Silent Hill: Downpour Hands-on Preview
Konami and Vatra have doled out Silent Hill: Downpour piecemeal for a while, giving journalists a chance to play specific sections at a succession of different trade shows. On December 5th, they started their San Francisco preview event by demoing the game's much-touted open world features. Producer Tomm Hulett (see our interview with him) ambled around the as-yet-unexplored southeastern section of Silent Hill, entering buildings, collecting sidequests and lore, and dodging unspeakable monsters. When he was done, I got a chance to play the first 1-2 hours of the game from the beginning. SPOILERS ABOUND!!! from here on out.
Players in Silent Hill: Downpour will take control of a man with a prosaic name: Murphy Pendleton. Murphy sports tousled brown hair and the kind of facial scar that makes chicks dig you more, not less. Potential girlfriends might have to reconsider, however -- as the game begins, Murphy is in jail. This is where the game's unique tutorial and extended, cinematic credit sequence take place, but that's all I can say for the moment. After a spectacular and supernaturally induced prison-bus crash, the game's intro ends with Murphy struggling to his feet, dazed but free.
Of all the places you could escape into, Silent Hill has to be one of the least appealing. No longer incarcerated, Murphy is quickly put to the test -- the game wastes no time introducing environmental hazards and difficult moral choices.
Once he reaches the outskirts of the town, the put-upon con is soon provided with the tools of his video game hero trade: a flashlight and some improvised melee weapons. There are roughly 50 different weapons in the game, and all will deteriorate when used. You'll also occasionally have to drop favored weapons to progress.
Silent Hill: Downpour is not a great-looking game. Wrangled by Czech studio Vatra, the Unreal 3 engine is looking a little long in the tooth, and the copy I played didn't push the 360's limits with sharp textures and fancy effects, like many AAA modern games. What it lacks in technological wizardry, however, it makes up in effective art direction and atmosphere. The town looks terrifying, all fog and uncanny emptiness; deft touches like an abandoned wheelchair on a gas station roof really drive home the eerie malaise.
It soon becomes clear that to make good his escape, Murphy will have to pass through the Devil's Pit Mine, a picturesque hole in the ground with what is almost certainly a tragic history. Problem is, the mine is only accessible by a special gondola, and the gondola only takes special tickets. Unfortunately for our hero, some unseen force has ripped the ticket machine out of the wall and dragged it across the street, to a supremely creepy motel-slash-diner. Following the ticket machine will be easy -- dragging the machine left deep, unsettling grooves in the ground.
Murphy is hot on the trail when he suddenly encounters another person. Harold Blackwood, a glassy-eyed African-American postman, is a dead ringer for Danny Glover. Moreover, he might just be actually dead. After delivering the kind of cryptic warnings you expect from a Silent Hill NPC, he promptly disappears.