E3 2011: Silent Hill: Downpour Hands-On Preview – Rain of Terror!
Written Monday, June 27, 2011 By Richard WalkerView author's profile
No Silent Hill game has ever been able to scale the lofty heights that Silent Hill 2 achieved back in 2001. That's just an indisputable fact. It's not even up for debate. It's just true, plain and simple. With western developers picking up the series after fourth title, Silent Hill: The Room, it's sadly been a case of diminishing returns ever since and the last game, Silent Hill: Homecoming failed to reignite the waning fortunes of the franchise. So what do you do when your survival horror series is on a downward spiral? You crib from another (relatively) successful horror game of course!
There's no avoiding the influence that Alan Wake appears to have had on Silent Hill: Downpour and so the game still very much looks to have a western flavour to it. All of the staples are in there, from the decaying, rusting gas station to the dead leaves on the ground and the forests of pine trees surrounding the area. Even the deep blue of night is reminiscent of Wake and in our hands-on demo, the scent of Remedy's psychological yarn is all-pervading. We're not sure whether that's a good or a bad thing yet, as it's a version of Silent Hill that we've never really seen before and as we progress through the outskirts of the small town's eastern regions, there's a severe lack of atmosphere and we miss the creeping sense of dread that Silent Hill was always so adept at conjuring.
There are actually no enemies to kill in the demo either, so the kind of weird creatures that will be lurking in Silent Hill: Downpour remain an entirely unknown quantity for now. As escaped prisoner Murphy Pendleton, we're treated to a short intro that sees the prison bus carrying him before it crashes, and a female US Marshall lose her footing on a cliff edge. We're assuming that this will have significance later on in the game, but for now we're tasked with simply exploring the immediate vicinity of the aforementioned gas station, which is abandoned and derelict, much like the rest of the town itself. We turn a radio on only to hear crackling and noise (that brings back memories), then find a crowbar and pick it up. Using the crowbar, we smash the padlock off a nearby gate and proceed to a cable car station on the other side of a small forest clearing. We find some tokens to ride the cable car to the ominous-sounding Devil's Pit, but the ticket vending machine has been torn from the wall, leaving sparking wires exposed and Pendleton stranded.
Realising that this area is a dead end, we have to return to the gas station and cross the road to a rusty old car and a filthy, boarded up diner. Admiring the car, Pendleton is startled as Howard the Postman appears from seemingly out of nowhere and the two share some friendly conversation about cars and other trivial stuff. Like any weird stranger, Howard then offers Murphy a warning to tread carefully, and as we turn around to thank him, he's mysteriously disappeared into thin air and the road ahead leads to a yawning chasm. Spooky! There's nowhere left to go but the diner then, so it's with trepidation that we clutch our crowbar and head around the back to find our way in. It's almost pitch black in the diner, with the only illumination coming from a few shafts of light penetrating the boards on the windows and a jukebox that still works somehow.
Confused as to where to go next, we check the toilets in the back, steal coins from the till behind the counter, grab a medikit from a cabinet in a corridor and try to backtrack. The back door we came in through is locked though and it's so impenetrably dark that we can't see a door to the side of the counter. We mess about picking up a chair, then a fire extinguisher before picking up the crowbar again (Pendleton can only carry a single weapon at a time), then we decide to consult our map to locate the door hidden from our view in the darkness. Upon going through the door, we're in the kitchen, lighting the gas stoves and setting the place on fire. Oops! We could use that fire extinguisher now. Clearly Murphy isn't much of a cook, but luckily he's able to find a valve to turn on the sprinklers. Like everything in Silent Hill, the valve is broken and so the pressure builds up in the pipes, blowing the gauge off the system sending it conveniently shooting through a door to another area.
Through here, it's more familiarly Silent Hill, with red lighting and plenty of grime, rust and filth encrusting every surface. On the wall, there's a picture frame that has to be rotated to bring down a counter-weight from the ceiling – a dead body strapped to a rusty bed frame – which in turn raises a gate into the next room. It's at this point that we encounter the first antagonist, a reality-warping red shapeless apparition that starts chasing us down a corridor. At the end of the corridor, there's a turn around a corner, but the passageway keeps lengthening to keep the exit agonisingly out of reach. Eventually we're able to hang a left, running down the next passage, where we can topple vending machines into the path of the chasing red light to slow down the relentless pursuit of the, erm... thingy. After a while, we're in a room with an exit on each of the four walls. Three have gates that slam shut, and one enables us to get out and make a break for safety up a narrow stairway and out of a door.
That's where the hands-on demo finishes and we're left feeling somewhat unsure about Silent Hill: Downpour. We've seen nothing of the game's touted water-based gameplay and none of the trademark nightmarish meat bags and monsters, which has us asking the question, will Silent Hill: Downpour bring the scares? As far as gameplay and atmosphere goes, Downpour seems to be adhering to the style of the western Silent Hill titles and those Alan Wake comparisons refuse to go away for now. Nonetheless, the E3 demo is just a small slice of what the game has to offer, so things could change as you descend ever-deeper into Silent Hill: Downpour's suburban hell. We just hope that developer Vatra Games injects more of the surreality, fiendish puzzles and terror that the franchise was lauded for before it lost its way.
Silent Hill: Downpour will be hiding under your bed in winter 2011.