164 of 174 people found the following review helpful
Highly underrated, still lacking in certain areas
, March 14, 2012
This review is from: Silent Hill: Downpour (Video Game)
Let me start by saying that I am a die-hard Silent Hill fan. I played the first game when it was released in 1999, which made me about 12 years old (my parents obviously made a very "wise" purchasing decision at the time) and bought every subsequent game (aside from the Japanese play novel and on-rails arcade game) on the dates of their release. Despite that the game disturbed me beyond words and gave me recurrent nightmares, I felt compelled to keep coming back for more just because it was such an inexplicable, bizarre, unique, emotional, "otherworldly" experience. I was never the type to lose sleep over movies and games about zombies, diseases or war/general violence; Silent Hill transcended those things to me because it was like it was pulled directly from my deepest, darkness nightmares and fears of evil, eternal damnation, etc. Silent Hill 1, 2 and 3 aren't "video games" so much as they are, in my opinion, works of absolute genius, developed by a handful of Japanese game designers that were clearly very well versed in classic horror films, novels and religious lore. They have set an incredibly high standard for anyone to attempt to live up to.
With that said, Silent Hill Downpour is certainly a valiant effort, not to be mistaken as the absolute failure that a couple of other reviews around the internet have described it as. It is a massive improvement from SH: Homecoming (which pretty much played out like someone watched the movie, played the first game for ten minutes and said, "OK, I get it.") but alas, still doesn't hold a candle to the first three games in terms of their artistry, imagination, soundtrack and the way they just... well, stuck with you, making you lose sleep and contemplate the overwhelming weirdness you had just witnessed.
First of all, The enemies in this game are somewhat unoriginal. It's ironic that the band Korn did the song for the trailer because one of the first enemies you encounter almost looks like a zombie version of one of the Korn band members; complete with black, parted bangs that hang over its face. The designers did a nice job of making the light reflect off of their bodies which appear to have a charred texture, reminiscent of Silent Hill 2's "prisoner" demons, which looked as if they were encased in their own burnt flesh. But despite this one cool visual effect, these creatures (referred to as, "screamers") aren't that disturbing. One of the other enemies you encounter are these tall, lanky beings that have the ability to crawl around on the ceiling and attack you from above... sounds scary, right? Not really. They're kind of goofy looking and their movements are a little bit too exaggerated. And the last type I'll mention (brace yourselves)... sex dolls with blacked out eyes whose ghosts are invisible and fight you. I mean, really? Luckily their existence in the environments makes for a much more frightening experience than the enemies do by themselves.
The other major downfall to this game is the overall lack of polish on the final product. Before buying this game I told myself the rumors of camera jitter, image chopping and framerate dips weren't going to effect my playing experience because I know there is supposed to be so much more to this series than the occasional programming flaw. Despite telling myself that, trust me, they do cut into the gameplay experience. None of the visual faults lie in the graphics themselves; only in the camera, the visual rendering and the occasional pop-up textures. While it is easy to overlook, it does make the game feel like less of a complete product than previous games. Hopefully the developers will take the hint and release a patch that fixes these issues because they take what would be in my mind a 4-star game and turn it into a 3-star one.
The environments are very detailed and it's clear the developers put a lot of time and effort into making sure everything looked truly abandoned, like it was inhabited at some point and the inhabitants just mysteriously disappeared one day. The crumbling walls, dusty interiors, strewn garbage and great lighting effects combine to create a chilling world that will feel like home to any hardcore Silent Hill fan. This is one of the game's biggest selling points. If it didn't feel like Silent Hill, it wouldn't be worth playing and it really does feel like Silent Hill. The dramatically improved graphics from previous entries in the series only adds to the believability. The only problem I have with the environments is that there are too many sections where you have a lot of visibility. That might sound strange to newcomers of the series but to old school fans like myself, the extremely limited visibility actually pulled the player deeper into the game, making them wonder what was going to be around every turn and just what unimaginable horrors lay just out of view. Luckily there are sections where the game is extremely dark and the only light you have is the light of your flashlight. These are the classic Silent Hill moments and by far the creepiest sections (look forward to the mines and certain cramped interiors, both on and off the beaten path).
Here is where my heart breaks a little bit. The "otherworld" sequences are a mix of engaging and totally cliche'. The "wall-peeling" mechanic introduced in the movie is something I've really grown tired of seeing. Not every transition has to come with the walls peeling away. Some of the transitions into the nightmare realm in Silent Hill 1, 2 and 3 didn't even involve sirens or anything; sometimes they involved going through some strange door, taking a ride on an elevator decorated with flesh or getting consumed by black veins and passing out. It's not just some stupid alternate dimension, it's a re-imaging of the current dimension incorporated with the main character's deepest and darkest fears. I'm so sick of it playing out like some silly trip to another planet or something. There are some cool things in the nightmare realm in this game, such as bodies rattling around in cages but you don't really get to enjoy them to their full extent when you're running from an all-consuming ball of light, which is not that scary. It's kind of scary when it catches you because Murphy (the main character) starts to peel away kind of like the walls and emits an ear-piercing scream but other than that the concept of the floating black hole is not really that frightening. I miss the days of stark black, chain link, blood, rust, walls that move and breathe like they're alive, strange pictures and statues posing in mind-boggling ways... these are the things that embody the nightmare universe, not some stupid vortex chasing you along catwalks.
Lastly, to be positive, I'm really happy they brought back the explorational elements of the game. There are so many different side quests to be experienced (many of them more eerie than the linear storyline itself) all with their own psychological rewards. The puzzles are the perfect degree of hard without being so hard that you want to pull your hair out and stop playing the game. The characters are particularly interesting and really remind me of the kind of 'people' one would encounter in a Silent Hill game including the main character, and the voice acting and motion capture are some of the best the series has ever seen.
To summarize, if you are a Silent Hill fanatic like me, there are fruits to be experienced in this game that will perhaps tide you over until a game comes out that is everything we could ever hope for (if that ever happens) but don't expect it to blow you away like the first three did. If you've never played a Silent Hill game, there is enough here for you to find enjoyable and unique, particularly if you're a fan of survival horror. There are cracks in the surface of this game and it's clear it isn't the work of 'Team Silent' but it is a worthy addition to the collection of anyone who takes an interest in the macabre and the generally bizarre. But it won't keep you up telling yourself it's the scariest thing you've ever seen. -Joman
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