Silent Hill: Downpour Hands-on Preview
Entering the diner, Murphy makes his way to the kitchen. A simple puzzle triggers the room’s emergency sprinklers, and the game’s subtitle is suddenly justified: any time there’s a lot of water on screen in Silent Hill: Downpour, you’d better watch out. Rain makes the town’s demons strong, and in the diner, the coursing sprinklers usher Murphy into one of the series’ distinctive nightmare sequences. Pursued by a malevolent black and red tentacle called the Shade, Murphy must sprint frantically away from the camera, toppling furniture as he goes to try and slow the Shade. Meanwhile, the environment constantly reconfigures itself in psychedelic and unhelpful ways.
Escaping the nightmare gives Murphy free reign of the diner and the motel upstairs. In these fetid environs, players will acclimate themselves to the kind of item collection and puzzling that comprise a large part of Silent Hill gameplay. Puzzle difficulty can be adjusted independent from combat difficulty, affecting the amount of information you’re given about sidequests and the number of hints and shortcuts that are provided to help with tricky puzzles.
The game’s first combat sequence takes place in the the motel basement, where Murphy encounters one of his fellow escapees, only to witness the man’s untimely end — punishment, no doubt, for the lame, barely-idiomatic Spanish invective that the writers decided he ought to be spitting.
Killing profane Latino criminals is all in a day’s work for a Screamer, the game’s initial enemy type. Culled directly from The Ring school of female horror adversaries (bedraggled, underfed, needs a hairbrush) the Screamer can take quite a beating with whatever implement Murphy has on hand, while occasionally immobilizing him with one of her eponymous screams.
It’s a battle of attrition, but player power eventually wins out. Though Downpour’s combat isn’t the most intuitive I’ve ever attempted, it’s a good mix between precise control and terror-inducing inaccuracy. With no health bar to speak of, you’ll have to pay attention to Murphy’s appearance for evidence of damage. Overall, the game strives to keep the UI interface to a minimum. There’s no big inventory to manage, and the HUD is very minimal. Text and other visual information is kept in a “notebook,” which is handy enough, though the amount of information the game tries to cram in there makes it difficult to use.
A few puzzles, a few dead Screamers, and one minigame later, and Murphy is on his way into the Devil’s Pit. Along the way, he encounters another deranged NPC who — despite not looking like a popular 1980′s actor — doesn’t manage to make any more sense than il postino pauroso.
The mine, it turns out, is run using ridiculous Rube Goldberg hydroelectric bullshit, which is good news for a man of Murphy’s puzzling abilities. As my time with the game drew to a close, I was busy monkeying around with a series of interconnected troughs. All the while, a pale, fleshy beast was stalking me — I put down the controller convinced that he and Murphy were about to have a frank exchange of ideas.
Despite its occasionally muddy graphics, Silent Hill: Downpour provides plenty of tension and survival horror thrills. Production values are clearly high, the voice acting and writing are convincing, if a little forgettable. The return to two series’ mainstays — town exploration and edge-of-your-seat melee combat — is both welcome and effective. Alan Wake may be the flashlight-wielding elephant in the current retail room, but with a storied franchise at its back, Downpour should have no trouble competing.