In its first few hours, Silent Hill: Downpour runs through a checklist of Silent Hill tropes with an almost cynical flair – the combat is clunky and awkward, the puzzles are obtuse and sometimes absurd, and zombie-like monsters shamble out of the fog and/or darkness with irregular frequency. It seems to be just another disappointing Silent Hill also-ran, going through the motions without any real purpose other than to give fans what they expect. And in those first few hours, you might make the mistake of dismissing it as just that.
Downpour actually has some smartly compelling, surprising and, yes, even scary moments up its sleeve, but it takes a little while to get to them. You do sort of get one right off the bat, though, considering that this is the first Silent Hill to introduce players to its combat system by making them brutally murder (or appear to murder) a man in a prison shower. The protagonist, Murphy Pendleton, has some excellent motives for this crime, which you’ll discover – along with the various other facets of his identity – very gradually as the game unfolds.
In any case, Murphy doesn’t stay behind bars for very long; during a transfer to another prison, his bus runs off a cliff near Silent Hill, the foggy, empty resort town where the streets are patrolled by monsters and frequently end with sharp drops into bottomless pits. Confused and hounded by a female prison guard who seems to have some kind of vendetta against him, Murphy flees into Silent Hill, and spends the rest of the game trying desperately to find a way out.
The game’s beginning – that “first few hours” we mentioned earlier – is a fairly linear plod through the outskirts of Silent Hill, including a huge mine that runs deep underneath the town. It’s here that you’ll really get a feel for the game’s combat, which relies largely on breakable weapons – axes, knives, pipes, bricks, beer bottles, etc. – that are scattered liberally throughout the game world. (If they break and there isn’t a new one nearby, you can use your fists; these aren’t nearly as effective, but they can still kill).
Guns and ammo are extremely rare, especially at first. So are first-aid kits, and while Murphy seems to gradually heal on his own (there’s no real indication of how hurt he is, other than the blood on his clothes and the way he walks), the lack of resources means it’s sometimes better to just run from confrontations, even though you probably won’t.
Above: You can probably take that thing in a fight, right?
While the “everything’s a weapon” approach is interesting, the combat itself isn’t, as it largely boils down to clumsily flailing away on the attack button while remembering to block whenever it looks like the monsters are about to attack. Memorizing the monsters’ attack patterns isn’t too difficult, either, as there are only five basic monster types in the game (none of which are as terrifying or grotesque as those in previous Silent Hills).
As Silent Hill fans know, purposely awkward combat is one of the hallmarks of the series; Murphy, like so many before him, isn’t a trained fighter, and he’s therefore lousy at it. However, knowing that doesn’t make the fights any more fun, especially not when they make up a large portion of the game.
Above: Shaking off stun attacks and grapples by waggling a thumbstick doesn't, either
When you’re not fighting, you’ll usually be wandering around trying to solve the seemingly inane puzzles the game tosses up to block your path, which frequently involve elaborate fetch quests (that force you into the paths of monsters) or hidden messages (often inscribed on the walls and visible only with a UV flashlight) for the combinations to locks. Some of these are actually fun and rewarding, like one in which you have to set off stage effects in the right order for a ghostly school play (which then rapidly transforms the auditorium into a dark, rainy forest). Too often, though, you’ll waste a lot of time scouring your immediate area for crucial hidden messages, items or hard-to-see doorways, which can really throw off the game’s pacing.