Critical Reception: Vatra Games' Silent Hill: Downpour

This week's edition of Critical Reception examines online reaction to Konami's Silent Hill: Downpour, a survival horror sequel that some reviewers describe as "an unfun, disappointing experience."
This week's edition of Critical Reception examines online reaction to Konami's Silent Hill: Downpour, a survival horror sequel that "succeeds on many levels," according to some reviewers, while others describe it as "an unfun, disappointing experience." Downpour currently earns a score of 63 out of 100 at GameSpot's Maxwell McGee scores Downpour at 7.5 out of 10. "It taps into the madness and surrealism that has made this series legendary, and presents Silent Hill as a more robust location than ever before," he begins. "Most of the fundamentals are still intact, but developer Vatra Games has not shied away from making some stark changes to this American nightmare. Some fit well into the Silent Hill formula, while others are a little off the mark." McGee continues: "It keeps some elements from series' history, but isn't afraid to change others. Fog is a good example: in previous games, it was thick and obscuring. Here, it's less prominent and is upstaged by the constant rain. While it's raining, enemies become more numerous and hostile. An element that merely enhanced the ambiance has evolved to include dynamic repercussions." Combat is problematic, however. "Additional design choices add complexity to the combat, but in doing so, they call more of your attention to the faults," McGee explains. "In early Silent Hill games, combat was deemphasized through simplistic controls and stellar sound design. "With Downpour, there are more ways Murphy can attack -- or be attacked -- in a fight. You spend more time thinking about combat, and the weaknesses therein become more pronounced. Striking an enemy still feels stiff, and against most enemies, the fights fall into predictable rhythms. When monsters attack in groups, one usually hangs back and temporarily disables Murphy with a sound-based attack. It's a novel tactic, but it's recycled throughout nearly the entire game." "Silent Hill: Downpour makes some questionable tweaks to the established formula, but those decisions distinguish it from the rest of the series," McGee asserts. "You may not agree with all of Vatra's choices, but they succeed in making an old town feel new again. And when it's the eighth installment in the series, that is quite an accomplishment." Richard Mitchell at Joystiq gives Downpour 3.5 out of 5 stars, citing several differences from earlier entries in the series. "Silent Hill itself plays a much larger role in tormenting [the game's protagonist] Murphy, and thus the player, than it did in Shattered Memories," he notes. "Clues to Murphy's former life are scattered about its rain-drenched streets and buildings, reminding him of things best forgotten -- the death of a loved one, crimes of passion, lapses in judgment. Exacerbating this is the return of Silent Hill's rust-laden Otherworld, a vile plane of existence that occasionally reveals itself to Murphy as the walls of reality literally disintegrate around him." Mitchell continues: "While previous entries were mostly content to let their protagonists move directly from objective to objective, Downpour allows Murphy to explore all of Silent Hill from the outset. This presents a brilliant duality, in that escape from Silent Hill is paramount, but the allure of learning more about it is undeniable." Other elements aren't as strong. "Creature design, unfortunately, has taken a step back, offering foes that border on mundane, especially in the world of Silent Hill," Mitchell says. Additionally: "Composer Daniel Licht does an admirable job creating a new score, though the loss of longtime series composer Akira Yamaoka may be Downpour's biggest detriment." "Silent Hill: Downpour succeeds on many levels, giving us something fresh while simultaneously digging deeper into the roots of Silent Hill itself," Mitchell summarizes. "Murphy's uninvited quest for self-understanding and redemption is made more poignant by the revelation that he's not alone. Others have walked the path before him and, as he discovers, others are walking it still. It's not without a few obstructions, but it's a path worth treading." IGN's Steven Hopper rates Downpour at 4.5 out of 10, claiming that it "knocks the series down a few more pegs." "There are a few connections that the game makes to the previous games in the series, but unfortunately most of what has been added isn't great," he notes. "There are a few fleeting moments in Downpour that offer legitimate thrills, but on the whole, the experience is very weak. The gameplay is dull and uninspired, the combat is loose and clunky, and the technical presentation is simply a mess." "Combat [...] plays a more important role in the game than it previous Silent Hill titles," Hopper adds. "Unfortunately, that combat is a mess. Swinging your weapons around is cumbersome, and nearly every attack from your enemies will stagger Murphy and cause him to lose control. Melee combat feels loose, imprecise, and unwieldy, regardless of what kind of weapon you're thrashing about. Perhaps the developers opted to build the combat in this way to make running away from battles more of a necessity, but that doesn't make it any fun." Hopper finds that the game's presentation has its own share of problems. "There are a lot of technical issues to be found in the game's graphics," he writes. "The game is rife with murky textures and drab environments (to be sure, Silent Hill is a drab and murky place), as well as more technical problems like texture popping, framerate stutters and moments where the game will straight up freeze momentarily." "The most frustrating thing about Silent Hill Downpour isn't the lousy combat, dull exploration, or even the technical gaffes," Hopper concludes. "It's the fact that every now and then while playing through the game's story, you'll see signs of brilliance; sunlight hinted from behind the overcast sky. "From the Otherworld sequences to the interesting protagonist as well as the way the very town itself is molded to Murphy's past all make for a game that could've really been something special for the series. However, all of the aforementioned issues play their role in making Downpour an unfun, disappointing experience."

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