Monday, April 9, 2012

Video Game Assessment: Silent Hill: Downpour (2012)

Oh, boy. A new Silent Hill game. I'm willing to say that I was cautiously looking forward to this game, hoping for two things in particular: First that the game was nothing like Alan Wake, and second that it was as far removed from Silent Hill: Homecoming as possible, because that game was terrible. I guess before I get into the review proper, I'm going to say what I like about Silent Hill as a series and which games I prefer to others. I mean, sure, I have some reviews on some of the games, namely Silent Hill 2, Silent Hill 4: The Room, and Silent Hill: Ørigins, but you're not reading those reviews, you're reading this one.

I loved Silent Hill 2, and, to me, it is one of the best video games of all time. No, the voice acting is not amazing. Yes, the game is eleven years old! It's an early PS2 era game, but it is fantastic and compelling in basically every single way. It has a story that I do not think any modern game can match. It has an emotional level that has rarely, if ever, been met before in other games. That being said the graphics are PS2 graphics and shouldn't be great, but they are used effectively to create, in my opinion, the scariest game of all time. Silent Hill 4 is one of my favorite games, creepy and compelling, with a great story that feels meaningful despite the premise with the cult. It comes off as a fantastically done game in many ways despite what most "fans" think of it. It remains my second favorite Silent Hill game. The most recent entries into the  Silent Hill series though have been different. Homecoming was... well, it was not a very good game at all, focusing too much on combat  and not enough on horror or a compelling plot or characters. In general it felt goofier than creepy and was a glitch-ridden, confusing jumble of a game at times. I never finished it simply because I had such a bad taste in my mouth while playing it. Shattered Memories went in a completely different direction with Silent Hill as a series, being clearly outside of the continuity, but not necessarily a bad game. It had some interesting set pieces and ideas, but ultimately failed at being scary or compelling in much needed ways. It was a very mediocre game and certainly tells part of the tale of Silent Hill after the disbanding of Konami's Team Silent. Most of the games after that disbanding were either messes or woefully mediocre and gimmicky in the weirdest ways.

That being said, I was looking forward to Downpour in the strangest way. I mean, Mass Effect 3 was certainly dominating my mind at the time, but Downpour was sitting in the back of my mind, tickling it, making me think about it. And I was, especially after I finished the rushed mess that was Mass Effect 3, really looking to cleanse my mind with a new game, hopefully a great game in Silent Hill: Downpour.

And... well, it delivered.

Yes, this is an actually really good modern Silent Hill game! Yay, rejoice ye masses! There are some problems, certainly, with the game, but it is an incredibly solid entry in not only the series, but in horror video games in general. I was hoping for a decent game, better than the last three ones that have come out, and... let me say, I definitely received that. It seems as if Downpour took the best pieces of the last three games and put them all together along with a lot of bits and pieces from earlier games as well. But even while saying that the game remains itself, never feeling like any of the other games in the series, wholly standing on its own. It works as a narrative, as a video game, and as a new and brilliant piece of the Silent Hill pie.

And it's weird. It's unlike all the other Silent Hill games. It feels like a nextgen (now current gen) Silent Hill game, something that the last three entries in the series have not felt like at all. Hell, Homecoming looked so much worse than Silent Hill 3 for instance, and that shouldn't happen. I'm not always into screaming about looks in a video game (I loved Deadly Premonition remember.) I still feel as if the next entry in a series should look better or at least on par with previous entries. Downpour  takes a few years of fantastic games and really uses them to its advantage.

It has a story that is brilliant, easily the best story in the series since Silent Hill 2, which makes it the second best story. Now, I'm not going to compare the game much to Silent Hill 2 because I think that's unfair to both. Downpour is taking and has taken a real chance in its type of horror in this gaming generation. It is trying to feel like older horror games without being them. And as the industry has basically said that horror is dead... well, yes, Downpour has tried to show the industry it isn't quite. And this is a great thing! It was an incredibly effective game despite the critics (Critics are always wrong, remember?) giving it low scores. I mean, it easily stood up better than most games I've played within the last few years. It's easily much better than Mass Effect 3 for example. And that shouldn't have happened. That shouldn't even be a thing... and yet... there you go.

I'm probably only making some sense, but I don't even care. Call grammatical mistakes and spelling errors excitement over a great Silent Hill title that really made me happy. I mean really the undignified kind of happy too... the kind of happy that no grown man should ever be at a video game. The story is superb, although somewhat predictable. I say somewhat because in essence there are two stories going on, and you only ever have the hint at the first one. And that first story is solved fairly "early" on in the game, easily a good while before the endgame. And both stories are compelling and interesting.

"Compelling." I keep using that word because it is the perfect descriptor. The story dragged me into it kicking and screaming. It showed me a darker world, but one all too close to our own. It showed me a protagonist that had reasons for being the kind of character he was. It showed characters with motivations beyond "Oh, town is screwed up, better do something about it, I suppose." Each character was compelling, even the characters with limited screentime. How often does that happen? There is a fleshing out of both characters and, in my opinion, the enemies themselves, leading to some awesome debates on exactly what Downpour is about. Hell, I love the debates about the nature of Silent Hill as a town and as an entity, just as much as I love plot and character debates. And this game brings them all out to the surface, something that really hasn't happened since The Room, and even in that game the debates are rather limited as nothing really takes place in Silent Hill proper.

I loved a great deal about this game, finding it basically superb all the way through. It was enjoyable and also incredibly tense at times, which I absolutely loved, but it did something that few other Silent Hill games save the second did, which was it encouraged me to learn about the story, to dive deeper into the game and the town. I wanted to learn more, to play more, to be creeped out... it drew me into it just as much as it drew Murphy Pendleton, and I love that.

