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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