Silent Hill Downpour: True survival horror, not just empty promises

Ever since Silent Hill Downpour was released in the United States, it has received a mostly mixed reception. One might have been inclined to hold off on purchasing the game. Luckily, I didn’t.

I’ve been a Resident Evil and Silent Hill fan for as long as I can remember; I got into both series with their first titles. It was around 1999 when I took my first steps into the foggy town of Silent Hill. My first visit to the Spencer Mansion took place sometime in 1998.

After playing Downpour for an extended period, I sadly have to  admit that Resident Evil never went back to anything you could call survival horror and it doesn’t look like it will do so ever again. So let the light shine on a true, eerie, atmospherically deep survival horror game: Silent Hill Downpour. Let’s see if I can convince a few die-hard RE fans to check over to the Silent Hill department–which has been much more true to its origins than Resident Evil has.

Silent Hill Downpour delivers an unsettling feeling throughout the whole game by keeping you in fear and reminding you to watch every step. It achieves this mainly by implementing big aspects that helped define the survival horror genre back in the day: scarce ammo/weapons, minor light sources in diverse locations combined with excellent sound and visuals. Downpour attempts to perfect these key ingredients for a modern audience.

You’ll mainly find and use melee weapons – some can be strong and helpful in fights, but sometimes you may just end up armed only with a broken chair, or even just a stone to defend yourself. Running away sometimes is the only and best option to take. You can actually prevent yourself from engaging in combat, which gives you an even deeper uncomfortable feeling.

You often have to rely on a lighter in addition to your flashlight (or just the lighter in case you lost the flashlight) simply because some areas are darker than others. Using the lighter, you are forced to move slowly, only to encounter an enemy in darkness.

Sometimes the game puts you in intense situations where you just can’t figure out when the next encounter will happen. The game successfully gives you the feeling that you’re alone. When you switch off your walkie talkie, you’re more prone to shocks straight in the face. Silent Hill has always–moreso in the past–been a series that plays with your inner fears and imagination. Sounds you can’t define or are unable to even identify the location of have been an auditory highlight of the series. Downpour also offers these sound mysteries.

These types of scenarios can be tense to say the least, yet it is so comfortable that I almost fell asleep last night after turning on a radio and listening to one of the superbly thrown in tracks. I closed my eyes and was gone for a few minutes.

Akira Yamaoka is a master in his own right, but I must admit, when looking at the big picture, Licht did an extremely good job that possibly fits even better with this now western-developed game than Yamaoka could have done. Licht is able to catch the player with all kinds of weird sounds, thrown in effects and is a master of using only light sources of sound to create an immensely cutting edge feeling. Ambling slowly through buildings you may end up getting shocked by a door slamming shut that you had just opened…at least I did. Both artists did an amazing job with the series, both Yamaoka in the past and now Licht, in his own way but still great style.

Another major aspect I really, really was satisfied with are the diverse locations with their lovely details. Most of the areas are visually perfect, giving the town and buildings some life by using more standout colors. There’s just simply a bunch of horror love thrown into the atmosphere.

Let me tell you about my first steps into Silent Hill in Downpour. Luckily, I learned my lesson right at the beginning: do not miss out by not exploring each area. I missed the town map, happily and unknowingly hiked into town armed only with a mordent. 😉

“Uüüiiip”  – a patrol car turns around the corner, (to keep this spoiler free I’ll not go into details here), something happens and I run away still holding my mordent. It’s then that I realize I have no map! At this point it was already too late and I was totally lost in Silent Hill. On top of that (and that’s no joke), the first downpour I witnessed in the game was accompanied with a real one striking just outside my windows. “What a cool coincidence!”  I thought.

So yeah – pick up everything.  It’s fun and not a hassle at all.

Another thing that truly adds to the tense atmosphere are any kinds of notes as well as the sidequests. Specifically articles and paintings about Silent Hill from the past did it for me; certain horror stories. They add up so strongly and even all of the sidequests are remarkably cruel and disturbing. You’ll definitely want to find every single snippet and it’s often well worth it. Something that CJ commented on in his review is Murphy’s interaction with the environment, more so his thoughts and opinions on occurrences and odd obscurities. All these things combined create the great atmosphere found in the game, and we’re not even done yet!

Puzzles! Something very important to me in a survival horror game. I like decrypting stuff from files or notes!  Even though some are generic, the game offers a dozen or so really well thought-out puzzles that are fun to solve and more importantly, actually make sense.

Enemies – they don’t reach the level of cruel and disturbing design from past games, yet they still are able to scare the shit out of you.  Besides, the game has enough going for it to look over some of the weaker-looking monsters in my opinion. What it doesn’t do right in this department it irons out with other things.

