they can add a much “stronger” effect such as moving the image in and out in a wave like motion. This can only be truly appreciated through the lenses of a set of 3D glasses as they do not come off as effective when they are in the standard 2D image. It’s safe to say that out of all of the 3D titles I have played in the past few months, Silent Hill: Downpour is the Avatar of 3D on consoles, and it utilizes this to it’s advantage in many ways as you will most likely hear people say “You just had to have seen it in the theaters in 3D”, the same goes with Downpour; you just have to see it in 3D.
In the opening moments of Silent Hill: Downpour you will be thrown into a basic mechanics system providing you a quick walkthrough to gather your bearings, while at the same time providing you with a backdrop for things to come.
You play as Murphy; a prisoner in a medium state prison that is awaiting transport to a maximum state prison. Right off the bat you’ll begin to notice that it is unclear to why he is there, but it becomes noticeable that Murphy simply is not like the rest of the prisoners. He is quiet and reserved but seems bitter at the world by something.
Along with being haunted by a past that is only revealed in confusing flashbacks.
Confusing as they may be, Konami uses them to their advantages, and while some reviews I’ve laid eyes on have openly mocked this presentation, I commend Konami for it. In a sense it keeps you thinking, putting the bits and pieces together of this mans past to figure out who he is, what he did, and why he did it. That is…if he really did anything at all…
After a few moments of well placed semi-cinematic moments that are brought to life by a fantastic soundtrack, Silent Hill: Downpour wastes no time in throwing you into the game. During the transport of Murphy to a different prison, he is accompanied by various other prisoners that you may or may not meet on your path into the town of Silent Hill. Each prisoner seemingly holds little respect for Murphy and their intentions are clear; they do not care about anyone other than themselves.
You are alone in this town and just as you begin to think that you’ll find solace in a fellow human being, you’ll learn that everything in Silent Hill is never what it really seems. From foggy and damp woods to abandoned houses that display a gruesome reminder that something happened it Silent Hill to drive these people away…something very bad. The set piece for Downpour is unlike anything in the series, and while it may feel the same, you’ll quickly learn that the art direction in Downpour has two completely different sides (almost in a bi-polar fashion), you’ll be wondering abandoned streets one minute, and the next will lead you down a path of blood red hues, and brown decay that easily makes the set piece of previous Silent Hill games seem happy in comparison.
Downpur isn’t afraid to use images of torture mechanical hell and blood soaked walls.
It distorts reality in ways that you have never seen (other than maybe a Hellraiser movie). The visual effects that are scattered through out Silent Hill: Downpour are some of the best you’ll ever see in a survival horror type of game…on a current generation console that is. Surely Silent Hill 1-4 had some fantastic set pieces that are visually immersible for the player, but in but Downpour some of the better pulled off effects can come off as sheer brilliance at times that you’ll see through out the single player story.
But even with all of these fantastic things that previous Silent Hill fans will enjoy, there is another side to every story, and unfortunately Silent Hill: Downpour does suffer from some rather annoying bugs that most likely will turn off some core fans and new fans a like.
While reviewers have been complaining about the combat or nit picking at various odds and ends, the biggest thing I had an issue with was not the combat or the small imperfections that make up an over all good game, but it’s sadly enough… the frame rate.
Now let me start off by saying that Silent Hill: Downpour is a good looking game and when it picks up, the visuals with the 3D even off, look fantastic at times. But occasionally you’ll run into blurry textures and bland looking environments that only seem to be “filler” rather than substance. Fortunately these aren’t that big of an issue for previous Silent Hill fans, and even new comers might find these flaws forgiving, but one thing that either group of audiences won’t enjoy is that the frame rate tends to drop at times, which is a bit confusing because while Downpour can look visually impressive at times, it does not appear to be a demanding game graphically.
I encountered various instances where the frame rate would drop so bad that I swore it was my console acting up because I questioned myself to the point where I thought “there is no way they let this into the final product”. So I switched consoles for my older “fat” Xbox 360 and encountered the same exact issue. Lastly I decided to install the game on my Xbox 360’s hard drive and while this fixed some of the issues, I still had massive drops in performance while I was playing. However one thing I can say that is positive about the frame rate is that this would rarely happen in fighting sequences, as the game would have received a much lower score if this was the case.
