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Silent Hill: Downpour Review
developer: Vatra Games
|ESRB rating: M
release date: Mar 13, 12 (released)
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Silent Hill has a turbulent and long history. To this day, it remains one of the most revered survival horror franchises in an industry that otherwise lacks decent horror games. From a personal standpoint, I never had much luck with the series. It seems every time I got a hold of a Silent Hill game, I would be taken by it, and then, a sudden gush of technical issues hits me like a bloody avalanche. Maybe it's because I always used to play half-baked PC ports, but from what I hear, the original versions (released predominantly on PlayStation and PlayStation 2 consoles) were also crammed with numerous bugs. My previous encounter with Silent Hill was Konami's Silent Hill Homecoming. In all honesty, I could never bring myself to complete that game; mostly due to issues of a technical nature - similar to those that have always plagued the series. Of course, the lousy combat was always a problem. And yet, somehow I felt Komani and relatively unknown Czech developer Vatra Games would nail it this time around.
Silent Hill Downpour marks the eighth installment in the long-running horror series. You assume control of one Murphy Pendleton, a prisoner who, rather unsurprisingly, gets stuck in a little creepy town called Silent Hill, after a prison transport bus crashes. To avoid any potential confusion here, Downpour doesn't relate to the plot of any of the previous games in the SH series. In addition, players will traverse the southeastern area of Silent Hill, which, reportedly, hasn't been explored. So there. Everything else is, well, just good old-fashioned horror.
Leave me alone. I'm depressed right now.
Relax, I just took the truck for a spin.
The game starts off with quite a kick. After the prison bus crashes (very reminiscent of Andrew Davis' movie 'The Fugitive'), you are enveloped in a familiar Silent Hill-esque ambiance - foggy and creepy areas, eerie silence broken only by occasional and mysterious screeches and the inevitable sound of static radio frequency. There's a moment of sheer joy to be had here for fans of the traditional Silent Hill experience. The creepiness and unique charm of the series is present and is one of the main reasons why I wanted to play on.
The most exciting aspect of the experience is the build up which often leads to some awesome and truly creepy moments that are perfect for a horror-themed adventure. The action doesn't take precedence over exploration and puzzle-solving, which are the traditional ingredients of the famous video game franchise. The game encourages the player to survey the surroundings as much as possible. The more you explore, the more you get hurled into adventure segments, leading to a range of side-quests, puzzles and additional challenges (more enemies to fight etc.). Apart from combining items that are needed to solve problems, you are also able to pick up a lot of different objects and use them as melee or ranged weapons. This is a good and realistic element. Each weapon deteriorates when you use it and you can easily end up fighting monsters barehanded, which puts you in a risky position, because you won't be able to block enemy attacks with your fists and hands. In other words, when there's no melee weapon around, the best thing you can do is run like hell. However, Murphy can scout the area and eventually come across more powerful weapons such as handguns and shotguns. You won't be able to rely on these for long though, since ammo is in short supply.
So far, everything sounds great, doesn't it? A true survival-horror game, worthy of the series, right? Well, not exactly. Even with the cool horror-style atmosphere and a feel that's generally reminiscent of earlier Silent Hill games, there's a lot to be said about the game's technical mishaps. One of the first things you may notice is the unintuitive combat system, which involves a lot of misses and repeated hits from enemies. You'll often damage enemies inadvertently or not damage them at all. Sometimes Murphy would swing a pickaxe at a creature and, for some odd reason, the foe wouldn't take any damage, even though the attack was clearly on target. Blocking is perhaps easier to pull off than a well-placed melee attack, albeit the whole mechanics of fighting just makes the player feel very frustrated.
Another major problem is the game's inexcusable lack of overall polish, allowing for occurrences such as screen tearing, frame-rate issues, unexpected freezes and, finally, crashes. The game crashed several times on the Xbox 360, up to the point of becoming unplayable. These issues need to be resolved with a patch as soon as possible (from what we hear, the PS3 users are experiencing similar and, in some cases, greater issues). Lousy programming and lackluster play-testing is an embarrassment for Konami.
Great horror-flavored atmosphere that invokes the true spirit of the Silent Hill series, top-notch voice acting, solid visuals, a lot of exploration and plenty of challenges could keep you occupied for days;
Combat feels awkward and clumsy, game freezes and even crashes sometimes, it's not clear how the player is supposed to go about solving some of the puzzles.