Silent Hill: Downpour’s biggest crime is that it overstays its welcome. What starts out as sinister and creepy eventually turns into predictability with its overuse of creepy kids’ laughter and toy balls bouncing past your feet at regular intervals. That’s not to say that what is there isn’t worth playing. Downpour is a very interesting game but it’s also nearly as flawed as it is compelling, making it immensely awkward to recommend above all others. It’s hard to admit but Downpour is the ideal budget purchase, rather than the full £40.
The tutorial introduces players to Murphy Pendleton, a man who’s a bit of a mess. Imprisoned in an extremely unpleasant prison, his first act within the game is to kill a man in a shower. The reason why? Because that man used to be his neighbour and, well, we’ll get into that later on. Pendleton is a blank canvas of a character. One that develops as the game progresses, depending on the choices the player makes and the numerous documents and photographs that can be collected. This sounds amazing and it very nearly is. The characterisation of Pendleton is reasonably strong for a good three quarters of the game. He’s an interesting damaged man, the kind of man that Alan Wake very nearly was, and the game encourages exploration.
More like Shattered Memories than Homecoming, Downpour allows the player the freedom to explore Silent Hill. This level of exploration might eventually pad the game out to the point of losing its edge, but at first it’s rewarding for the player who likes to wander. That’s the curious thing about a game so full of frights. At times, it meanders along like a gentle walk in the very, very grim looking park. At such a slovenly pace, it’s immediately not the ideal game for everyone. Nothing is completed fast. Items from side missions can be scattered from one side of the town to the other, taking hours to finish. Even wandering around the areas required for the storyline can drag out, losing any sense of fear.
Light is vital throughout Downpour. Both in terms of illuminating what’s actually going on (I still found myself having to bump the brightness on my TV up specifically for the game) and in terms of adding atmosphere. Rain is the most impressive environmental feature as it makes the enemies more aggressive and greater in number. Something that on higher difficulties, no one wants to face.
You see, combat is the weakest part of Downpour. It’s more of a nuisance than anything. Breaking up the storyline when all the player really wanted to do was explore a sinister building. It’s clunky combat, too. Something that admittedly the Silent Hill series has always been known for. There’s something bizarre in the fact that Pendleton can hold one melee weapon and one gun, but he can’t hide a gun in his pocket despite being able to carry many other items required to complete puzzles (such as a collection of pieces of art).
The puzzles are numerous and frequently more like those seen in adventure games than survival horror. In particular, the challenges faced in the side quests form some of the best moments within the game. There’s a focus on domestic problems such as the search for a missing child or a family massacred by the father of the household. Each of them are cold and harsh, yet compelling. Stories are linked together through the use of Pendleton’s journal and uncovering newspaper cuttings and photos, leaving the player to join the dots and discover the horrors within.
Other, lengthier side quests involve collecting works of art or trinkets. These don’t fare so well, feeling bloaty and unneeded for the passage of the game. Unlike so many other titles, Downpour could have done with being shorter and tighter.
Besides the many hours exploring the doomed town, there’s also the ever required addition of the Other World sections. These are as surreal as ever, but weaker than the rest of the game. All too frequently, they involve running from a red Void that is dangerous to the touch. They’re not hard to beat but they are just a bit annoying. I found myself wanting to get back to the story rather than run through these linear paths. Curiously, unlike the rest of the game, these Other World sections improve during the later hours, with more puzzles thrown the player’s way.
That’s about all that does improve the further the game progresses however. Offering more of the same means that Downpour gets dull and staid. The enemies that seemed reasonable at first, just become tedious. The realisation that they’re all variants of the same humanoid shape comes to light. The clunkiness of the combat jars more every time. There’s also the curse of excessively long loading times and a frame rate that seems to get poorer and more stuttery, the later into the game you get.
Then there’s the ending. Like other Silent Hill games, there are numerous endings. None are that great, breaking down the story to focus on something entirely different than you’d expect. There’s that suggestion that what could have been would have been amazing. What’s there, however, is weak and rushed.
Silent Hill: Downpour doesn’t reach the lofty heights of the original Silent Hill games, but nor does it grate like Homecoming did. It’s a fascinating game for the patient player, willing to deal with the sometimes glacial pace. By the end, its many flaws do annoy. There’ll be that sense of relief to be finished, and the disappointment that it really should have been better.
MLG Rating: 6/10 Platform: PS3/ Xbox 360 Release Date: 30/03/2012
Disclosure: Midlife Gamer were provided a physical copy of Silent Hill: Downpour by the promoter for review purposes. The title was reviewed over the course of one week on a PS3. For more information on what our scores mean, plus details of our reviews policy, click here.