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Silent Hill: Downpour continues Konami's unnerving psychological horror franchise. A twisted reality reflects the tortured hero's mental traumas, but perennially awkward controls dampen the terror of Downpour's warped evil.
Even the name of Silent Hill continues to chill in me. Such an ideal setting for a game. It's geographic namesake is as much a state of mind as it is a place. Every incarnation of the series sees the town change to reflect the individual fears of its unfortunate captives.
With a smattering of occult over tones, twisted enemies and a constant questioning of reality, the root of Silent Hill's horrors are rarely understood even at the game's conclusion. But Silent Hill: Downpour's hero is a bit more obviously troubled than his forerunners.
Opening outside Silent Hill, Murphy Pendleton is a convict. Nothing is known about why he is there, but something about it feels wrong. Murphy is calm, placid, and speaks with a respect to all around him that seems out of keeping the environments. A clearly suspect prison guard takes Murphy from his cell and to the showers.
The weaselly looking guard explains that if the showers are on, the steam obscures all of the cameras. Once the room is filled with steam a short tubby man dressed in a towel enters the showers. Murphy asks if he remembers him. The prone man says he doesn't, and Murphy reminds him they used to be neighbours. Evidently these words scare the man as he starts to try and escape, which is Murphy beats him to the ground.
The scene quickly cuts. Murphy is being transferred to a high security prison, but the guard's reaction to him seem based on an incident more significant than anything previously hinted at. During the transfer the bus crashes outside Silent Hill, and Murphy's horrors begin.
While there are inconsistencies to this new Silent Hill, there are a number of unique elements to Murphy's hell. Water is hugely important. At first I believed this was due to the shower room in where the game began, but it quickly seems there is more to this. Murphy's associations with water clearly dates back long before his time in jail, and the theme consumes his world.
Silent Hill: Downpour feels like an imitation of earlier Silent Hills.
As Murphy attempts to escape the small American town he comes across a number the usual host of mutated horrors. Warped figures that are a mainstay of the series shamble towards him unnaturally and Murphy must fight them back with all manner of weapons he finds in the world.
Combat has never been a strong point of Silent Hill. Ham-fisted attempts at brawling have always varied in their success, even being an advantage in the earlier games when avoidance of enemies was a preferred course of action that added to the drama. Downpour unwisely tries to swing emphasis back towards its clunky conflicts. An inelegant block mechanic renders Murphy unable to retreat and defend at the same time, and leaves him constantly open to attack. This combined with the emphasis Downpour places on combat see the tension these mechanics used to elicit is replaced by frustration.
Silent Hill: Downpour constantly feels like an imitation of earlier Silent Hills that falls just short of the mark. Murphy's physiological traumas for example, they make sense, but the evils he faces don't seem to embody them. This leaves enemies disturbing, but never as deeply so as in the series high point Silent Hill 2.
It is the town itself is the true star of proceedings.
Downpour's one success in its scares is how it has interwoven two characters stories. In doing so it plays to one of Silent Hill's long running questions of the town's true reality. Downpour sees two characters living the nightmare together, and experiencing them differently from each other. It may lack the often hinted at idea that the protagonist is the only person who sees the town's nightmarish form, but the mix perspective on the world feels the most faithful element of the continued Silent Hill fiction, hinting at the effects of the town with no definitive answers.
Silent Hill: Downpour may get a lot wrong, but it feels like Silent Hill. The town itself is the true star of proceedings, and Downpour's recreation of it at least at least makes me believe I am once again traveling through the hellish holiday spot. Though suffering the combat may end up the real scare, the twists of Murphy's story make Silent Hill still worth a visit.
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