A Welcome Return to Silent Hill
I've been a longtime fan of Silent Hill , since the good old days of the original PlayStation. No Silent Hill game is going to top the previous entries in this series, but the surprise with Silent Hill: Downpour is that out of the gate, the game doesn't suck. In fact, despite a few issues, which I will explore with more detail here, Downpour stands as the best this franchise has seen since 2004's Silent Hill 4: The Room (which in my opinion was the high point of this series).
You play as Murphy Pendleton, whom unlike previous protagonists in this series, is an escaped convict. We don't know many details surrounding Pendleton's incarceration, but that's half of the mystery of this game. As the game starts out, you go through a brutal killing to get the point across that Murphy ain't the nicest dude, that's for sure. Once that's over, your being transferred to another penitentiary, but guess what? Your bus driver is a moron and you crash into Silent Hill.
Before you make your way to Silent Hill, you first must go through "The Devil's Pit", which is a mine. I found this to be my least favorite part of the game, and it is easily the weakest. Upon finally entering the town, you'll notice that things have changed. Sure, there is still the eerie fog surrounding the town, but now it is much less and you have to deal with the rain. The more intense the rain storm, the more monsters are going to be coming your way. And that's where you will run into the biggest downfall of Downpour, the framerate. At times, the framerate in this game is just abysmal. It shocks me that the delay's this game received that they couldn't iron out some of the kinks in framerate, especially when this is running on the Unreal Engine 3. There was one point in the game I had to save and quit for awhile, just because the framerate was bothering me so much at times. However, I stuck through with it, and I enjoyed just about everything the game had to offer.
Silent Hill is much more open this time, with thirteen different side quests (fourteen after you beat through the game once) to divide your time. The side quests are the best part of this game, and offer some of the most legitimately creepy and scary moments I've had with a video game in quite some time. One in particular, the side mission that involves you winding back a gramophone to rewind time and burning some paintings, excellent. One of the highest moments of survival horror I've seen and felt in years. The side missions provide some very dark, demented, and twisted story telling that isn't offered with just the main story.
Once I completed all side missions and the game, it took me about twenty-hours through. Not too bad, considering the last game in this series, the awful Silent Hill: Homecoming, was about half the length, that's pretty damn good. There are five different endings, but the one I enjoyed the most was the positive ending. There is also an interesting challenge to finish the game without killing any monsters, and I think that is pretty cool.
I have to point out two things, one that impressed me, and one that didn't. Downpour makes excellent use of an over the shoulder camera look, making it a breeze to look behind you by pressing the left bumper at any time. This sort of brilliance is something I could hope would be brought over to a series like Resident Evil. However, Downpour also has a horrendous save system. The game only auto saves, and I miss the age old system of finding a type writer or whatever instrument would be used in a Silent Hill game.
The soundtrack offers up some of the most creepy ambiance I've felt in a game in some time. Keep in mind I played through quite a bit of this game at night, with the lights off, and headphones on, so that added to the effect. One final thing I would mention is that while combat isn't as great as I was hoping, it isn't as lousy as it was in the previous game. Oh, and there is no appearance by series regular baddie Pyramid Head, which is also disappointing.
Developer Vatra Games has pulled off an excellent survival horror game here, which is a big deal considering the Resident Evil series seems to be going in the complete opposite direction. We don't get enough good survival horror games, and we definitely don't get enough Silent Hill games. I for one, hope that we can wait less then four years for another trip to Silent Hill.