The king of survival horror video games has always been a job share between the Resident Evil franchise and Silent Hill. As the former has undergone a genre shift into more of an action focused affair, the latter has been left as the one true choice for gamers that like to be genuinely scared. However many gamers have been left wanting some genuine scares as the franchise has arguably lost its touch. Is Downpour a return to form or is it an unintentionally ironic reference to the series' quality?
The staples of the Silent Hill franchise are all present here: terrifyingly imaginative creature designs pulled straight out of H.R. Giger's nightmares? Check. Mysterious protagonist with a "tragic backstory"? Check. Poor combat mechanics to amplify the sense of fear and helplessness? Check. Admittedly they don't quite gel together as well as in previous games such as Silent Hill 2 or 3 but it certainly works a lot better than in Origins or Homecoming.
Traditional Silent Hill gameplay is similar to other games in the series; third person survival focusing primarily on melee combat with a few long range weapons thrown in and one puzzle for every half hour of combat. It also has taken a few pointers from previous elements that didn't quite work such as the weapon degradation system from Silent Hill Origins. This will frustratingly lead to a situation where you are fighting a horrifying mockery of humanity when against all logic the weapon you're using suddenly breaks. This will happen with almost any weapon in the game whether you're using a wooden bat or a fire axe. Also returning are the chase segments from Shattered Memories only instead of being chased by monsters, you're being chased by a black hole type thing that is sucking up everything in its path.
The mysterious protagonist with a "tragic backstory" this time around is Murphy Pendleton - a convict undergoing a prison transfer when his bus crashes and he is seemingly the only survivor. There aren't any prizes for guessing which creepy fog filled town he winds up in. As he makes his way across the town, we discover more about his "tragic backstory" (I'll stop saying this now) whilst being chased by the previously mentioned monsters. The monsters this time around come in a variety of flavours; we have the girl from The Ring copied and pasted ad infinitum, the monsters from The Descent, tortured prisoners from forgotten horror gem The Suffering as well as some porcelain mannequins that seem to have mastered astral projection. None of them are particularly scary and none of them seem to represent an aspect of the protagonist's psyche: a feature that made previous games so original.
Previous games in the series were fairly linear with you making your way from grotty building to grotty building, with the town leading you from one to the next. This is no longer the case however as the majority of the town becomes available fairly early one. Lots of buildings can be entered and explored to find little sidequests in the form of glorified fetch quests or puzzles. This vague nod to the sandbox genre works surprisingly well although it doesn't have the strength to stand by its convictions and has a disappointingly small amount of sidequests. In fact due to the spookiness of the whole town, I can imagine that most would be reluctant to explore and completely miss that there is an open-world element at all.
The atmosphere is very bleak and brooding like all good horror games although it unfortunately doesn't strike terror in quite the same way that other games in the franchise have. The very first thing you do is brutally murder another inmate in prison with no context or exposition to judge your own actions on and frankly it's very uncomfortable to play, and not in a good way. Despite this it does venture out of this initially sadistic aura and into more familiar horror territory. You meet a bunch of odd characters that speak in cryptic riddles and seem confused as to why you seem so desperate and on edge. You also get horror movie tropes which you get to participate in such as a tyre swing becoming a noosed corpse depending on the position on the camera. Despite all this, you couldn't call the game very scary. It certainly can make you jump and it wallows in its sinister nature however you never really feel as in jeopardy as you do in the earlier games of the series. Some of this could be attributed to the music which is no longer composed by series regular Akira Kurosawa but by Daniel Licht (famous for the soundtrack to Dexter). Whilst Licht's theme is unsettling and horror based, Kurosawa's always felt out of place based in rock or industrial music and this always added to the feeling that what you were experiencing was wrong and unnatural.
In retrospect though, these are quite petty gripes at what is basically a quite solid albeit possibly stale core. Downpour will please survival horror fans and as much as Silent Hill fans will whine, they won't be able to deny that this game has its moments.
6.5 out of 10