The Five Things Silent Hill Downpour Got Right «

The Five Things Silent Hill Downpour Got Right

March 2012 became known as Konami’s “Month of Horror”, with three major Silent Hill entires set to spook series fans and newcomers alike: Silent Hill HD Collection and Silent Hill: Downpour on Playstation 3 and Xbox 360, and Silent Hill: Book of Memories for the recently released Playstation Vita. Unfortunately, March turned into a “Month of Disappointment” for many fans with Book of Memories’ release pushed back to a vague “Spring 2012” while the much anticipated HD Collection turned out to be a technical downgrade instead of the high-definition upgrade fans were promised. But some would say that being disappointed by a release isn’t anything new for Silent Hill fans; for many, it’s even expected.

These fans believe that the quality of the Silent Hill series has been in steep decline ever since development moved out of the hands of Konami’s in-house, Japanese “Team Silent” and into the hands of American and European developers after Silent Hill 4: The Room. Many claim that the new developers don’t “understand” what really makes a good Silent Hill title, pointing out that Silent Hill: Homecoming’s horror was less cerebral and more “typical Hollywood,” suggesting that the developers took too many cues from the 2006 Silent Hill movie. Couple that with the recent re-imagining of the original game in the series, Silent Hill: Shattered Memories, which many felt failed to provide even the most basic scares, and you begin to see many fans now feel the series has become a mockery of its former glory.

With so much negativity in the air, it really didn’t help matters that the third game in Konami’s “Month of Horror”, Silent Hill: Downpour released last month to mixed reviews. A number of critics faulted the game for its cumbersome combat and technical issues (e.g., frame rate drops, glitches and texture popping). Despite this criticism, however, I truly see and rank Downpour as the best post-Team Silent game to date, because it brings the series back to its roots. Before I continue, a warning is in order:

For those who haven’t completed the game, please note that while I don’t reveal any major elements of the plot, there are some minor game spoilers below.

That being said, here are the five ways I think Downpour succeeded as a Silent Hill game:

Silent Hill Downpour Spot Art

1) It’s an original stand-alone story anyone can play.

 

Downpour tells a well-crafted tale that doesn’t rely on continuity with the previous Silent Hill games. Anyone can pick it up and play the game without having to know the full mythos of the series to appreciate the story. More importantly, it’s not a simple rehash of the tropes we’ve seen used in previous Silent Hill titles. This was one of my bigger gripes with Silent Hill: Homecoming — the series’ first foray into next-generation consoles — which basically just copied the plot structure of Silent Hill 2, in which the protagonist suffers from amnesia about a violent act he committed in the past.

That’s not to say that retreading is always a bad thing. One of the other Western-developed offerings, Silent Hill: Shattered Memories, rehashes the original Silent Hill but presents it as a reimagining of the same plot and plays on fans’ expectations from the original story to present familiar characters with new agendas. But as fun as surprise twists can be, they still rely on familiarity for their impact.

In contrast, Murphy Pendleton (the protagonist in Downpour) isn’t like the protagonists we’ve seen before as he deals with his own issues and unique reasons for being called to the town. I don’t want to give away the plot, but I will say this much: I was very surprised when I learned the true reason Murphy had been called to Silent Hill — and it goes beyond the simple “inner demons” justification we’ve seen before. I’ve seen discussion in online discussions where other players were able to guess where the story was going from a mile away. Personally, I was gripped by the story right up through the end, and my engagement had a lot to do with the storytelling mechanics used in the game. Murphy’s story doesn’t just unfold in cut-scenes; it unfolds bit-by-bit through flashbacks, character interactions, and even in the notes you pick up throughout the game. Even better, Murphy’s character arc isn’t rushed or crammed into the climax of the game, either. Instead, we learn his back story and discover his motivations all throughout Downpour. I appreciated the fact that many of the details explaining Murphy’s actions weren’t revealed in cut-scenes (as is the case with previous games in the series). If you want to know the full story of what’s going on, you have to take the time to piece together the snippets of information you’ve gleamed from notes scattered throughout town, keep a keen eye on the environments you explore, and pay attention to some of the side quests you complete.

 

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