I’m not going to end this without touching on some technical issues addressed in the US version. As you may or may not know, I am in a PAL region, and we got the game on March 29th. I completed the game one time so far while doing many side quests and I have not witnessed a single bug. I ran into enemy hordes and save points, trying to cause the aforementioned collision bugs or lagging, but none of it happened to my surprise. Not even the slightest slow down; I have it on PS3 and installed on the system. I believe many bugs in the US version have been ironed out in PAL.

According to our podcast co-host Whitney, question marks in “unfinished” areas won’t disappear when you complete them or the quest they’re related to.  They always disappeared for me when I cleared the area. Also, I was playing long sessions and had very few frame rate issues (actually there’s just one point in St. Maria’s where i noticed it clearly). I had no problem carrying only one weapon, also no problems with combat at all, I even enjoyed firing guns and they were really helpful on the rare occasions that I found one. There are some minor flaws, yes, but they don’t bother me in the slightest.

To get to a close regarding issues; the checkpoint system seems to working fine in the PAL version. It saves multiple times even when you go to checkpoints you’ve been to before.

I am a slow-paced gamer and have always had major issues with the Resident Evil series going the action route. At this point, I am wondering why I have not given up on the RE series entirely after watching its demise these past few years. Maybe I have just been a fan for too long and am not willing to accept and understand that Capcom doesn’t want go back to its roots?  Maybe they’re not like Vatra who, in my opinion, successfully did just that with this latest entry into the Silent Hill series.

Sadly, in the end, it won’t sell as much as a Resident Evil game, which doesn’t point to a bright future full of horror games. You, the fans, are able to help the continued production of classic survival horror games. Speak your mind with your wallet when they make their rare occurrences.

In conclusion, Silent Hill Downpour is undoubtedly a must-have for any Silent Hill fan.  Even some old school Resident Evil fans, looking for a true survival horror adventure, should give it a chance. It truly deserves it like no other recent game I’ve played.

This game convinced me, in a time when I almost forgot what defines survival horror, of why I became interested in the genre in the first place.

Thanks, Silent Hill Downpour, Vatra Games and Konami (even though you should’ve marketed it a lot more – but that’s your own miss, sadly).  I know this may sound like a love letter, but if it is then so be it.

Finally, get a Tool track for the next one instead of Korn.

               
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COMMENTS

  • liam

    not feeling silent hill downpour the male characters are all starting to look the same I think it’s time we had a new female character maybe heather has a daughter and we play as her.

    • TC

      I totally agree about the female character, the next game should really stars a young lady

  • Cruan

    True words. Konami screwed big time here again. No advertising leads to review sites marking it a shitty game.
    And it is NOT. Its a great game, those who are not into the genre might focus more on the technical issues which still do not outweigh the great atmosphere and the great story, one of the best in the series, actually.

  • Kris

    Nice i enjoyed playing this game. & the jonathan davis song. Being the koRn fan. That i am. Silent hill has been wonderful. & yea konami. Could’ve did a better a job. On promoting it. Least i have it. It’s a great challenge. For those puzzle mysteries. & what not.

  • Aglaophotis

    I agree with you man, SH DP is an amazing horror game. Also, I loved your Tool suggestion 😉

  • Ty

    Criminally underrated game.
    People who said it was actiony or combat centric are out of their minds.

    This game was a triumph for modern survival horror. It did two very important things.
    1, it put the horror back in” survival horror”, and arguably more importantly, it really put the survival into “survival horror”.

    A more open world feel without going all Fallout really helped this game.

    • the open world feel does not belong in survival horror. it ruined the game.

      • Guest

        i don’t see how did it ruined the game ppl was angry with Homecoming because it too straight forward they wanted it to be more open world like but when they DO release it ppl go all apeshit because it has open world i don’t understand these fans at all :/

        • I wouldn’t mind if the objectives were more clear. Explore a way out of Silent Hill? WTF. way too broad. The older games said find a way to the hospital etc.

          • Guest

            That i can’t really argue (and i agree) but the free roam thing didn’t really did anything wrong i actually quite like (but hey opinions are opinions you can’t change them peace ^ ^ )

    • Isaac

      It was hardly much more open than, say, the first Silent Hill was. I’m not really sure just why open world gameplay has no place in a survival horror game; a lot of Downpour’s scariest moments were from the side quests rather than from the main story, and I bet a lot of fans appreciated being able to explore Silent Hill itself in a little more depth than before.

  • The problem with recent Silent Hill games is that they are being made by people who’ve only got a decent grasp on Western horror concepts, which of course, completely kills the Silent Hill feel we were getting from the original trilogy.
    Couple that with cookie cutter characters, especially main characters that fail to meet their potential to be interesting (a soldier who’s, not actually a soldier. A prisoner with a “mysterious dark past”.) You’re better off playing the suffering.

  • SpeakerPatrick

    Just started it a few nights ago and I laughed when you wrote that you were stuck in SH without a map. That’s where I am now! So far, though, it has already exceeded my hopes and the previous installment. Minor glitches aside, it’s very immersive and so far a great SH experience.

