Eight games in, and new developer Vatra Games has been tasked with helping the ailing Silent Hill franchise recapture some of its former glory. Gone are the days when SH games were universally lauded for their unique blend of psychological masochism and good-old-fashioned monster madness, replaced instead by a series of recent titles that have packed in the gore and mind-games, but lacked much in the way of genuine emotional connection. In short, the world got used to Silent Hill.
Vatra, in an attempt to shake up proceedings, have placed a greater emphasis on melee combat in Downpour. So as escaped prisoner Murphy Pendleton, players are thrown into a Silent Hill with more close-quarter brawls, more (initially, at least) surprise ambushes and more imaginative uses for the detritus that litters the abandoned town. You can pick up sticks, rocks, axes, and even bricks if traditional weapons aren’t available, and wail away on the hordes of nightmarish monsters that loom out of the ubiquitous fog. In fact, you’ll spend so much time dueling with the beasties that you’ll quickly overcome any residual fear or horror that the game is capable of mustering. A bloated and awkward combat system means that you’re forced to block once for every couple of attacks, leaving echoes of turn-based combat that doesn’t belong in a Silent Hill game.
What made the series so terrifying when it debuted was the ‘otherworld’ that the individual games only hinted at; a hidden realm of such horrific cruelty and suffering that players felt genuinely unsettled by each and every visit. But we’re used to it by now, and Downpour focuses on the wrong things. Combat was never what made Silent Hill great – it was the atmosphere, the environment and the sheer, twisted terror. A new injection of intellectual capital is needed if the franchise is to get back into the survival horror race and, based on Downpour, it’s not going to come from Vatra.