Eurogamer Expo 2011: Silent Hill: Downpour Hands-On Preview
Fans have become somewhat disillusioned with the Silent Hill series over the years. An instant cult classic after the first two titles on the series, it has recently gone off the rails somewhat – especially with the release of Silent Hill: Homecoming, that was farmed out by Konami and a Silent Hill title was developed in the West for the first time. The game was technically impressive and was a good-looking game, but many fans thought the story and Horror elements weren’t in keeping with the high standards set by the early instalments in the franchise. Now, fans have been further angered that not only will the latest entry in the series, Downpour, be developed in the west – but that regular series composer Akira Yamaoka will also not be returning to work on the game. So with all of this controversy, how does the game play? That is, after all, the most important element of a game.
Early impressions suggest the game won’t stray too far from the well-trodden Silent Hill formula. Played from a third-person perspective, the section I played finds the new protagonist of the series – Murphy Pendleton – in a dark and dank underground Mine. After arriving in the area, you enter a Mine lift, which quickly proceeds to malfunction and fall, crashing to the ground and leaving you in an unknown area. Light and darkness plays a prominent role here and there is the constant feeling of unease that something horrible is about to happen, even when it doesn’t, and isn’t that what Silent Hill has always been about? It made a success of the unseen scares, despite the lack of a visible threat.
As well as the overall atmosphere being familiar, gameplay is very much what you will have come to expect from a Silent Hill game. Players will come across a variety of Melee weapons as well as firearms. Melee weapons are destructible and will only last through a certain number of strikes, and only one can be carried at a time. This leads to a constant worry that your weapon may break and you be left with no decent weapon to hand. You can carry some smaller items in your inventory such as health packs and a lighter (especially good for lighting up those shadowy corners to find a useful item) but it seems that proper weapon management will be a very important factor to consider.
The darkness and shadows act as the perfect hiding place for your enemies, and they will predictably lurch out from a dark corner when you least suspect it. Dead bodies suddenly reanimate as soon as you turn your back or a demon will leap from the shadows before you have any time to get out of the way. As the game is based largely around melee weapons, you will have to make use of the strong and weak attacks, as well as projectiles to best take on your assailants. This is a little difficult to control and it is likely you will find yourself repeatedly swinging in the wrong direction as the more agile opponents dodge around you. At this early stage your attacks seem a little unwieldy, but perhaps as you progress your proficiency with weapons will become better.
As well as attacking, there is the traditional inclusion of puzzles in the game. The developer has confirmed that there will be several difficulty settings for the puzzles included, so you can balance the settings depending on whether you prefer the thinking man’s game, or that of the fighting man. Even so, the puzzles encountered were rather straightforward and we will have to wait and see how prominent a place they will have in the overall game.
Music and sound has always been very important in Silent Hill games, and as previously mentioned it is a contentious issue for this title. Unfortunately the sound design in the section we encountered was rather basic. But saying that, sometimes silence is even more effective than a carefully composed piece of music. Sound effects such as dripping water, a cold wind and echoes in the dark do lend to the overriding sense of fear, despite being very much from the stock sound archive of horror film cliché. It did seem that the sound design perhaps hadn’t been fully realised in this build of the game, so it is hard to judge this aspect fully.
As with all Silent Hill titles, the story and setting are probably more important than the gameplay itself or the technical achievements of the development team. As such, it is unfair to reflect poorly on the title after playing a section out of context, with little in the way of narrative direction. From what we have seen of the storyline, it seems like your standard stranded protagonist in a known-to-be haunted town, waiting for all hell to break loose. But the promised importance of water physics and sudden torrential rain sounds exciting, and once again represents a new meteorological element, after the cold mists, deathly fogs and flames of hell we have seen in past entries in the series.
By focusing on different elements like this, each entry in the franchise seems to possess a very unique character, and as such each game tends to feel quite different from one to the next. As well as keeping things fresh, this also introduces the opportunity to make use of new gameplay mechanics specific to each element. We look forward to seeing how water will influence the structure of puzzles and exploration, as well as how it will be used both by you and against you. More time is definitely needed with the game before a full judgement can be made, but there are many glimmers of hope shining through in what we have seen. The series may be moving further from its origins, but it is certainly trying to evolve rather than become stuck in a loop and become stale. New ideas are important to keep a well-known title relevant and perhaps a sudden Downpour is just what Silent Hill needed?
Silent Hill: Downpour will be released for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 in Autumn 2011.