Silent Hill: Downpour
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Game Reviewed: Silent Hill: Downpour
Developer: Vatra Games
Platform: Xbox 360, Playstation 3
ESRB Rating: M
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The Silent Hill series has been in a bit of a rut according to its fans. The first few games (most famously the second) took advantage of their hardware limitations to create experiences that excelled at building tense, frightening atmospheres and making the player feel helpless and scared. They also used their stories in metaphorical ways that made for detailed psychological deconstructions of the protagonist’s mind, resulting in stories that could be discussed and debated over for hours at a time. Later, however, the series started to lose its grasp. The horror lost its subtle edge, the stories tried to be more straightforward and literal, and the lack of hardware limitations inspired them to add so much detail as to eliminate any sense of visual mystery.
Downpour sets out to change that. In many ways, it’s back to the basics of the series; simple combat that doesn’t work as well as just running away, dense fog that obscures your vision, and subtle, unexplainable touches make this one of the more effectively scary Silent Hill games in years. However, it’s not without its problems.
Downpour tells the story of Murphy Pendleton, a man who is spending time in a prison. As the game opens, he has arranged with one of the guards to have an opportunity to kill another man in the prison, which he does. After this event, Murphy and a few other inmates are put on a bus to be transferred to another prison, but on the way the bus driver crashes the vehicle, leaving everyone separated and out to fend for themselves. Murphy visits many locations around the town of Silent Hill trying to escape, and as he does so, his past comes back to haunt him in many ways.
So then, does Silent Hill: Downpour have more in common with its recent predecessors, or its older classics? And can your child play it?
…No. No they can’t. This is an M-rated horror game, of course it’s not appropriate for children. But now I’ll tell you why.
What Parents Need to Know
This is the main type of content to be found in Downpour. The player will use a variety of weapons, from objects like rocks and steel pipes to actual weapons such as a shotgun or pistol, to fight many strange monsters. Blood splatters around the environment when an enemy is hit. Some of these monsters are bloodied and grotesque; it’s hardly the level of gory body horror as a game like Dead Space, but it’s enough to bother the squeamish.
What’s actually more graphic are some of the bodies lying around; bloodstained corpses and body parts will be found in various places around Silent Hill. Cutscenes also contain instances of violence, including the off-screen death of a child and people (sometimes defenseless) being stabbed or beaten.
- The f-word is used occasionally throughout the game.
- The s-word is used often throughout the game.
Some text (news stories, etc.) reference crimes such as sexual assault and rape.
Silent Hill is at its best when the source of it all is vague; thankfully, Downpour gets this right. There is certainly something spiritual going on, probably something demonic considering the horror of it all, but it is never fully explained or fleshed out.
A Child’s Perspective
I did not ask a child to play this game. Were I to guess, the purposefully clunky combat would turn them off to it even if they could handle and appreciate the horror elements.
Silent Hill: Downpour takes a lot of steps in the right direction for the series. Unfortunately, it only does so many of them well. It’s back to the simplistic combat and disempowerment of the character, the heavily fog-obscured environments, and subtle horror. One of my favorite parts was when there is a large pool of water in a room, and its surface is completely calm, but every once in a while you hear a splash, as though things are falling into it despite nothing being there. Subtle, creepy, unnerving.
However, the straight-up, in your face style of horror still makes a lot of appearances. There are huge transition scenes when Murphy goes to the “otherworld” (a strange and scary version of the town with more monsters), pronounced chase scenes, and similar events that seem to be trying a bit too hard. The town of Silent Hill is given a whole backstory, as though it’s just a normal town with weird stuff happening in it; this seems strange when the design of the town itself seems to be tailored to Murphy’s past and psychology in classic Silent Hill fashion. And combat is back to being simple and clunky, keeping the player from just easily killing whatever he comes across, but the game will sometimes thrust you into situations with poorly-designed enemy encounters that take forever to try and complete.
In the end, Silent Hill: Downpour is an interesting title in the series. If you’re a fan of Silent Hill, I suggest you check it out just to see the places where it excels as well as its shortcomings. If not, you really don’t have any good reason to play it, especially if you’re considering it for your child.