The Silent Hill games, as a whole, center around the exploration of the titular town, although they are actually an exploration of the psyche and the horrors of the mind. Silent Hill: Downpour follows the journey of Murphy Pendleton, a convict who becomes trapped in Silent Hill after the prison transport he was riding crashes on the highway near the quiet town. Seizing a potential chance of escape, Pendleton sets off into the southern part of Silent Hill, hoping to leave town before law enforcement officials arrive to recapture him. He gets more than he bargained though, as he finds Silent Hill mostly deserted, the roads to the outside severed, and horrific monsters roaming the streets. As Pendleton struggles to find a way out of the nightmare, he is forced to confront his own personal demons.
"I enjoyed Silent Hill: Downpour, but with one nagging thought always tugging at my brain - it just didn’t feel like a Silent Hill game."
As with most Silent Hill games, Downpour doesn’t truly get into the nitty-gritty of Pendleton’s trauma until most of the way through the game. The majority of the time, gamers are bounced back and forth, trying to decide whether he’s a good person or not. Pendleton himself starts out believing that his motivations are nothing but good, but as the story progresses, he begins to waver, complicating the gamer’s perception of him. There’s a fair amount of "fill in the blanks" between what is implied, and what is actually said in the game, but the majority of the plot is obvious enough for gamers to guess fairly easily. Ultimately, it is the story that drives Downpour forward, and it’s intriguing enough to make the player want to continue.
Most of your time with Downpour will be spent exploring the town of Silent Hill. In these sequences, Pendleton wanders the streets of the town, gathering resources and exploring buildings. Silent Hill is littered with locations where Pendleton can begin a variety of side-quests. Many of them aren’t particularly interesting, but will reward our protagonist with much-needed supplies and weapons. Unlike previous Silent Hill games, Downpour will allow Pendleton to explore a large portion of the town at will. To ensure that players never quite relax, monsters will randomly generate on the streets. Fortunately, these encounters can be easily escaped, so the player is rarely punished for exploring the environment. The characteristic Silent Hill fog shrouding the town is much less significant in Downpour, with rain taking its place. Despite the title, the rain seems to have very little effect on the gameplay itself, though it’s certainly an in interesting aesthetic choice.
A smaller portion of the game involves Pendleton being trapped in the Silent Hill underworld, a hellish landscape crammed full of rusty machinery, blood-soaked medical apparatuses, and terrifying monsters. Many of these sections force the player to run from enemies. Borrowing a page from Silent Hill: Shattered Memories’ playbook, Pendleton can pull down objects to obstruct pursuing monsters for a brief amount of time. The underworld running sequences are well executed, ensnaring the player with feelings of primal terror with a frantic desire to escape.
It is through the gameplay that Downpour succeeds in the primary goal of a survival horror game: it’s scary. Downpour is probably the scariest game in the series, due not in part to the psychological atmosphere the previous games favored, but an overwhelming sense of vulnerability. Pendleton can fend off monsters with a variety of weapons, but never succeeds in becoming truly protected. Instead, he will have to arm himself with whatever is at hand, which typically includes bits of rock, hammers, fire extinguishers, and chair legs, none of which provides a strong security blanket. There are a few firearms scattered throughout the game, although ammo is extremely rare, relegating the pull of the trigger to a last resort. Even with a shotgun in hand, players will always feel vulnerable. Pendleton is no fighter, and he’ll only take a few hits before becoming critically wounded. His health can be monitored by the condition of his clothes, which will become torn and bloody the more damage he sustains. Engaging in combat with a group of monsters is unwise, and will likely lead to a swift death. There is simply no way to become truly powerful.
Even when not actively engaged in combat, gamers will always be kept on the edge of their seats. Downpour is littered with a variety of “jump scares”, a tactic familiar to horror-movie goers. Typically, a monster will suddenly pounce on Pendleton without warning. After a few of these incidents, gamers will learn to be wary of their surroundings. It is the constant nagging fear of what might be lurking around each corner that gives Downpour many of the chills it generates.
As an appreciative nod to long-time Silent Hill fans, Downpour is packed with subtle references to previous games. It discusses very little regarding the mythos of the series, focusing primarily on Pendleton. Yet series imagery has crept its way into the game. Some former Silent Hill characters are referenced indirectly, although the little Easter-eggs are quite easy to miss unless you’re paying attention. To put it simply, Downpour’s presentation lacks the same polish that Homecoming and Shattered Memories had.
The PlayStation version of the game suffers from an almost crippling frame rate problem. Whenever the camera is rotated in any direction, there seems to be considerable lag. The framerate stuttering is prominent in the large outdoor areas, although it is still present indoors. An over-used motion blur effect seems to highlight the fact that the framerate is unstable. A Silent Hill game wouldn’t be complete without ample amounts of darkness, and Downpour delivers in spades. To the eyes. The plentiful indoor sequences, bathed in darkness, are extremely difficult to play through due to the motion blur meshing poorly with the flashlight beam in the darkness.
Framerate and blurring issues aside, Downpour’s visuals are serviceable. The objects and characters in the game don’t come off as being very sharp. The illusion of perpetual wetness on many of the objects gives the world a dull gleam. All the edges seem just a bit too lumpy to feel right, and the characters all appear to be made of slightly moist putty. Little in Downpour is exceedingly ugly, yet nothing is very pretty to look at, either.
The backgrounds in Downpour, while not exactly colorful, didn’t mesh well with my previously- established image of Silent Hill. It seems that Downpour was made with a much larger color palette than previous Silent Hill titles. Since it takes place in the southern part of Silent Hill, it is technically comprised of areas that gamers have never explored before. Nevertheless, the two different parts of the town are drastically different, making Downpour’s environments seem like the suburban district of Silent Hill, rather than a core part of the town proper. With water replacing the fog, a large part of the game just didn’t feel like Silent Hill. A unique horror game for sure, but not a Silent Hill game.
Sound design has always played an important role in the series. Downpour has de-emphasized the soundtrack, going as far as to make many areas in the game entirely...er...silent. When the music eventually kicks in, it seems ripped straight from a Hollywood horror film. This is double-edged though; Downpour feels a lot more like a Hollywood film than it does a Silent Hill game, so a horror movie score is fitting. At the same time, the score seems to be an unnecessary nudge to remind gamers that they’re playing a scary game.
The voice acting in Downpour is a mixed bag. At times, the characters speak to each other in tones that simply don’t feel like a conversation. Pendleton’s dialogue seems to alternate between being completely unconvincing, to being surprisingly emotional. In a new twist for the series, Pendleton screams in terror quite often. Although it never felt absent in previous Silent Hill titles, his screams add a surprising amount of depth to his character. The problem occurs in the actual execution of said screams. They seem to be distant from the character, and they never quite seem to be the “appropriate” scream for the situation at hand.
I enjoyed Silent Hill: Downpour, but with one nagging thought always tugging at my brain - it just didn’t feel like a Silent Hill game. The stylistic changes may have strayed a bit too far from its roots, although many of the series’ psychological aspects remain in place. Despite this one big caveat, Downpour remains a good example of how a modern game can be scary. I pride myself on being able to stomach the scariest of games, but I’ll readily admit that portions of Downpour had me cursing in shock. The entire experience is similar to that of a high-quality horror film, but seriously marred by framerate stuttering and motion blurring issues. With the assumption that the framerate problems will be patched, Downpour is an enjoyable title for those who are new to the series. For more hardcore fans, Downpour is still worth a consideration, but only if the stylistic changes to the series can be stomached.