A glimpse of hope for Silent Hill

User Rating: 8 | Silent Hill: Downpour X360
Since the introduction of the current era of consoles, the market of games has seen its focus shift towards what sells. The main focus being on games which can accumulate the type of success that would have gamers want more in a form of a sequel. Unfortunately, this has occluded games which require greater level of tenacity and patience to conquer and as a result certain genres have been brushed under the carpet. None more evident than the survival horror genre. Silent Hill being amongst the pioneers of the genre has in recent years seen itself being a victim of horrendous sequels which have made fans of the series cry in agony. What happened to those great silent hill games? The screeching of the radio, the terrifying evil lurking through the fogs in the mysterious town of silent hill, the psychological drainage of the protagonists who so desperately, through the eyes of the player searched for an exit from their own mistakes, regrets and fears.
Silent Hill: Downpour (I choose my words carefully)...(big sigh)...is a return to form for the series. No is nowhere as good as the first three titles but nowhere as bad as Homecoming. The player takes control of Murphy Pendleton who for unknown reasons has been imprisoned, upon being transferred to another unit he falls victim to a crash and the player is introduced once again to the mysterious town that is silent hill. The town itself successfully manages to capture the aura of mystery surrounding the town, an element which had been missing in homecoming. Along the adventure Murphy comes upon random encounters which pay homage to the hay day of the series and the characters are equally mysterious thanks to the great voice over's which help create a more believable world.
The game has been criticised in terms of the combat however, fans of the survival horror genre would appreciate what is at display. Murphy is no commando; survival horror has been based around helplessness which is converted into fear. However, the one complaint would be the block mechanism once blocking Murphy does not move and upon multiple encounters, the best option would be to run. Weapons wielded can only last a few hits before they break adding to the immersion and allowing the player to be more thoughtful about encounters. On rare occasions firearms can be found with scarce ammunition placing more obvious emphasis on secondary weapons.
The total feel of the game is survival horror and Vatra Games know what works, in terms of the combat and atmosphere at least. Unfortunately the same cannot be said for the monster designs, which can feel uncomplimentary with the overall atmosphere and depreciative of the iconic monsters in the previous titles. Every now and then puzzles will need to be deciphered to continue, without any spoilers a few had me scratching my head as no guidance is provided further emphasizing exploration. In downpour exploration can lead on to side missions which help the player familiarise themselves with the events which has led to the current state of silent hill.
The series has been distinct in creating distinguishable differences between the real world and the hellish world where the protagonist's most oppressed thoughts are manipulated. In downpour such an alternate dimension makes a return known as the 'Otherworld', which is in a form of a fog chasing Murphy requiring the player to make quick decisions in their path to safety. These events are a welcome feature to the series however it would have been ideal to have had spent some time in this alternate world, but nonetheless it makes for a suspenseful addition. The game also has the odd walk through doors bug and also some onerous loading times on the Xbox 360 version, but do little to detract from the overall experience.
In terms of the sound design for anyone familiar with Akira Yamaoka his absence is regretfully felt, as Daniel Licht has in no way captured the unique hellish sound of Akira.
Overall, Downpour is a strong addition to the Silent Hill series Vastra games have done an outstanding job in trying to bring back the aura of mystery surrounding the previous titles. Most importantly not only have they provided a glimpse of hope for the series but for survival horror in general. With minor tweaks and with next-gen consoles looming around the corner it would be interesting to see who would next fall victim to the melancholy mystery that is Silent Hill.