by Keaton Arksey
previewed on X360
When it rains, it pours...
Murphy Pendleton is having a bad day. Considering the prison transport bus he finds himself on crashes, releasing him and his fellow inmates into the forest, one would think he would be having a good day. But the forest Pendleton finds himself in is located near the town of Silent Hill… Murphy may have been better off in prison.
Silent Hill: Downpour is only the second game in the series to find itself on the current generation of consoles, following 2008’s Silent Hill: Homecoming. Like Homecoming, Downpour’s development is being handled by a team from outside Japan. Czech studio Vatra Games, a relative newcomer behind the downloadable Rush’n Attack: Ex-Patriot is doing the honours, primarily because of its familiarity with the Unreal Engine, which will power Downpour. Considering team members include those from 2K Czech, the studio behind the Mafia series, fears of a new studio handling an established and beloved franchise should be waylaid.
Downpour’s place in the Silent Hill mythos is similar to Silent Hill 2. While it does not connect to any of the previous instalments directly, Downpour is still part of the main series storyline and contains some references to previous events and characters through objects in the game world. One of the reasons for the lack of direct connection with previous games is because it takes place entirely in the southeast region of Silent Hill, a section not yet explored in the series.
What I would give for an aluminium bat
Combat in survival-horror games is always an issue of balance. If the player were too powerful, there would be no tension or fear of dying, while being too weak makes it artificially difficult and annoying. 2009’s Silent Hill: Shattered Memories threw an interesting swerve into the mix, completely removing combat from gameplay and focusing on puzzles and escaping enemies. Downpour returns combat to the series, with limited firearms and melee weapons. In order to contribute to the survival-horror feel, Murphy can only carry one melee weapon at a time, and repeated use leads to them breaking. Depending on how it is integrated, the mechanic could be a great way to add both strategy and tension to the proceedings. Is it worth risking breaking the only offensive weapon to defeat an enemy now, or simply run and live to fight another day? If the game liberally strews weapons throughout the place, breakable weapons would just act as a monotonous chore, but if rationed correctly it could lead to some memorable moments.
Unlike in other survival horror games, the protagonists in Silent Hill are never trained soldiers who could conceivably fight back against the monstrosities they face. This means that, while combat still plays a role, there is an equal emphasis on puzzle solving. For players who may find combat or puzzles too difficult, each will have separate difficulties, so the game could have easy combat with brain-shattering puzzles, or the other way around to fit the player. Side quests will also cater to this, changing to meet the various play styles.
Or an Umbrella
It is no surprise given the title, but weather, specifically rain, will play a prominent role in events. When the rain becomes heavy, enemies that are more difficult will appear, while little or no rain means weaker (and thus more manageable) enemies. The Otherworld, the hellish world Silent Hill likes to transform into periodically, returns in Downpour. While it returns to the rusted, metallic look from previous games (ignoring Shattered Memories’ frozen world), it does carry over the chase sequences. The transition occurs with the appearance of a vortex like-object that sucks in the regular world and corrupts it. Sometimes this vortex will chase Murphy, and touching it means a painful death. The only option is to run, knocking obstacles in its way in an attempt to slow it down.
Series’ fans will find one noticeable omission: composer Akira Yamoaka will not be providing the soundtrack to the game. Considering Yamoaka’s work is a major contributor to the creepy atmosphere of the previous games, it would be hard to argue it is not a loss. Still, Daniel Licht, composer for the Dexter series, should be more than capable of creating a dark tone, along with Mary Elizabeth McGlynn, who has provided vocals for every game in the series since Silent Hill 3. The band Korn will perform the main theme, so for those that like Korn and Silent Hill (two audiences I do not expect overlap much) there will be that. Of course, one can always just skip the opening cinematic and head straight to the main menu if they have had enough *ahem* “Korn” in their diet (Thank You! I’ll be here all week!)
One to Look Out For
Silent Hill: Downpour looks to take the successes from Shattered Memories and transfer them over to the Xbox 360 and PS3. While fans will certainly miss Yamoaka’s soundtrack, a brand new story and location with interesting possibilities for combat and puzzles (all in 3D!) makes Downpour one for fans of survival-horror to look out for.