Game Review: Silent Hill Downpour (Xbox 360)
I’ve sort of developed a love/hate relationship with Silent Hill: Downpour, the eighth game of the survival horror series. The main thing I like about this game compared to my other favorite horror survival game, Resident Evil, is that the developers of Silent Hill remembered to include challenging, though sometime confusing, puzzles. The hate part of this game is the frustrating controls and (mostly) whacked out story line. No matter how hard I try to pay attention to any Silent Hill story, it ends up being a head-scratcher. Though, this time the storyline is a bit simpler, it’s hard to follow at times because of how it’s told. I have no problem with lengthy cut scenes, but having to read all the notes you find can be time-consuming. However, reading will enhance the overall story experience if notes and journal entries something you don’t mind sifting through.
The non-spoiler story summed up in a few lines goes like this. Prisoner in a prison bus crash ends up in outside Silent Hill trying to get to Silent Hill then ends up in Silent Hill only to try to escape Silent Hill. Monsters are ever-present, but not so much that it takes away too much from exploration, but God damn they are annoying to fight. The corrections officer in charge of the transport makes her appearances, but it takes a while to figure out what she is actually eluding to when she tells her part of the story. To make a long story short their stories are intertwined and it plays out through cut scenes and a lot of notes you find along the way. Sometimes reading those seems pointless, but taking the time to do so will further explain Murphy’s tumultuous relationship with Anne the corrections officer. You interaction with her at the end determines one of several possible endings.
I haven’t played any of the Silent Hill games since Silent Hill III back in 2003 and I can’t recall the particulars of that game. Downpour got fairly decent ratings so I thought I would give the series another try. As mentioned before, I find the puzzle solving aspect of this game to be the best part though sometimes they can be very confusing and only solvable though trial and error. And some just do not make much sense. For Example, there is one part where you need to find a bulb for the movie theater projector. It ends up being in another building nearby. I don’t find that to be entirely realistic as any bulb replacement in real life would be “in” the movie theater. I know a video game is a figment of someone’s twisted imagination, but seriously let’s keep things somewhat plausible. The game forces you to wander aimlessly about the foggy abandoned city.
My other main grouse with the game is that despite being fairly linear, it takes a long time to wander the streets to find where to go. Even if you use the “run” button, Murphy doesn’t run fast enough. Trolling the streets can be a bit of a drag. During the load out screen, there is advice on game tactics. One of them says to use the subway to get around the city faster. I find the subway and run through the fog and presto I am on the other side of the city – yay timesaver! The only problem is that I need a key (of course) which I don’t have. Upon conclusion of the game, I never found the keys to use the subway. Another bit of advice says that instead of fighting monsters, avoid them by running. Well that’s great advice, but you end up missing stuff if you don’t take the time to snoop around and find silly things like harpoons to pull down fire escape ladders. Also, while you are in the equipment screen trying to utilize a tool or a weapon, you can still get your ass handed to you. The game doesn’t pause so you can use a med kit, pull out a key, or switch from the pistol to the golden pistol. The monsters keep coming.
The game’s map is pretty good at letting you know where you can’t go and in many cases where there is an important building or mission. If developers made the map more interactive it would be a huge boost. For example, there is one puzzle where you have to assemble some paintings that you have discovered along the way. The only problem is that by the time you find the room to assemble them in, you do not have all the paintings which means if you want to complete the puzzle you will have to come back to it later. Honestly, I couldn’t tell you where that was by the time I found more paintings later in the game. If I had the ability to mark or write on my map it would make life easier…because in real-life that’s what I would do. The game puts question marks on buildings as a reminder, but by the end of the game I have about six buildings with marks. Needless to say, I am not going back trolling through all those buildings when I find the rest of the paintings. I need a map with the ability to modify it. I just need a sharpie. That’s all.
Importantly, the developers did a decent job with the creep-factor. Some of the cut scenes seems like they were taken out of the script for The Ring…which is a hella creepy movie. There were some good jumps and startles and that’s one fun part of survival horror games. Overall, Silent Hill: Downpour could use some tweaks to its combat and perhaps not make Silent Hill so big that you forget where you’ve been and where you need to go especially since you have to do it on foot. The puzzles should be fairly contained to the area in question. As the game is now, it forces the player to troll the entire map because you never know what you might find sooner for use later. Not that I am lazy, but that projector bulb should have been in the theater. It only makes sense.
Other than the quirkiness of many survival horror games, it was fun enough to play through and see which ending I got. Luckily, the game saves at a particular spot that I could get at least two endings, but the other endings depend on how you play the game…to kill or not kill the monsters. The puzzles saved the game. Though they could be confusing at times, this is what makes survival horror games so fun.