Say the name “Silent Hill” to a gamer, and it often conjures up images of fog-laden towns, disturbing visuals, brain-teasing puzzles, frightening twists… and occasional comedy involving aliens (gotta love those UFO endings). Unfortunately, it also brings up thoughts of recycled monsters (we get it, Pyramid Head was awesome), and plots that consistently refer back to the first few games. Thankfully, I was able to attend a preview event for the eighth entry in Konami’s horror series, Silent Hill Downpour, and it is not only a return to what made the series great, but also a fresh take on the iconic town and its horrors.
The new game thankfully avoids tying into the original story of the Order and its activities in the first game. This time you play prisoner Murphy Pendleton, who was on a prison bus that crashes near the infamous town. From there on, Murphy must navigate the town, facing the horrors there as well as his own inner demons. From the get-go, the game feels more open to exploration than previous entries. After a look-around the wrecked bus, a flashlight is found and tied onto Murphy’s waist, thankfully sparing me from relying on the lighter he carries to illuminate the darker areas. Having the flashlight isn’t mandatory, but it helps keep light without sacrificing combat. In fact, the inventory has been reworked; gone is the ability to carry multiple large weapons, you can only carry one at a time, and all have a limit before they break on you. Often, you have to decide which weapon to take not just for combat, but for puzzle elements. A fire-axe can help smash through boards, but you may need the long stick with a hook to pull down a ladder to continue on your path.
Another fun aspect is the return of a more open-world approach to the town. While you may start in the woods and mines outside Silent Hill, the majority of the game takes place in the town’s South East area, which has not been shown in previous games. While exploring, the various buildings seem more accessible, with you able to enter various buildings. This actually serves for the new side-quests. As you travel and explore, you’ll discover clues to optional tasks that you can do for various rewards.
Of course, you guys want to know about the scary stuff, don’t you? Well, in keeping with the game’s new theme of water, when it rains monsters will appear. The heavier the rain, the more dangerous it becomes. You can duck inside buildings to hide out from many of the more regularly appearing creatures. Combat is easy to pick up and play, but for those of you who play more for the puzzles, you can set your difficulty at the start for both combat and puzzles, customizing your experience in a way that hasn’t been since the early entries.
When things shift to the infamous Otherworld, it still has that air of terror and industrialization that we’ve come to associate with it, but instead of a fire motif, it’s all torrents of water. And these sequences also introduce us to a strange black hole-like thing that will give chase and kill you, forcing you to think on your feet as you run for your life.
Another feature that will most likely alter your playthrough’s plot is the moral choices. At certain points, Murphy will be offered a choice between doing the right thing or making things worse. While these are fun to watch, I had yet to see if it altered anything down the road. And this is going to be a long game, because after playing for over 3 hours, I had yet to reach the town itself.
Silent Hill Downpour looks like a great entry for both old fans and newcomers to jump into, and you can bet that we’ll cover more as we get close to its early 2012 release.