  • Kaine

    I want to hug this game, it’s the most faithful to the core of Silent Hill since the Team Silent era games. I hope it’s selling well, I would love to have more games like this from Vatra.

  • craig

    the only difference between Korn and Tool is that Korn is still making music, Tool hasn’t done an album since 2006. Both really good bands but where’s Tool?

  • Tigerspaw16

    climax should be brought back in by konami for the next installment.

  • Silent Hill: Bashed by critics, only alright sales.

    Resident Evil: Almost always high reviews in the main series, high sales, more fans and evolving genres.

    I wonder which company is more happy about the direction they took hmmm

    I don’t mean to come across as rude but Resident Evil went the right direction with Resident Evil 4 while Silent Hill which has even tried doing what RE4 did and it has been failing for many years.

    Business is business and Capcom hit gold AGAIN with evolving the series. Besides Revelations was a great survival horror and Capcom are dishing us more of that with Leon’s scenario for RE6.

    Would I like a complete survival horror in my RE? hell yea sure but I don’t mind the action parts I even think RE6 will benefit from it’s multiple styles. Going into China with my squad as Chris Redfield to stop the mutating C-Virus beasts sounds mighty fine to me.

    • Mr.Awful@9

      Konami are a bit all over the place at the moment, the situation isn’t that simple. Maybe if they’d bothered to market the game?

    • Nemesis91286

      I agree with everything you said, I mean things are bound to change as the times go by and as technology advances it has to in order to still fresh.

      Even the creator of Resident Evil Shinji Mikami said that in order for the series to still alive it was to go into the action/survivor horror category and i don’t have a problem with it.

  • Matt S

    The true horror of Downpour is the bad lag!

  • Mr.Awful@9

    Honestly, the critic’s reaction to the game has left me baffled. It’s almost as if they’d played a different game. It’s marred by some technical issues, yes, and there are some flawed moments, though they are fleeting moments, overall I couldn’t be happier. For me Downpour was a real return to form that’s reinvigorated my love for the series.
    Downpour has the perfect format, should Vartra continue with the series. They should too.

  • Ahmad S. Al-Hamily

    If anyone still plays the original SH and don’t get bothered by the old PSone graphics. I don’t see Downpour’s glitches being a major issue. That’s me of course, others have different opinions.

    Despite its flaws this game is a jewel to me. I’m not speaking because I’m a fan. It’s really is survival horror and I hope Konami has little more faith in it since they pushed the whole “the answer to Resident Evil” promotion waaaay back in the day.

    Whether its Vatra, Climax, or a Japanese developer. Konami should get back to that motto and compete and I have a hunch that things in the past were about excelling and trying to out do your rivals.

    If that comes back …. If the business part takes a second seat. Passion will prevail and will see more gutsy game.

    Thanks for the piece

  • It is hardly even scary….Autosave and no real objective sometimes breaks the game. Just play Amnesia on PC.

  • Awww miss the old days like RE 2 on ps1 had the zombies crashing in thru windows at RPD!!! got me every time. But Silent Hill has always made me proud of being into horror gamer. I think now is a good time to say that Silent Hill and Fatal Frame series will always be the top horror games!!!! cant wait for Fatal Frame 2 remake oooooooohh yeeeaaah

  • Seta

    The PAL version seems to have less bugs than the US version, my first playthrough was almost free of them, too. Just the lagging while loading new areas, basically.
    My second playthrough wasn’t, however. The quests got a total mess. Half of the time the quests were not added to Murphy’s notebook. I could still do them, but they were not counted in the statistics. And when finishing them, the rewards didn’t work sometimes. For example some of the doors of the subway stayed shut even after I solved all three subway quests (even though I gave the map to the guy each time). Which is really a pain in the as – the absence of shortcuts makes the side quests really annoying. 🙁
    It is even more annoying if you don’t get the “Silent Hill Tour Guide” trophy the first time around. With these bugs, you probably can’t get it anymore after that…

  • awaiken

    The ending broke my heart. I loved this one. This completely makes up for the Shitty ones made by clueless western developers.

  • Lizzie

    I played the US version on my Xbox360 (never installed it, though), and the only spot in the entire game that I had frame-rate issues was a single hallway in St. Maria’s. The auto-save was bad about lying to me- saying it was saying when it didn’t- but that’s the only technical complaint I had with the game. That being said, I loved this game so much I wanted to immediately replay it after I finished it.

    I’ll probably be flamed by the Cult of Team Silent, but I’ve grown to massively appreciate Homecoming over Silent Hill 3. I loved Heather, and the atmosphere was fantastic, but the story itself is actually extremely unimpressive. It’s not that Homecoming is the greatest game ever, but it’s not the crapsack game the Cult claims it to be. Likewise, SH3 isn’t the perfect Bible of Survival Horror that the fanboys think it is either.

    Fun Fact: Team Silent isn’t even the same group of people on games 1-4. Not that you’ll ever here THAT mentioned.

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