Yes, frame rate is that important…it’s not like we are in the first year of the 360’s or PS3’s life cycle, we are rearing towards the end and Konami had previously released Silent Hill: Homecoming, which suffered from hardly any frame rate drops at all… so it tends to make one wonder, “what went wrong?”. That for a game that even mentions “rain” in the main title, the water effects/rain effects will leave you thinking that this could have been much better. But these were my only real big gripes with Silent Hill: Downpour, and these are the gripes that I feel both sides of audiences will be nit picking up for a while to come. Now will Konami fix this issue? It’s impossible to say if a patch will clear up this games biggest fault points, but hopefully so (in the near future).
But that’s enough about the visual spectacle that is Silent Hill: Downpour, many fans and newcomers have been wondering about things like the combat in the game and after a bold promise by Konami with them stating that “combat is a main focus for improvement in this game”, I can safely report back that combat has improved over previous titles. That is without a doubt for sure, but does it make it a noteworthy reason to pick up this title alone?
The combat in Silent Hill: Downpour was another thing that I found reviewers nagging about, “it’s stiff”, “inaccurate” and “unresponsive/dull”. I think that the combat in Downpour did exactly what it was supposed to do, combat throughout every single one of the Silent Hill games has always been generally the same, and fans of the previous titles will feel right at home here, and will surely notice a few tweaks that were applied through out the upgrade processes that will make previous fans a bit more happy. But for newcomers of the series, it’s important to understand that the Silent Hill games were never made for “action” like it’s creepy brother, Resident Evil.
They were always meant to make you feel under powered, slightly out of control, and to give you the sense of “urgency” through what feels like clumsy controls.
It’s meaning is to show you that the player you’re in control of isn’t a weapons or firearm expert…they are as skilled in basic combat as you or I.
Konami has out right expressed this and through the years I’ve come to learn and accept the system for what it is and even enjoy it.
Frankly I’m glad that the combat system was not greatly improved because it would take away some of the tension of getting into combat scenarios with various beasts that you’ll encounter throughout the game. But for new players you might find yourself a bit under whelmed here, but don’t worry…I assure you that it grows on you and that’s it is important to remember that the Silent Hill games have an always will be first, a SURVIVAL horror/puzzle/riddle game, and second, an adventure/action game.
That is the single most important thing to remember while playing any of the Silent Hill games; these aren’t Resident Evil clones…there is nothing like them on the market, and that is why they’ve had such a cult following over the years. It’s something you need to fully embrace in order to enjoy the games for what they truly are.
Which is why I feel that the seemingly mixed reviews on the internet are missing a few things from them, and most of these reviewers are going into each game and comparing it to similar titles instead of embracing the game and it’s series as a whole and enjoying what each game is meant to be. It’s almost like the Final Fantasy series where every game is set around a core idea that they all share, but they all are unique stories for each title, and the same can be said with the Silent Hill games. The all share one core thing; the town of Silent Hill and that’s it.
Year after year and nightmare after nightmare that occurs through out all of the games shows you a different perspective to each character that stumbles either willingly or by accident into the semi-fictional (we’ll get more into the whole “semi” part later) town of Silent Hill.
One thing that most players already know and new players might not be aware of is that Silent Hill is not a game that holds your hand through the process (of course there is an option at the menu screen where you can chose two varying difficulties one for combat and the other for puzzles).
I tend to be the guy who want’s to enjoy my experience but also be challenged, so I chose a 50/50 split between them, and while I found myself certainly “thinking” about the puzzles I had to solve, I never once became frustrated at the complexity that some puzzles can bring to you.
Another thing worth mention is that Silent Hill: Downpour takes a page from the Uncharted games Nathan Drake. Nathan carried around a journal of sorts that recorded most of the items, locations, and various things he had encountered while on his journey. Downpour borrows this same concept and uses it in a fantastic way to help guide you through your journey. As you go along the story you’ll find various things that you can read and explore, and clues/hints to future puzzles. Everything will always be stored in your journal for quick and easy access at the click of a button.
