The Silent Hill series has seen its ups and downs. After part 4, each new title has come from a different developer, some meeting with better critical reception than others. And yet fans clearly long to return to the doomed town of Silent Hill. The latest opportunity to do so - Silent Hill: Downpour - comes from Czech developer Vatra Games. While it may not reach the lofty highs of Silent Hill 2, Downpour is still a creepy game with an engaging story.
Each Silent Hill game focuses on a single protagonist who has been drawn to the eponymous town for mysterious reasons. Downpour tells the tale of Murphy Pendleton, a man whose last few years have been extremely difficult. He is a prisoner being transferred to a different prison when his bus crashes and ends up on the border of Silent Hill. After crossing over to that strange place out of time and space, Murphy will encounter a few of his fellow prisoners and a female prison guard who inexplicably hates him, and of course a handful of the town’s bizarre human residents/survivors.
Downpour’s story is its greatest strength. What kind of person is Murphy? The first playable moment is a flashback that forces you to brutally stab a defenseless fat man while he begs for mercy. The context for that bold and disturbing action, as well as Murphy’s reason for going to prison in the first place, slowly becomes apparent as the story plays out. Whether he truly deserves to be imprisoned or worse is up to you. Like other Silent Hill games, Downpour has a karma system (here based on how you treat others and whether or not you execute fallen monsters). Your decisions affect not only affect which of five endings you get, but even some of what happened before the story started.
Silent Hill games are also known for their creepy atmosphere and disturbingly unique monster designs. Downpour gets the atmosphere just right, thanks in large part to the town’s ruined state, ever-present fog, and beautiful rainstorms. The sound design is excellent as well, thanks to new composer Daniel Licht and a handful of well-chosen lyrical songs that emanate from in-game radios. On the downside, Downpour suffers from fairly frequent frame rate stutters (even after installing to the hard drive) that hamper immersion and sometimes caused me to lose my direction. The stuttering doesn’t ruin the game but really should have been fixed before release. Update: Konami has announced that an upcoming patch will fix the framerate problem.
While the general atmosphere feels authentic, Downpour’s monster designs are another story. The beasts terrorizing Murphy and company are disturbingly generic compared to past games, and they lack variety to boot. The most common enemy, the screamer, looks and acts much like Left for Dead’s witches, only less threatening. A couple of enemies later in the game make more of an impression, and the last boss is fairly startling, but I sorely missed the nurses, Pyramid Head, or any other established foe. Honestly, Vatra should have deferred to Konami for creature designs.
Those shortcomings aside, Downpour positively differentiates itself with a focus on exploration and a fairly robust sidequest system. Murphy can enter many of the town’s run-down buildings, often finding artifacts that lead to optional sidequests. Completing them reveals short and often sad stories about the town’s inhabitants. You’ll also encounter a variety of unique locations off the beaten path, including the room from Silent Hill 4.
Completing every quest during my first Silent Hill: Downpour playthrough took 14 hours. It will take at least three playthroughs to see every ending and get all of the Achievements/Trophies, so there’s a lot to keep players busy. The well-crafted narrative, excellent location design (complete with high resolution textures and fantastic water effects), and distinctive sound all make this a worthy (if not truly exceptional) return to the town of Silent Hill.
Editor's Note: The Co-Optimus Review of Silent Hill: Downpour was based on the Xbox 360 version of the game.