August 27, 2011

Hands On with Silent Hill Downpour

Silent Hill Downpour Hands On
An over-turned prison bus gives Murphy Pendleton cause and opportunity to attempt a run through Silent Hill, and I was recently given some time with Konami to poke around the dilapidated buildings immediately awaiting him after the chance prison break.

Murphy’s arrival in the town where I’d like to build my dream house seems accidental, but then no one really ends up in Silent Hill by accident, do they?

Silent Hill Downpour
While my short time with the game doesn’t lend much authority toward critiquing the final product, I can’t shake the impression that Vatra Games’ attempt at expanding the series is going to prove a hard-case despite a sincere effort to make all the right decisions.

On the one hand, I didn’t find myself fighting with the environment, which was refreshing, and also littered with items Murphy can pick up and use as weapons, or simply throw in any direction – knives, crowbars, and a shovel came in handy when Murphy was suddenly jumped by demonic witches that required fiddling with an analog stick to shake them loose and resist their deafening siren screams.

Facing off against such adversaries, I appreciated the straightforward controls that allowed me to smack a shovel in their direction and easily block frantic attacks – my shovel broke after a few clashes and left me searching hurriedly for more weapons, which are not always easy to spot even with a sporadic glint to show the player where they are.

Silent Hill Downpour
And while weapons with short life spans will be familiar enough to fans of the series, Downpour also has some peculiar design choices that stick out.

In order to open a door for instance, one presses a button to put their hand on the knob, and then curiously uses the analog stick to push it open. To break a lock on a door, one can use a crowbar – one smack will do the job in many cases, though it was hard to know it given the fact that the lock gave no reaction to indicate that the door could now be opened. I smacked on one several times expecting the lock to break away and signify success, only to put my hand against the knob in frustration and push to find that the door could now be opened.

There’s even a button that allows the player to gain an over the shoulder view of Murphy, which comes in handy when he’s being pursued by any number of twisted evils Silent Hill has left to throw at the player. Or I at least imagine it is handy – I mean you know you’re being chased already in the one situation during which I was prompted to use it.

I was being chased by a dark void – not unlike an evil and mobile blackhole – and ran down a hallway only to find the end of it moving further away each time, which continued for three loops before letting me reach the end. Along the way I could knock over obstacles to slow the force down – how exactly pillars slow down ethereal forces escapes me.

Silent Hill Downpour
I walked away feeling like this was an appeasement title, perhaps not quite the Neville Chamberlain of Silent Hill games, no one would ever promise peace to all Silent Hill fans with a single title, but still a game aiming to please the greatest number of fans by answering many of the complaints levied against past entries – a direct attempt to marry the functional combat that derailed in Homecoming with mental trips from Shattered Memories if you will.

And there’s some troubling about that, even if it produces a functional game that does the job adequately. There’s something about the high-points of Silent Hill being less about giving us what we want, and more about challenging us with ideas we never considered prior to entering into a franchise that has, on at least three occasions, offered an experience that justifies the entire medium containing it.

There’s not enough reason here to believe that Downpour won’t be enjoyable, but certainly space to lament occasions where the series steps back from leading the horror genre to catch up on elements that lose site of the unsettling and polarizing power the franchise occasionally unleashes. The game could still surprise me when it releases on October 25th, but it’ll have to come from the narrative department, because it’s clear the game design is more about a standard approach that builds a patchwork quilt from previous conventions rather than turning my expectations upside-down.


  1. I loved Shattered Dimension on Wii. This anything like that at all besides the “we’ve got combat again!” mistake?

    Comment by EdEN — August 29, 2011 @ 5:54 pm

  2. Shattered Memories? That game fed on such a build up of investment from the player that I wouldn’t want to try and judge another release from the bit of time I got. Preview time with horror or suspense games is always a pain that way – I loved Alan Wake, but only after I had time to fall down the rabbit hole. 20 minutes or so would never have convinced me that I’d like it as much as I did.

    Comment by Jamie Love — August 31, 2011 @ 1:46 am

  3. Vatra Games? What the what? Also… is it weird that this “prison bus break” scenario is almost exactly the same as the one from Resident Evil Zero? Hrmmm…

    Comment by Ujn Hunter — September 2, 2011 @ 3:23 pm

  4. Vatra + Konami = Silent Hill 8.

    Comment by Jamie Love — September 2, 2011 @ 5:59 pm

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