The lights are on
I really wanted to like Silent Hill: Downpour, and at moments I genuinely did, but there is no way I can erase the impact of the past games in the series and my experiences in the game that just felt off. Just to get it out of the way now: Daniel Licht did just fine stepping into the shoes of Akira Yamaoka, and so sound will not be mentioned again in the review.
First of all, the atmosphere so important to the earlier games is completely absent from Downpour. The world never made me feel panicked, disturbed, afraid, or even unsettled, usually just mildly annoyed. It has been a hard feeling to recapture in the series, and Vatra definitely didn't manage it this time around. Some clever settings had a lot of potential, like the workshop with its machinery, but it ended up feeling more like cheap ghost story scares to me than anything really frightening. On that note, I also have to express disappointment in the monster design. The enemies were completely uninspired placeholders, leaving my expectations for a more personal connection, like that of James in Silent Hill 2 and his monsters, completely unfulfilled. Perhaps it is my bias speaking, but the monsters in general seemed completely uncreative.
I guess combat is another major issue people have been talking about. I felt like the system was good for the most part (I have no problem with a slightly shaky hand in aiming), but the degrading weapons mechanic gets old after awhile, and blocking is pretty imprecise. I am all for combat in survival horror that encourages running, but much like Tim Turi said in his review, I tended to run more often so that I did not have to deal with the combat system than out of any real need.
The Otherworld sections, where Murphy is chased by what I've been calling "the
orb", quickly become tedious and boring, particularly as I could not
think of any good reason for it to be happening or why the shapeless
entity would appear in such a way when an executioner figure seemed to
be lingering in the background, underutilized. It seemed like a rushed
experience that could have been much better used to present some more
water-based/prison-based settings, as when the void did finally stop chasing Murphy there were occasionally some really interesting scenes. More endless staircases or creepily composed settings will trump a vaguely threatening void any day. I did not do the
majority of the side missions, but the few I've seen seemed stuffed in
as padding for the game with very little quality to them. With no
connection to Murphy (except the birds), and what seemed like little connection to the town
beyond "weird stuff happens", I would have preferred a greater focus on
the main story instead. The puzzles were also very hit-and-miss. A few were well-done and gave good reason for Murphy to do what he was doing. Many others suffered from what one could term video game logic, placed there to be a momentary obstacle for a cheap sense of accomplishment.
The story has me conflicted. There really is some good potential lingering in the background of the game (despite being somewhat cliched), but it gets bogged down, more so even than by the juggling of the two stories, by the game itself. I am used to backtracking and exploration being key parts of the survival horror experience, but there were many times in Downpour where I just became outright bored to the point that I would leave the game for a few days before returning to it. The game really needed more of a connection with progress and story development to break up the monotony of constant exploration for just a brief cutscene. There were many symbols of the town's recurring cult, but like many other things in the game, they seemed to be put there purely for the sake of inclusion and the namesake of the series rather than to say anything about Murphy's experience. Of the three endings I saw, only one felt right. The other two seemed somewhat cliched and a victim to the recent morality trend. This feeling can probably be blamed both on the attempt to try to cast Murphy in two different ways depending on the player's limited, but very opposite, choices and on the twist near the end. Without a whole lot of time left to tie the twist into the main plot, it is hard to really wrap up the game satisfactorily.
If the final portion of the game had not picked up and offered a rather good boss battle (if somewhat out of place in the story, what I would refer to as a problem of the mixed storytelling the GI review refers to) I would have a much more negative view of the game. As it stands, the game gets tied down by a lot of mediocre gameplay elements, and the story is never fully developed enough to compensate for the time spent putting up with the combat and chase sequences. I am always looking for that old thrill of the survival horror that Silent Hill 2 was the pinnacle of in its own time making its way back into the franchise, but Vatra (or whoever takes the reins next) has a long way to go before they are even remotely in range of making a game that lives up to the Silent Hill standard.
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