Silent Hill is a series that gaming fans look on fondly. It’s often spoken of in the same conversations as things like the Resident Evil series, and it’s easy to see why people might compare the two. But whilst Resident Evil has continued to produce great games, moving from strength to strength (most of the time anyway), Silent Hill has struggled to recapture the glory days of their first few games. Yes, Silent Hill 2 might be a superb game, but the offerings since then have very much divided players. Silent Hill: Downpour, the eighth game in the franchise, is a prime example of this.
Developed by Czech based publisher Vatra Games, Silent Hill: Downpour was announced two years before its release with relatively few details, although promised that it would offer something different for players. Whilst fans would argue about how good the game actually was upon release, Vatra seem to have been true to their word, and gave players something that at least felt pretty different.
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The game puts you in control of Murphy Pendleton (David Boyd Konrad), a convicted criminal. This immediately gave players something different, as previous instalments of the series would put players in the role of ‘ordinary’ people who have a hidden dark past that comes out in Silent Hill; but here we have a character that will instantly have players questioning the type of person he is, and if they’re even comfortable playing such a character. The game doubled down on this by having its very first moments being a combat tutorial in which Murphy stabs and kills another inmate in the showers.
From here the game sees Murphy being transferred to another prison, but along the way the bus crashes into a ravine. Murphy awakens and is able to make his escape into the surrounding forest. After travelling through an old mine he finds himself in the deserted town of Silent Hill, a place filled with monsters out to harm him. On the run from the corrections officer pursuing him, and contending with the strange denizens of Silent Hill, Murphy must find a way to survive.
Another of the ways in which Silent Hill: Downpour stood out from the previous games is that after a pretty brief linear segment, where Murphy makes his way into the town, the game opens up quite a bit. It’s not a true open world by any means, but players were suddenly able to explore Silent Hill in ways they weren’t before. The player could walk around the town, taking on side missions that ranged from simple collection quests, to investigating a murder scene. You were also able to interact with the environment, pulling down fire escapes and breaking doors in order to open up new areas or alternate routes.
As the title suggests, rain plays a large part in the game, and instead of going for the series’ signature fog, Silent Hill: Downpour used rainfall to alter the game-play. When the rain rolls in players will have to be more careful, as it not only makes it harder to see, but it also increases the number of monsters in the area, as well as making them more aggressive to you. Whilst only slightly different from the series staple of fog in what it does, the change did at least set this game apart as being visually different from predecessors.
Another big change is the combat, which plays a heavier role than in previous games. Murphy gets to arm himself with whatever he can find in the abandoned town, with makeshift weapons ranging from hammers, bottles, broken chairs, and even simple rocks. These weapons would quickly degrade, breaking after several uses, prompting the player to constantly be on the lookout for more things to add to their arsenal. Unfortunately, the combat isn’t quite perfect, and you’d often find yourself taking a swing at a monster only to miss hitting it. This, along with the monsters being more aggressive and more numerous when it rains, leads players having to consider if combat is the best approach, or if they should run instead.
Silent Hill: Downpour also tried to offer players a more branching narrative, allowing your choices to affect what kind of person Murphy is. There would be a few times throughout the game where you’d be given the choice of saving someone or not, and this would help towards one of several endings for the game. You’d also be left to collect things across the game that gave you more of Murphy’s backstory, leaving it down to player exploration to determine how fleshed out he ended up being.
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When it was released, Silent Hill: Downpour received mixed reviews. Some outlets liked some of the new elements that Vatra Games brought to the project, praising the design choices and its creativity. However, the sluggish combat mechanics and lacklustre puzzles left some people feeling that the game wasn’t as polished as it could have been.
With the Silent Hill franchise remaining a series of mixed parts, of games that vary wildly in style and quality, and with relatively small commercial success for later releases, it’s entirely possible that you missed Silent Hill: Downpour upon first release a decade ago. And whilst I’d definitely advise picking it up and playing if you’re able, just to see what you think of it, the price of even a pre-owned version can be ridiculously high; as such, if you do happen across a copy for cheap, grab it whilst you can, because you may just grab yourself an absolute bargain.
Silent Hill: Downpour was released in the UK on 23rd March 2012.