So, let's talk about certain aspects of the game, leaving characters and story as superb pieces of the game. First the voice acting and music. The voice acting is incredibly well done, especially from Murphy himself, Anne, and Sewell. They all did a great job at creating characters with emotional depth and range. Murphy was kind of the highlight, but that probably mostly because he was a COMPELLING protagonist, one that felt like an actual character, something that VERY FEW of the Silent Hill games actually did get right beyond Silent Hill and Silent Hill 3. I loved his little quips. Hell, I love the acting in general. Really well done. The music, for the first time in the series, was not done by Akira Yamaoka, but rather by Daniel Licht, known for his music on Dexter, a show I've actually never watched. Anyway, Licht creates an incredibly interesting atmosphere for this game, wholly fitting and really awesome all around. It's very different from Yamaoka, but that is not necessarily a bad thing. The soundtrack certainly has memorable pieces of its own and works when placed with the game. I really dug it, feeling that it was certainly on par with Yamaoka's work in the previous games.

Another thing I have to mention is the game's theme: rain/water. It is interesting. Most of the games... hell, ALL of the other games save for Shattered Memories have had the exact same theme in Silent Hill: a foggy Otherworld and a fiery gears, fans, and metal Nightmare World. This game does it differently, and I love it. I love it so hard. I disliked all of the games have the same kind of imagery when coming from different character's points of view, and this game shows that Murphy is wholly unique, and I love that. Man, is that awesome. It stands up nicely against Silent Hill 2 and Silent Hill 3 for best imagery in the series overall. The rain rather than fog is so amazing, and I, for one, have to say that I grew terrified every time it started Downpour-ing outside. Heh. The clockwork imagery and the slides were also well done. And... well, the movement of doorways and the unsettling, at times, use of seeing things out of the corner of the screen... well, I think it was beautifully done all around. One thing that really stuck out in my mind was early on. I was just leaving the first Nightmare World section only to have a door melt behind me while I wasn't looking. I went through the door in front of me, only to find that when I went back through the door the entire room had changed. Little things like that (It wasn't a plot specific room and I had no reason to go back into it.) felt like there was a great amount of attention to details, something I appreciated. Hell, it's part of the reason I'm writing this review out so thoroughly, spending the time and effort needed to say JUST HOW GOOD THIS GAME IS.

It is not a modern-styled game though. I have to point that out again. Often there is NO indication of where you are supposed to go next or what you're even supposed to be doing. When I looked in my journal after entering Silent Hill, I found nothing but a little note tell me to "Escape Silent Hill." Well, that's specific, I thought. But I liked it. There was no hand-holding, and it upped the tension because I never really knew any more than Murphy did. It made me experience the game along with him. I know a lot of current gamers might think that is a bad thing to do, but... well, it's how it was done in the past. I don't see why it can't be done that way now. It works, creating an atmosphere and everything else, why not implement it?

The sidequests are kind of new to Silent Hill, but they work decently well. I inadvertently skipped most of them simply by searching the town and find the places I needed to go for the main story, but the sidequests that I did do were fine, sometimes even very well done in places. I was happy with them, and they never felt out of place or got in the way of the experience of playing. So, a net positive overall.

I liked how there are also very different ways to interpret the last portion of the game, and I like that. I like that a lot. I won't spoil it, but I feel there could be multiple levels of complexity on the last twenty percent of the game or so. I found it really well done.

I... I think that's enough of me saying how great the game is, now I'll talk about some of the negatives and, there are a few, sadly. The first that I noticed is that there are graphical issues from time-to-time, enough to be noticeable and... really not good while playing the game. I had my game slow to a crawl more than once... while monsters were on screen chasing me at that. I... I really didn't like that. It took me right out of the game. It mostly only happened in the earlier part of Silent Hill itself, but it was a big problem in those areas. Another issue would be the game pausing (like three times in the game, but still) to give me decision for Murphy to make. I could be a good guy or a jerk in those decisions... and it really took me right out of the game to see Murphy's big dumb face contemplating the decision of whether or not to be a jerk while the choice of two buttons hovers next to his head. Wow, I did not like that. Some of the chase sequences in the Nightmare World dragged on a bit, and since I was never incredibly fond of them... well, I wasn't thrillingly happy about it. The final boss was silly, but I liked it for being silly even if it wasn't incredibly Silent Hill. I don't know... I kind of wish it was a bit more intuitive as a whole, but I guess that's fine.

I guess the last negative would be my biggest gripe, and probably the one that is the most meaningful to me. Although the game started out with some genuine scares... and had some creepy moments throughout, I found it atmospherically less scary all around than most of the other games. The gameplay itself had some scary moments, but the GAME itself had very few. I guess I found Silent Hill 2 actually really creepy and was hoping for much of the same in Downpour. Then again, I found Silent Hill 2 creepy when I was fifteen/sixteen years old... and well, maybe I'm simply not as scared by video games in the same way as I used to be. So, it might not be Downpour's fault entirely. I thought it had an effective atmosphere, just not one that scared my pants off, which is what I wanted.

Anyway, those are small annoyances more than hugely negative aspects of the game. Downpour is really well done and holds up as a modern video game and as a Silent Hill game no matter what the critics and reviews think. I think this is an incredibly solid game all around and I hope others see it the same way. Check it out if you like horror, video games... or... or me, I guess? I guess do it for me...? Yeah, that makes sense. Do it for a person you probably don't know on the internet who reviews things sometimes for random people. That makes a ton of sense.

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