The lights are on
Its been rough being a Silent Hill fan in recent years. The last couple of entries have tried hard to recreate the 'Silent Hill experience' but have generally missed the mark more than not. So, I am happy to report that, despite some rough pro game site reviews, I found Downpour to be highly enjoyable.
Downpour, as is the case with most Silent hill games, is NOT an action game. Its not trying to be. If your idea of an intense, scary game is Dead Space, this is not the game for you. Like an onion, you have to peal the layers of the story to get the full experience. This is done through cut scenes, scraps of information found throughout the town, and through the other characters.
Story: I found this to be a fairly excellent story, and had no issues with any reveals in the 3rd act. Quite the opposite, the end is a very logical progression from start to finish. I was able to view three endings in my initial playthrough, so depending on the choices to make, you will get a fairly unique and different ending. I liked them all, quite honestly. Downpour has six all together, including a 'secret ending' achievable on a 2nd playthrough only.
Graphics: Character models range from good to mediocre, but all are very acceptable - lip synche is average at best - where Downpour shines is in the layout and look of the town itself. A lot of time and effort clearly went into the details found throughout the town. This can be seen in the way the sidequests are handled, to all the little easter eggs that reference past games. Monsters are hit and miss. I loved the Dolls, and hated the Weeping Bats. Silent Hill has never had the crazy amount of creatures found in such AAA titles like Dead Space, but they are also not there just to be there. Symbolism is an important factor in Silent Hill games - something often overlooked.
Music/Voice work - I found both the music quite excellent, and really helped sell the immersion factor of the story. Play this one cranked up, and lights out. Voice work was good - not the best I've heard, but better than some give the impression. Frankly, nothing in the sound of the game was an issue for me in any way.
Puzzles/Combat: Puzzles in this one are some of the best for the series to date. They are not always easy, but are definitely doable if you take the time to think it through. I found them to be very enjoyable, and just the right amount of challenge-factor without getting too frustrating. There is a Normal and Hard mode for this, and action. Combat is a mixed bag, frankly - I only missed a dodge feature, so most of the time my strategy for a monster would be to: wack them, move around them a bit, then wack them again. Repeat until killed. Definitely room for improvement. I played the combat on hard and found the enemies to be pretty easy on my first playthrough. On my 2nd, they were much more aggressive, so replayability is, to me, moderately high, Gun control is extremely easy to use: it has an auto lock-on feature which makes missing hard to do - the little dot will move, but will continue to stay locked on to a target, provided you do not move too far out of range.
Technical: I played Downpour on my 360, having downloaded the game to the harddrive. The reason I mention this is due to the technical 'frame rate hiccups or stutter' that is fairly prevalent in most of the outside portions of Silent Hill. I did find this to be highly frustrating, and while it did detract from the immersion factor at times, the game itself was enjoyable enough that you can set the issues aside, and still have a lot of fun.
In conclusion: a good story, excellent puzzles, mediocre combat, and excellent town design make for one of the best Silent Hills since 2003. I enjoyed this one much more so than Origins, Homecoming and Shattered Memories, and a lot of that is due to the engaging story, side quests - a 1st for silent hill, and the excellent puzzles.
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