Friday, 27 April 2012

Game Review: Silent Hill Downpour

Hello Dears~  I hope you've all been having a better week than I have ! I've been pretty sick since Monday afternoon and the weathers been terrible so I haven't really been able to get much done. I have a pretty terrible immune system so being sick all the time is something I'm used to but it doesn't make it any less rubbish  I do like sitting in my cosy room (which is almost completely finished now !) when it's pouring with rain outside, especially if I've got tea and a good series on. Being stuck in the house all week has had it's bonuses - one of which is that I managed to get through Silent Hill Downpour fairly quickly ! So, here is the quick review I promised 

As I'm sure you've noticed if you follow my Tumblr, Twitter or Livejournal I am a big, big fan of survival horror games. Silent Hill is probably my favourite survival horror series of all, and I was SO excited when they announced Downpour in April 2010, the eighth (or sixth, depending how you count it) title in the SH series. After playing SH Homecoming I was looking forward to being able to play another SH title that wasn't quite as... terrible. While Downpour was definitely an improvement on Homecoming, it wasn't exactly fantastic. Something of a reoccurring trend I've noticed in Japanese-developed games lately is that they seem to be making them slightly more "westernised".. that is, I didn't feel like I was playing a game that was almost purely psychological horror, influenced by Japanese ghost stories and legends (for another example of how Japanese ghost stories have influenced survival horror games, check out Fatal Frame/Project Zero). I know that survival horror IS a sub-genre of action/adventure gaming but this felt more like it was just that, and not really horror-based at all :\ 

That being said, there were a LOT of good points to Downpour. One thing I particually enjoyed was the additon of side quests. These were totally fun and provided a nice bit of a challenge like fans of the series will be used to. The bird cage side quest was my favourite ! The puzzles were reminiscent of previous games, I enjoyed these a lot ! It also still has the usual mysterious back story, involving some kind of guilt and wrongdoing. The PC, Murphy Pendleton, begins his journey being transferred from prison to prison, but almost at once you'll feel he doesn't actually belong there. Throughout the game his own flashbacks reveal teasers of his past, and why he may have ended up there in the first place.

Another new feature I enjoyed was the various melee weapons available to use freely throughout the game. Instead of your usual SH available weaponry (you know, iron pole, bit of wood with a nail in the end...) Murphy is able to pick up a variety of different weapons from rocks and stones on the floor outside to fire extinguishers, meat cleavers and wooden chairs. Combat is simple and less frustrating than a lot of games that spring to mind, and I liked the addition of your weapons wearing away with use; especially since finding new ones was fairly easy. Of course you do also get a gun but ammo is scarce, as always, and when Mike played the game through he actually managed to completely miss out the point in the game where you find your gun and had to play the whole thing without one. (Your gun is received once you complete a safe puzzle in first building you become trapped in. Once you've left the house after completing your tasks you are unable to return inside regardless of whether you've picked up your gun or not.) Anyway, various melee weapons can be used to beat enemies, and also to smash padlocks off locked doors which is also something unheard of in previous SH games (Silent Hill - the home of locked doors). In the same vein as this, Murphy apparently has a few more brain cells than James, Heather or Harry because he can squeeze through gaps, chop down objects blocking his path and jump over things. 

Getting to the character Murphy Pendleton himself, I actually found him to be fairly unlikeable. It's not that I was particually besotted with any previous SH characters, it's more that he has a LOT more to say for himself. His yells of "FUCK !!" and "OH GOD, SHIT !!" when getting attacked by monsters kinddddd of pissed me off. I missed the quieter, albeit weirder, dialogue from the previous games ("I shouldn't be too worried about this" - Heather, regarding a barbecued dog left on a diner table in SH3). I think it added to the overall charm of Silent Hill. In fact, there were several points throughout Downpour when I found myself pining for the original quirks and charms of earlier games. One of the biggest examples of this is the absence of savepoints, which felt the same to me as the removal of ink ribbons in the Resident Evil series. I've ALWAYS loved the Silent Hill savepoint designs, they're incredibly interesting to read about as all the symbolism is actually real; so I was very disappointed to learn they'd been replaced with a boring old autosave icon instead. Petty as this may seem, it's the lots of little missing things that make me feel like SH might finally be past it's hayday. 

Something else that just didn't sit right with me was the time spent in the Silent Hill Otherworld. While I was initially like a kid in a candy shop when I saw the first transition in the diner kitchen, my enthusiasm was left ebbing away throughout the rest of the game. Graphics-wise, the Otherworld is very good - not as gritty and unsettling as previous games but still enough to satisfy my need to run around looking at every inch of it with childlike excitement. However, it was the actual amount of time that you spend there that really disappointed me; by which I mean, you spend hardly anytime whatsoever there at all. This, to me, defeats the point of actually playing a SH game in the first place. That being said, all the environments throughout the game are aesthetically fantastic, and I enjoyed the addition of rain instead of the usual fog.  

My absolute BIGGEST critizism of Downpour is the soundtrack. The loss of Akira Yamaoka as the game composer is probably it's biggest downfall. The game just didn't feel ~the same~, like it was missing something fundamentally important (previous SH titles are reknowned for there impressive but incredibly unsettling soundtrack). Along with this, I also spent most of the game being completely unimpressed - or worse, un-terrified - by the monsters I encountered throughout the whole thing. There is apparently no symbolic relevance or psychological manifestations to Murphy's story and almost all of the monsters are humanoid and not disturbing in the slightest. 

Predictably my favourite monster in Downpour were the Dolls/Shadows, however 
they still aren't much compared to the likes of Abstract Daddy from SH2, in
my opinion one of the most horrible monsters in gaming.

Overall, if you're already a fan of the series I would definatly suggest picking this game up and sticking with it until you've finished it. While I feel the cons certainly outweigh the pros, it's worth playing just to see how the series itself is evolving - whether you think it's for the better or not (although I personally feel Vetra have a lot to answer for). However if you're planning on playing Downpour without having experienced any other games in the SIlent Hill series, PLEASE consider playing an earlier game first. I adore Silent Hill and it upsets me to think that anyone would view this as a reflection on any of the previous titles; it really doesn't live up to any of it's predecessors. Have you played Silent Hill Downpour ? What were your thoughts ?

Now that I've finished Silent Hill Downpour, I'm going to start Forbidden Siren. I have a busy couple of weeks so it may take me a bit longer but I'm going to write a review for that also :3 Maybe I can become a part-time survial horror video game reviewer ! In other news, I'm going treasure hunting on Sunday at a car boot sale, so I'm sure I will have lots of exciting things to update about then ! 

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