Silent Hill Downpour

What separates a good game from a poor one?

Of course, games plagued by software bugs are generally considered poor. I recently reviewed Amy, a throughly broken horror game, and its problems are quite clear. But what about games that do not have obvious glitches? The type of game that you dislike even though there’s no one thing that really turns you off. What about games that are universally panned and yet the critics cannot agree on which problems are the most egregious?

Silent Hill Downpour is one of these hard-to-pin-down games. On the one hand, it’s been built out of component pieces from previous Silent Hill games. The combat system resembles Silent Hill 4, the weapons break like in 0rigins, the camera and movement are based on Homecoming, the otherworld draws heavily from Shattered Memories. There’s a dead dog scene a’la Silent Hill 3, a character with a problematic past a’la every game since Silent Hill 2, and even a reasonably interesting Pyramid Head knockoff called The Boogyman. Sometimes, especially in the early part of the game, I wondered if the developers simply included some of these bits to appeal to people like me who’ve played the entire series.

On the other hand, Downpour sets out to be a game fundamentally unlike every other Silent Hill game to date. Its design is based on a basic premise that is a radical departure from previous games, and its effect changes many of the core gameplay systems dramatically.

I’ve written a review of Downpour that is really an exploration of this basic design deviation and why I think it almost ruins the game. This is one of the longest articles I’ve written for a single game, and it took me a long time to sort my thoughts out. Check it out and let me know what you think.

18 thoughts on “Silent Hill Downpour

    Or perhaps it should be called critique (in its proper meaning). I really liked how you built a solid case around what the root of problem of problem was with downpour and elaborated from there. Good stuff!

    Also interesting because I have been thinking about how to make an open world Silent Hill (or just survival horror in general), and Downpour seems to give good pointers on things to avoid. Do you think it is worth playing from a design perspective?
    My own thinking on how to make something like Silent Hill more open would be to also leave the design more open with the game shaping itself around the player. So for instance no matter which house you enter fist, you always encounter something from set of specific early events (eg an introduction to an important character). Guessing Downpour does not have any of this, but just a static world where all things are set out in specific places?

  2. I think your critique was excellent, but there are two points you didn’t touch on that I thought were valid.

    First, I have to give the creators credit for one thing; Some of the side-quests were absolutely engaging and excellent (in particular, the movie theater and murder mystery ones stick out most in my mind. If you pay close attention thought-out the game, you realize that the locations in the movie theater quest all take place in Murphy’s Neighbor’s home, pretty creepy!).

    Second, you didn’t touch on what I believe to be a major issue with the game; incredibly weak enemy design, which lacks in both quality and quantity.

    Other than those two points, my thoughts mirror your own.

  3. Egregious? F**k me, you’ve got me groping for my Collins before I can go any further. I’ll be back to read the rest when I’ve looked it up.

  4. Good stuff!

    Thanks, Thomas. Means a lot coming from you! And yes, critique is a better word.

    Do you think it is worth playing from a design perspective?

    If you have the time, yes. I’m a big believer in learning from the failures of others. You can choose to avoid the main story and play around in the open world for a while if you want to see how they solved specific problems (how and when to spawn enemies, etc).

    As you sussed, Downpour does not schedule events programatically. It does attempt to funnel the player through a more constrained route early in the game before opening the whole world up, and this lets them do a little bit of force-feeding. But generally it doesn’t work very well.

    I think that the problems Downpour has are not intrinsic to open world games, though. I’ve often thought that something like Siren, which is already built out of large open spaces, could be stitched together to make an open world game and still be compelling. The main problem to solve, I think, is the agency thing: the player needs to feel as if they are making progress towards something and not just running around randomly, otherwise there’s no point in continuing.

    Some of the side-quests were absolutely engaging and excellent

    Yeah, I liked some of them too. Not all of the content in Downpour is bad. Some of it is actually quite inspired. The thing is, the game as a whole doesn’t work for me because of the way these segments hang off of the open world.

    And yeah, the enemy design is very poor. But it didn’t ruin the game for me the way some of the other faults did.


    “outstandingly bad.”

    Thanks for the kind words, folks!

  5. I think this might be in the top three of written reviews / analyses of a game and why it works/doesn’t work overall. Well done, sir.

    That being said, I am surprised that you didn’t mention the enemies. I only made it past the library before giving up on the game, but I have to say that those were some of the most intensely boring enemies I’ve ever seen in a Silent Hill game.

    The female and male enemies that you first encounter seem like they’re out of a fictional trailer park and their intensity seems to be based on their numbers, not their creepiness. They more or less act like boxers, only looking substantially uglier.

    The ghosts seem silly as an enemy, as well. I understand wanting to theme areas, but an enemy needs to be at least as creepy and intimidating as its atmosphere. The children at school in SH1, the creatures that slide along the ground out from under cars in SH2, the nurses in all the hospitals — these areas were already creepy in their own right and these creatures only added to the mixture. The ghosts are a joke and the Jills and Jacks encountered in the overworld (although interesting the first and maybe even second time) just get old very quickly.

    Also, just a personal opinion (I played this on the PS3), but I hated the balancing parts of the game. They felt clunky and it really did work to take me out of the game (especially in the library).

