|System: Xbox 360, PS3|
|Dev: Vatra Games|
|Pub: Konami Digital Entertainment|
|Release: March 13, 2012|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p||Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Sexual Themes, Strong Language|
by Sean Engemann
The Silent Hill series has gone through a slight regression through its several iterations. While none of the titles have been dubbed abysmal, the gradual shift from the psychological horror of the first game to more action-oriented gameplay of recent outings has left fans disappointed. After all, the eeriness is what separates it from the rival Resident Evil series, which focuses more on big shocks and zombie blasting. Silent Hill's most recent incarnation, Shattered Memories, was a successful reimagining of the original game, and Konami quickly realized that the series needed to return to its roots to rekindle the fire and bring back the fans.
Downpour returns us to the unsettling town of Silent Hill, with its expected share of mentally deranged residents. While there may be a casual mention or familiar sign that stirs up past memories of the gloomy borough, the action will take place in a remote southeastern region, never before presented in a Silent Hill game.
The game does, however, deliver us a good old "everyman" protagonist to guide through the omnipresent fog, a cultural staple of the series. But Murphy Pendleton is neither good nor old; he's a convicted criminal. The powers that be have decided to transfer him from his current crib at Ryall State Prison to Wayside Maximum Security Penitentiary. Enjoying a pleasant bus ride through a back road at night in the pouring rain (obviously), Murphy drifts off and is suddenly engulfed in a maddening nightmare. He snaps back to reality just before the bus swerves out of control and rolls down a forested hill. When our hero regains consciousness, he begins exploring his escape options, but it seems all ways out of the wilderness are blocked. He makes his way to the closest town, the one called Silent Hill.
Most of the gameplay involves exploring the dark and sinister crevices of the town, solving puzzles, and piecing together a story about Murphy's role, both past and present. The stability of Murphy's psyche (and that of the player as well) will be tested, as the real world and the twisted "Otherworld" are melded together. This is certainly not the first incorporation of the decaying alternate dimension, but the "Otherworld" plays much more prominently in Downpour, pulling our hero into its depths many times over. As the title suggests, rain and water will also factor in both the story and the gameplay.
The few fans who enjoyed the overbearing amount of combat from some past entries will be dismayed with the more adventure-focused design of Downpour. That's not to say that there won't be some gripping and tense combat scenes, but these take a backseat to exploration, puzzle solving, and storytelling, which will be about seventy percent of the game. But the combat will suit the locale, and feel more authentic to the player. Guns will be few and far between, and melee combat will take advantage of whatever makeshift weapons Murphy can scrounge up. Chairs, fire extinguishers, and crowbars are just a few examples, and, like Murphy, they're not invulnerable. Should your weapon break while trying to send an abomination back to the underworld, you'll have to scramble around to find another one, intensifying the sense of urgency.
Completing the game should take anywhere from eight to ten hours, and developers have admitted that going straight through the story is a linear affair. However, once you enter the hub of Silent Hill, you'll be granted a little leeway to explore different areas and complete side quests. In true Silent Hill fashion, these extra missions, along with the choices you make throughout the game, will shape the conclusion of the story, and thus entice repeated playthroughs to see how it varies. There will also be a bunch of developer extras to unlock, such as interviews, behind-the-scenes tidbits, and trailers.
The graphics in Downpour will be a far sight more realistic and eerily beautiful than Silent Hill Homecoming, which itself wasn't terrible (at least visually), but three years makes a huge difference in the gaming world. Probably the biggest new feature will be incorporating stereoscopic 3D. I don't usually praise this as a major feature of a game, but when it comes to a series with a history of creating nightmares, this could be something that drives the horror home, or into your home, more vividly.
Despite the overall critic scores, the musical compositions of previous Silent Hill games have always been praised for perfectly setting the mood, building to bone-chilling climactic events and purveying a general sense of unease. All the acclaim was directed at renowned video game composer Akira Yamaoka, who recently left Konami to join the ranks of Electronic Arts. Filling his big shoes was no small order, but the search yielded another superstar, Daniel Licht, whose Hollywood credits date back to 1991. Licht's best-known work is featured on the television drama series, Dexter, now preparing for its sixth season. Konami is thrilled with what Licht has brought to the series, which doesn't copy directly from Yamaoka but certainly follows the same style and professionalism.
Silent Hill has always been a bright star in the horror genre of video games, but a graph of overall reception scores would certainly indicate a downward slope from its first entry in 1999 to now. When compared to the action/adventure ratio of each subsequent game, a clear intimation of this decline becomes apparent. Though never labeled as a reboot of the series, Silent Hill: Downpour is poised to deliver all the elements, from story to gameplay, that have captured fans in the beginning. This new trek through the fog and torrential rain will begin on October 25th, so get in all your happy dreams now, because they'll be a distant memory when you start playing this one.
CCC Contributing Writer