It seems that every Silent Hill fan has their own paradigm of what Silent Hill should be – and if the latest game doesn’t line up with their preferences, it’s regarded as betrayal. Silent Hill: Downpour is about as different from the established norm as you can get, and from the range of sores it’s been getting, it clearly didn’t suit every fan’s taste.
Players take on the role of Murphy Pendleton, a convict in transit who ends up stranded in Silent Hill after the bus carrying him crashes in the nearby woods. To make the most of his premature parole, he has to find a way out of town, which is easier said than done, since the place is completely cut off by huge chasms and creepy monsters are skulking about. The few civilised people he meets seem to be completely out of their minds and he’s not entirely sure about his own sanity.
The setup is classic Silent Hill, but the differences start to creep in pretty quickly after that. For starters, the game is rather open and unexplained. Once you get into the town proper, you can go pretty much anywhere and it’s hard to figure out what you’re supposed to be doing or whether you’re doing a side quest (there are optional side quests in this one) or something critical to the plot. This may have been intentional, to make players feel lost and confused, but it does lead to long stretches of nothing much happening as you wander around, trying to find something to do.
The enemies are different too. They’re generally a lot more human-looking and not as grotesque or bizarre as we’ve come to expect. They can be a bitch to fight too, and not because the combat system is bad (it actually makes sense this time, being able to block and all), but because the melee weapons break after a while – entirely too quickly, if you ask me. And why, oh why, does an iron crowbar break at all? How strong is Murphy exactly? And what are the monsters made of? Damn! The periodic trips to the “other world”, a Silent Hill trademark, are also quite different. They’re not as disgusting and disturbing as before – you can see they’re trying to be – but it comes across more hallucinogenic, like something out of Alice in Wonderland, and on an artistic level, I kind of like it.
Among the bad points are that it’s hard to tell how badly injured Murphy is and when to use a health kit. He walks and runs entirely too damn slowly for the amount of exploring we have to do, and the game experiences micro loading pauses constantly at bizarre times (on the PS3 version, at least). The journal and map features are also fiddly as hell.
But as a whole, though, I kind of enjoyed Silent Hill: Downpour. It’s got some interesting new ideas to offer. They didn’t all work that well, but it’s nice to see a developer trying to deliver something fresh.