    Also-also…I really liked the first Otherworld transition and the chance to explore it. What I found awkward was that it seemed like those “all hell is breaking loose” moments felt more like an attempt to usher you through the Otherworld as fast as possible later on. “Nothing to see here, folks! Let’s just get you back to the rain as fast as possible!” I’d go into more detail, but I don’t really want to spoil those particular moments for people who haven’t played yet.

    If I had put down the game after completing the Devil’s Pit Stop, I probably would have given the game a 9. Putting it down after the library, I gave it a 5. I probably could have finished the game, but I just wasn’t motivated to by that point.

  6. That’s a pretty fair assessment, and everything about the open world design (and its associated problems) is spot on. Also, as other people have mentioned, the enemy design is really uninspired. I think just about every single one of them is simply a dirty, messed up humanoid figure. The lack of creativity in that department turned me off more than anything else, really.

    And yet, for some reason, I personally thought Downpour was the best game to come out of the series since they stopped making them in Japan. I know Shattered Memories gets a lot of love from the fans, and it did some really interesting things, but I never found it scary. And when it comes to grading horror games, scariness is my number one criteria. Downpour isn’t perfect by any means, but it has some legitimately creepy moments. Luckily, I’m willing to put up with a lot of crap to get to those parts. Case in point: I liked Rule of Rose.

    That being said, I shudder to think of what would have happened if Downpour had shipped last October, like it was originally supposed to. Sadly, even at their best, these Western-developed Silent Hills don’t stand up to the older games. I know Team Silent has been gone for a while, but I’d really like to see Konami let a Japanese studio take a crack at the series. Who knows? They might be pleasantly surprised with the results.

  7. Great review/critique, Chris.

    As others mentioned, the monster designs (or lack thereof) bothered me a bit as well.
    The enemies mostly seemed like crazy people figures rather than the wonderful and unique Silent Hill monsters that usually come with the series.

    But aside from that, there were much deeper design problems that I think you covered quite thoroughly and quite well.

  8. Great review Chris, sums up my feeling towards Downpour nicely. Although I have to say even though it’s the root of most the games problems I have no doubt that an open worlded Silent Hill could’ve worked. Finding that part in SH2 with that cryptic line ‘there was a hole here but now it’s gone’ is one my favorite moments from the series. It made me want to explore Silent Hill more thoroughly, to bad there was nothing worth seeing. Downpour missed a great opportunity to explore and revisit the original Silent Hill established in the first three games.

  9. Great article as always, Chris.

    It’s a pity that Downpour followed the fate of Alone in the Dark with its great premise, but bland execution.

    In this case I think that this game could have benefited from a smaller town map with more unique and memorable locations, and maybe more random stuff happening outside, based on the player’s style. The tedious backtracking, the lack of any reward or direction similar to D2 and the overly sloppy combat (even worse than most of the older entries) is very negative direction to take for a series that has such a room to grow.

    The game could have easily solved the problem with the numerous weapons lying on the map by having them to reappear again. I haven’t finished the whole game, but at a very early stage of the game the player had to break a lock using a wrench. If the player decides to discard the wrench or send it over the locked fence, that item appears again on its initial position after a few seconds. Maybe a cheap solution, but a bit less frustrating.

  10. Superbly written critique Chris! It’s a strange game Downpour because I do feel that it’s heart was in the right place if you know what I mean.
    It was incredibly ambitious and brave to take the series in the open world direction so I applaud Vatra for that. I just wish the open world was handled in a similar way to Deadly Premonition(THE best survival horror game of this generation imho) Would be great if Swery directed the next silent hill. That would be awesome. Thanks for the great article. Really enjoyed reading it(and the comments too)

  11. This review actually got me excited for the game which wasn’t on my radar. Anyway won’t be playing it unless it’s released for PC.

  12. Remember guys a lot of people complained the combat in SH:Homecoming wasn’t broken, so Vatra dumbed it down.

    Which is funny, because the combat in Homecoming was copied from another action-horror game called Nightmare Creatures.

    I hope people are happy…

  13. …I knew for certain this series was dead to me. Should have stayed firmly in Japanese hands.

    R.I.P Silent Hill

  14. Not played this in weeks because I just didn’t feel up to it. Had other stuff to think about.

    Anyway, from what I did play of it, it seemed not too dissimilar to the older Silent Hill games, so I appreciate it for bringing back old school SH gameplay. The fact that you can finish it without killing any enemies means there must not be any bosses.

  15. The fact that you can finish it without killing any enemies means there must not be any bosses.

    There are a few boss-like encounters, but they require you to do something special, or take an indirect approach. Nothing like a traditional boss fight, though.

  16. Speaking of open world, Chris, check out Alan Wake’s American Nightmare. it nails that mechanic in all the ways the original game didn’t.

  17. “The other world resembles that of shattered memories”? Come on Chris, you know that’s not the case as there is no world of ice.

    Yes there is lots of running, and traps, but not a cold world, this may be more of a mix if that’s what you mean, unless you have not played this title out of some sort of fear that you will lose even more faith in the beloved franchise, which again we can all understand and relate to that fear.

    I agree that this is not a traditional silent hill in that it does not focus on samiel and the whole dimension shifting in to the protagonist fears so to bring them closer to hell and there soul being claimed by the darkness (shades of SH1, SH2, and SH3).

    But this is the closest that the developers of the USA have gotten to getting the SH formula right, considering the current generation of games, they seem to be the master of first person shooters, which for the most part is rinse and repeat.

Comments are closed.