The Silent Hill
franchise has been a big part of the survival horror genre since 1999, but the dwindling quality of the most recent games meant that fresh eyes and ideas were needed. Vatra Games, previously known for their work on Rush'N Attack: Ex-Patriot
, was handed the development reins in a bid to return the eighth instalment in the franchise to the glory days of its predecessors. North American gamers have had two weeks to decide whether this game is worthy of the Silent Hill
name, but the game only arrives in Europe today. Here’s our official review to help you make up your minds.
Murphy Pendleton is a convict in Ryall State Prison, but little is known about his past. Players don’t know what crimes Murphy has committed or for how long Murphy will be in prison. There are hints that indicate that his son is no longer alive, but players don’t know what happened there either. The game’s tutorial is the only clue that alludes towards Murphy’s personality, as he enters the prison showers tasked with killing another prisoner. The unarmed man is an easy kill, but his pleading is not of concern. The unwavering gaze of the man tasked with the job reveals not a single hint of pleasure, fear or regret; Murphy is a man who will complete any task without betraying his emotions.
While being transferred to another correctional facility, a moment’s loss of concentration by the driver results in the bus flying off the road and plunging down a steep embankment. When he regains consciousness, Murphy is completely alone. Sensing an opportunity to escape, he sets about finding another form of transport out of the area. So begins Murphy’s journey through Silent Hill.Welcome to HellSilent Hill: Downpour
is very much a game of three parts. The first is experienced while finding a way into Silent Hill and while exploring large buildings through the main storyline. There is a story that must be played out here, and while there are the odd areas off the beaten track that contain helpful items such as weapons, ammo or health kits, players are very much funnelled in the direction that is needed to progress. Locked doors or missing bridges mean that the initial appearance of an open area is very deceiving. Don’t get me wrong, this very much benefits the game as you rely on the tiny light source to try to get through the claustrophobic corridors. The surprises come frequently with the unexpected appearance of enemies and it is here where the suspense is the greatest.
The second part happens when players enter Silent Hill. The abandoned decaying nature of the town hides a more open world, with hints to the lives of the people who once resided here. A never-ending fog means that players can barely see a few feet in front of them. Enemy encounters are less frequent here, but this doesn’t make the game any less haunting. Windows will creak in the wind, gates will slam shut behind Murphy and crows will follow him across the town. Your eyes will deceive you as you come across bodies hanging from a tree, only to turn back and see that they have been replaced by tyres hanging from a rope. The real danger here, though, is the storm. It is rain season in Silent Hill and the few monsters roaming the streets don’t like the rain; it makes them more aggressive and they notably increase in numbers. Players are encouraged to seek shelter when the storms hit, as lengthy periods of time out in the rain decreases visibility as the storm grows stronger and increases the odds of becoming overwhelmed.
Although the option is available for players to rush through the open areas of Silent Hill and continue with the storyline, the real reward comes with exploring. There is a new mechanic in this Silent Hill
: a whole host of side quests. Some merely give an insight into the past while others will reward you with better weapons or access to the underground system. The side quests almost double the length of the game if players choose to complete them all, although one quest does not become available until the second playthrough.
The third part is the ever-present Otherworld. When the Otherworld crops up it is an entirely different experience. Gone is the need to explore, with essentials such as first aid kits appearing in obvious places where the developer felt that they were needed. There are few ‘normal’ enemies; instead, Murphy spends the majority of his otherworldly experience being chased by a weird unidentifiable vortex, a feature brought across from Shattered Memories
. When this appears, the game turns into a sprint through corridors and rooms where the wrong turning easily proves fatal. This is the fastest that Murphy will ever move. While normally moving at a slow amble, he doesn’t get much quicker when trying to escape a combat situation, instead moving at a slow jog that doesn’t seem quite fitting. Personally, I’d be running for my life in most of these situations.
When not being chased by a vortex, players have to avoid traps and solve simple puzzles to progress forward. It is then where you can stop and occasionally marvel at some of the environments, as here is where the developer was their most creative. While most areas involve black liquid flowing over every available surface, others can take on different appearances and there are sly references to other aspects of horror media. Vatra has really attempted to make this world a surreal experience and, outside of the repetitive sprint sequences, it does work. However, surreal is the closest that I can get to describing this area of the game as it doesn’t have the same nightmare feel carried by any of the game’s predecessors.Fighting for your life
In contrast to the Otherworld, the uninspired design of the enemies is a bit of a let down; all of them have a humanoid appearance. Their attacks are predictable to the point where they can be enticed towards Murphy ready for him to perform a pre-emptive strike. Of course, they can’t follow him through closed doors but they also seem unable to follow him through gaps in the wall, simply circling outside until he feels like facing them again. Combat can occasionally get frustrating when the camera spins unexpectedly, putting players in a position where they can no longer see the enemy and have no chance of retaliation.
