So, OK, that’s not the best start. Things get a lot more interesting once you reach Silent Hill proper, though. While this version of the town is filled with just as many sudden drop-offs, barriers and monsters as previous incarnations, it’s a quasi-open world filled with unique side-quests. These aren’t openly advertised; instead, you’re simply free to wander into any house, apartment or storefront that isn’t boarded up.
Once in there, you’ll find things that range from simple combination locks and uncomplicated puzzles to ghostly mini-narratives that unfold in front of you, if you can just ferret out the right items. Some of the side-quests can be pretty lengthy, involving scavenger hunts for objects scattered across town, and most carry Achievements/Trophies once you finish them, making them worth the effort. They’re also the source of some of the game’s most memorable moments, and – considering how easy it is to get used to the game’s tiny variety of monsters – some of its most terrifying.
It’s tempting to say that the side-quests are the high point of the game, but the central narrative also starts building up steam once you reach Silent Hill, with more interesting (non-optional) objectives, more revelations about the characters, more varied puzzles and more memorable set-pieces, several of which involve Murphy getting chased relentlessly through the twisted, barbed-wire-filled "Otherworld" version of Silent Hill by something that looks like a ball of red light and behaves like a sentient black hole.
The game makes decent use of 3D (for those who have the capability), using it to add considerably to the impressiveness of its bigger set-pieces. It’s also not afraid to bust out occasional, unexpected camera and lighting tricks that – while rare – can make for wonderfully effective scares. Also effective? The portions where you’re shoved into complete darkness, with monsters lurking around you and your field of view limited to whatever small area your flashlight or lighter can illuminate.
As much as Downpour managed to win us over in its later acts, we should point out that our play-through was buggy, with significant stuttering and lag whenever the game auto-saves. It's a nuisance more than anything else, but it's still infuriating when it happens.
In spite of its flaws, Silent Hill: Downpour does manage to be smart and imaginative in bursts, although again, most of those bursts are reserved for later in the story. Even so, exploring Silent Hill to find creepy new places to break into can be surprisingly addictive, and it's worth noting that Downpour is surprisingly long by the standards of modern games; our play-through took about 14 hours, and we only completed a few of the side-quests. The actual gameplay leaves a lot to be desired, but as recent Silent Hills go, this is one of the better ones.