While the latest Silent Hill is a baffling mess of technical gaffs and blunderous combat, what's most depressing about this horror adventure are its occasional flashes of brilliance which hint at the sinister delights Downpour could’ve delivered with a little more care and imagination.
Featuring an escaped criminal as its central character, Downpour's labyrinthine plot rivals the classic Silent Hill 2 for quality storytelling as it slowly reveals the protagonist’s troubled backstory, making the first few hours unnerving as you’re not sure what transformed your bewildered hero into a cold-blooded killer. The sequences set in the nightmarish Otherworld also deliver some of the best psychological shocks in the series’ 13-year history, and will delight players who bemoan the fact that survival horror games have mutated into gun-totin' action adventures in recent years and sacrificed genuine scares for blazing pistols. But while sharp storytelling and expertly crafted anxiety are a cornerstone of the Silent Hill experience, even these triumphs aren't enough to save Downpour from mediocrity.
As with its fiercest rival, Resident Evil, combat is more important than ever in the latest Silent Hill, with the hero using a variety of crude weapons to fend off the demonic residents of the titular ghost town. However, despite the disturbing rawness of the game’s hand-to-hand tussles, the melee combat is shonky and imprecise, making it hard to pick out individual targets during a group battle, and deeply frustrating when your weapon breaks mid-fight and you’re forced to swing wildly with a broken brick or simply turn tail and run away. The fact your hero is easily stunned during fights also makes the combat clumsy and leaden – often slowing the fisticuffs to a snail’s pace – and even when you finally get your hands on a gun it’s frustratingly hard to use, and there’s precious little in the way of ammunition to keep your enemies at bay.
The moral choices offered to players – where you can decide to do the right thing or leave other characters to fend for themselves – are also disappointing as the path you choose has little influence on how the plot plays out, while technical issues such as stuttering graphics and action that chugs along when a lot is happening on-screen are amateurish and unforgivable in these days of slick console blockbusters.
Muddy graphics and boring exploration also make Downpour one of the least satisfying Silent Hills to date, and hard to recommend on a day that sees the simultaneous release of the sublime Silent Hill 2 as part of a natty HD package.
Reviewed by David McComb