Players are encouraged to use melee weapons and incapacitate enemies. Most weapons will degrade over time and will eventually break, but there are plenty of replacements dotted about around the town. Things like a wooden stick or rake will break fairly easily, but more sturdy weapons like fire axes will last for a fair amount of time. Guns also make effective melee weapons and I’m yet to find a pistol that breaks when being used to bludgeon an enemy. Ammo can be scarce though. In contrast to the weapons, your light source appears never to degrade. Lighters don’t seem to run out of fluid and the batteries in a torch will never go flat. My constantly-on torch that doubled up as a UV light lasted for several hours. This makes replacement light sources seem a little superfluous.Working things out
Puzzles play an important part in the game. Simple tasks are often needed to progress along the storyline, but the more interesting and challenging puzzles are found in the side quests. The difficulty of the puzzles can be placed on easy, medium or hard. The difficulty effects the number of clues afforded to the player and the placement of items needed to solve the puzzle; as the difficulty increases, less clues are given and the search area becomes wider. Regardless of difficulty though, the solution always remains the same. When stuck, listen to Murphy. He will drop hints to alert players to their next course of action.
As well as finding the objects to solve puzzles, there are collectibles spread throughout the game. The Mysteries go into Murphy’s journal, where players can also access their objectives and maps. The story does a very good job of filling in Murphy’s story, but the Mysteries add more detail both to his story and those of the characters that he meets. In a nod to the previous games, there are Silent Hill Artefacts to find too. None of these add in-game bonuses, so are entirely optional to those non-completionists among you.
The game has numerous endings, just like previous Silent Hill
games. Most actions throughout the game will affect the ending that players are given, so numerous playthroughs are required. Moral decisions, choosing to spare or kill incapacitated enemies and the outcome of the final encounter will all help to decide to the ending.Music to my ears
Fans of the franchise will know that long-time composer Akira Yamaoka has moved on to Grasshopper Manufacture, so the music duties were handed to Daniel Licht, known for his work on the Dexter
TV series. Firstly, the music isn’t anywhere near as obvious as previous games and, although present in tense encounters, it doesn’t become a distraction by any means. The quieter tone fits well with the open world nature of the town itself, while still managing the odd scare from a random burst of strings.
As for the sound itself, the voice acting is very well done and you can really believe in the characters. Unfortunately, some cut scenes can see the lip-syncing become completely unsynchronised. The sound can also be off when it comes to gunshots and the game occasionally has problems with the storm soundtrack, leading to this cutting out completely at times.
The Silent Hill
games are known for being clunky and, unfortunately, this game does little to dispel that reputation. I’ve seen numerous autosave logos appear in quick succession, even though the game isn’t actually saving. If the player happens to be jogging when this happens, the game will start juddering and can actually come to a complete halt for a second or two. I’ve seen monsters get stuck too. Textures can appear and disappear, and pop-up is not unusual. Finally, the in-game counters were a little glitchy for me right at the start of the game. I’d broken a pick axe and a boat hook before the weapons broken counter moved from zero to one. I’d also killed two weeping bats that didn’t count for the kill counter.Achievements
There is a fair mix of achievements here. There are story progression achievements and each of the side quests also has an achievement. There are achievements that depend on the way that players interact with the monsters. The Mysteries also have an achievement associated with them, so at some stage completionists will have to go on a thorough search of the area. However, completionists need to be aware that numerous playthroughs are needed. Of the six possible endings, five have achievements associated with them. Even with reloading previous save files, at least two playthroughs will have to be completed to get all five achievements, one of which has to be on the hardest difficulty to get the achievement for completing the game on Hard.Summary
This is a game of three parts: the storyline intensive parts where players are funnelled through atmospheric corridors, the open world Silent Hill with its optional side quests, and the surreal Otherworld. Each has its own haunting identity and a different playstyle is needed for each. Although enemies are present in all three instances, they are uninspired and predictable meaning that combat is never a huge challenge, even after the player’s melee weapon has broken. Puzzles are still an important part of the game though and are often needed to progress forward. The difficulty of these puzzles can be changed to suit the level of challenge that players are looking for.
Despite a change of composer, the soundtrack compliments the nature of the game extremely well. It is just a shame that glitches and hiccups in the game mean that problems with the soundtrack, graphics and gameplay are evident throughout the game. Despite this, the game has numerous endings meaning that fans will keep coming back for more. This is also the main reason why completionists will be looking at multiple playthroughs of this title. Grabbing some of the collectibles would also be advised. I would still recommend this title to fans of the survival-horror genre and I think that Vatra Games has made a worthy instalment to the long-running franchise.