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Silent Hill: Downpour
Score: 90%
ESRB: Mature
Publisher: Konami
Developer: Vatra Games
Media: Blu-ray/1
Players: 1
Genre: Survival Horror

Graphics & Sound:
Silent Hill: Downpour is once again a grotesquely beautiful journey to the world of Silent Hill. Dilapidated buildings are boarded over, trash is strewn here and there. Everything is dirty, grimy, abandoned, and yet there are still a few townspeople that seem oblivious. It's all part of the atmosphere. It's all executed very well, and the dirt, grime, and ruined environment is wonderfully convincing. There even seem to be few major background elements that repeat, or at least things are mixed up to a degree where everything seems different. There are lots of creative environments, such as a room full of eerie, floating scraps of paper.

There are some framerate issues just like there are in the Xbox 360 version of this game, but they don't seem as bad. Basically the game will skip a whole bunch of frames, then catch up. It can break up the action pretty badly. There are also some freezing issues that seem to plague certain spots. It's pretty bad, especially in a game that doesn't allow for quicksaves.

The sound is excellent, as always. The moody music, the creaks and groans of machinery, static from radios, the awful sounds of grunting, grumbling monsters: it all works together to create that atmosphere of terror and anxiety. The voice acting is also excellent, with all the disturbed citizens of Silent Hill sounding just a little off their rocker, even when they are acting "normal." The main character, Murphy, is also excellent in his role, navigating this insane world he's found himself in. Sometimes he gets aggravated with the townspeople, and sometimes he just resigns himself to the fact that they're all insane. It takes a good actor to pull off that kind of back-and-forth tug. There are also lots of sounds thrown in just to make you jumpy. It seems a little un-Silent Hill-like to just throw in door slams and various crashes just to make you jump, but that's something you'll have to get used to.

There's a lot of big name talent, and a lot of classics providing some songs for the game. Andy William's "Born Free" is one of the first songs you'll hear in the game, being played on an old-fashioned record player. You can count on Silent Hill to ensure you'll never hear this song again and not be creeped out completely. A rendition of "Nobody Knows the Trouble I've Seen" by Louis Armstrong also haunts you later on. Of course, you're probably familiar with the theme song provided by Korn, which plays during the opening cinematic. The talented Mary Elizabeth McGlynn also provides some haunting and lovely vocals for some tracks in the game. There seem to be a couple other famous voices lending their talents to the soundtrack, but unfortunately, my pop artist knowledge is not quite good enough to pin them all down. It all works together really well, especially when a mysterious DJ starts dedicating these songs to you over random radios you come across in the town. When you're not being serenaded over the radio, the background music is excellent, haunting, and guaranteed to get under your skin in just the right way.

Silent Hill: Downpour will be familiar territory to anyone who's played through even a couple of the previous games. Murphy Pendleton is a convict who escapes through a twist of fate (probably shouldn't call it luck). His bus crashes near Silent Hill, and Murphy starts exploring. He soon finds himself in Silent Hill, trapped in with horrifying monsters and equally disturbing townspeople. To make matters worse, sometimes the world shifts to the Otherworld. The walls melt away, blood and sinewy tissue cover the walls, and even more terrifying creatures show up. To describe it as just ugly looking doesn't do it justice. This is basically Murphy's personal hell, a place that disturbs you on a very deep level. Everything's just a little "off," even when you're in a normal environment like a house with no monsters. It all lends to that eerie feeling that all of this might not be real, and you might be in a place worse than any hell you can imagine.

The game seems to have broken away from the idea of the monsters being a projection of the character's inner demons. These monsters don't really seem to have anything to do with the story, or Murphy's past. They just seem to be random, horror movie type monsters. They're still all really disturbing, but for the most part, they seem to lack that awful, twisted creativity of the earlier games. Also, it seems that rain would play a major role in this game, as it's titled "Downpour," but it doesn't really change the game all that much. Monsters become more aggressive in the rain, and Murphy must seek shelter or prepare for a big fight.