I found this to be a rather great way for menu navigation as I think simply “pausing” the game to go through files, etc, is a rather stale way to do so, and can bring you out of the environment you are in.
In Silent Hill: Downpour he simply lifts it out of his pocket and presents it to you for your “viewing” pleasure, per say. With this and the lack of a mini-map, I found myself enjoying Silent Hill: Downpour for it’s ability to simply “stick” you in the game and allow you to explore it as you see fit. It never guides you but gives you just the right direction to allow you to progress, without hindering your overall experience as some games with lengthy pause screens and annoying mini-maps can.
After all, this is survival horror right? Not tactical espionage horror.
People who have been griping over the mini-map situation need to just simply, “get over it”. You’re equipped with a unique map for each area that you explore, and that you can of course access with your journal. The catch is that in the start of each “area” that you are in, you are given a chance to find this map, and once you do you’ll have easy access to wear you have been as this will help guide you along your journey.
But if you miss that map, you’re shit out of luck as some would say.
Each experience is generally unique to the person, and each story while sharing common ground is unique to that character you happen to be playing.
One thing you must respect about the franchise as a whole is that Silent Hill has generally not changed. They’ve stuck to a formula and have never tried to be anything but what they are…when I look back on previous Resident Evil titles I can see massive variations and comparisons to other games that are non-Resident Evil related.
Chances are if you ask someone who was a fan of the original Resident Evil games if they are a fan of the more current games, they’ll quickly tell you that the love for the series either stopped at Resident Evil 4 or Resident Evil 2.
Now if you ask a Silent Hill fan when their love for the series stopped, they’ll most likely look at you and say “But it never stopped at all?” with a confused look on their face.
However as gamers from the 90’s continue to grow up and change taste in gaming, that major audience of Silent Hill fans have faded away and the series has slowly begun to embrace a newer audience to the popular titles, and which some minor tweaks made between each game, Konami has maintained a slowly evolving but never truly changing face of what they believe the Silent Hill games should be. They’re all about exploration, anxiety, riddles, puzzles and lastly…surviving at all means necessary.
Silent Hill: Downpour pulls this off with ease but allows some newer players to jump into the horrific world that is, Silent Hill. It’s easily one of those games that can be described like a graveyard…it’s a place of peace relaxation and rest…but at the same time there is a great feeling of unrest, containment and a sheer reminder of death/horror.
The Silent Hill games can be easily summed up in that description and while the over all art of the games hasn’t changed much over the years, the legendary soundtracks that Akira Yamaoka once produced and helped make the series so popular is no longer there. But the developer team Team Silent has made fantastic strides without Akira by their side and the current score for Silent Hill: Downpour (minus the song by rock band Korn) shows that even without the major influences of previous titles, they can still accomplish a fantastic game at heart.
Silent Hill: Downpour isn’t for everyone, raging twitch cases who suck up the spotlight of games like Call Of Duty will surely be majorly turned off by this title and it’s need for patience within the player, but fans of erie lingering aesthetics, and people who have good patience but love a good challenge at the same time will feel at home with this latest title in the growing franchise.
It’s surely not for everyone but the people who will find it’s appeal after they’ve dusted off all the small issues that plague the game, will find a fantastic game at heart which will surely leave you gripping for the light switch as this game takes you through varying levels of anxiety, shock, confusion, illusion and of course…horror.
So turn off the lights, crank up the stereo, and lock yourself alone in a dark room for hours, because Silent Hill is back, and this time you’re going on a journey like none you’ve ever experience before.
Silent Hill: Downpour for the Xbox 360 get’s a 7.5 out of 10.0
A fantastic game at heart, but this won’t appeal to just anyone.
Stay tuned for my review of the Silent Hill HD Collection in the coming days as well, included in the review will be a massive look back at what started the Silent Hill games and how what seems as fiction, actually has to do with an actual down located in the United States!
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