Murphy's main goal is to get out of Silent Hill, understandably. As the game goes on, you get flashbacks of Murphy's past, and haunting reminders of advice from someone who seems to be his father ring through his head. You get the idea of where this is going if you've played through the previous games, but it's still a very effective, very disturbing way to tell the story. Murphy's reaction to everything is particularly realistic, even for Silent Hill. One of my favorite parts of the story is when he basically breaks down, saying he knows he did something wrong, he knows he's being punished, but what the hell is he supposed to do? The scene is pretty brilliant, breaking Murphy out of the shell of just being a character in a game, to being a real person. I could completely identify with his feelings at that point.

Murphy has to collect various items like keys and paintings and such and work his way through the twisted town in order to find a way out. Weapons are often whatever is sitting nearby, like a chair or a pipe. And yay, weapons break, so you'll be swapping out for fresh weapons often. You'll be searching for a prized, durable crowbar or rebar piece if you can, but often you'll just have to quickly grab a chair or a lamp. Puzzles make a return, with lots of scraps of paper to arrange, things like windows you need to fog up, and creepy slide reels you'll need to watch in order to get the solution.

Silent Hill: Downpour does not have an adjustable difficulty level, so you're stuck with what you've got. You've got a lot of things going for you if you do have trouble. For example, some weapons come from an "endless weapon" font. You might find a toolbox full of wrenches, that basically keeps giving you wrenches for as long as you need them. If you are good at running, you can pretty much always get where you need to go, and get the items you need to progress. When you resume after being killed, you get restored to the last checkpoint with full health. So it's not as if you'll keep fighting the same hopeless battle with the same hopeless inventory, at least not too much.

You'll soon discover Silent Hill is not the type of game that expects you to defeat every enemy. In fact, this is a bad idea, especially when you're facing more than one enemy. The fighting engine is almost designed just to let you get hit in these situations. You're not getting out without a scratch, and as the random tips in the game tell you, it's often better to run. Once you get this idea, the game can become easier, since you're not trying to valiantly fight your way through hordes of enemies that have the advantage over you.

There also seems to be a balancing system, like we've seen in past Silent Hill games. For example, if you're low on health and don't have any First-Aid Kits, you might not encounter monsters in certain rooms. So the game doesn't seem to make itself unbeatable, it just strings you along with barely what you need to survive.

Game Mechanics:
The series is notorious for impossible, clunky fighting mechanics, but Silent Hill: Downpour does a good job of breaking away from that history. It's still not perfect, but you could argue that's the intent. Swinging a weapon feels relatively responsive, and the character moves around pretty well. Still, there's no lock-on system for targeting enemies, and blocking seems a bit unpredictable (you have to be facing the right way for it to work). It can get pretty aggravating, pretty fast. Weapons break, and they break often. Yep, this does a great job of building up the hopeless, stressful atmosphere of the game, but sometimes it's still just damn annoying.

The controls can feel a bit unnatural at times. The run button feels like it's in the wrong place, often resulting in a thrown weapon when you meant to run. It would have been nice to be able to move the buttons around, but you've got to learn the scheme you're given. A lack of any save system other than autosave is also a bit annoying. Sometimes you just need to drop the game for the night, but if you haven't hit a save point recently, you'll have to redo some of your progress. It's pretty difficult to predict where your next save point will be, so it's hard to plan this out.

Silent Hill: Downpour is still creepy, still Silent Hill. The combat is never going to let you have the upper hand, and Silent Hill will always make you play by its rules (one character brilliantly says this during the game), it seems. This game doesn't make some of the mistakes of previous games like getting you into situations where you're stuck because you saved in the wrong spot. The games seem to be going in a different direction than their origin, and this might immediately turn off some fans. For me, though, this is a great Silent Hill game, with a good story, great acting, and extremely creepy atmosphere.

-Fights with Fire, GameVortex Communications
AKA Christin Deville

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