Day 286: Silent Hill: Downpour

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Well, this is depressing.

Though I’ve enjoyed revisiting some of my favorite games in the horror genre, I’ve also forced myself to relive the downfall of a series that I hold very dear. There’s good news and there’s bad news on that front. Good news – the road stops here; this is end of my suffering. Unfortunately, it’s also the end of Silent Hill.

It’s fitting, in a way, since Downpour is, to be frank, an awful game. I can’t say it’s the worst in the series because Origins exists, but, that’s getting away on a bit of a technicality. Origins was a hack job, broken and reformed multiple times until it lacked any identity of its own. Downpour, on the other hand, was released as intended, spearheaded by a team that seemed to have a contempt for the series they were stuck working on and trying their damnedest to shape it into something else entirely. The irony is that Downpour feels like an amalgamation of the previous three games, culling little bits and pieces from each, though never the best parts. There are the breakable weapons and QTEs from Origins, the chase sequences from Shattered Memories, and the unconvincing ¬†characterization and dull color palette from Homecoming. Predictably, like those three games, it also copies and attempts to recapture the magic of Silent Hill 2.

Downpour is the story of Murphy Pendleton, a prisoner that has repressed memories because repressed memories are the only thing Western developers seemed willing or capable of making a Silent Hill game about. What those memories actually are… the game doesn’t really seem to care, making sure to hit you in the face with an endless assortment of riddle-spouting NPCs that don’t ever actually offer an answer. Though Downpour feels very focused on putting forth a certain attitude about what Silent Hill really is and how the town is some sort of sentient purgatory that likes to punish people (which is flat out wrong), it’s also extremely noncommittal, acting as if a straight answer about anything would somehow be against the spirit of the series.

It makes sense when you realize that Downpour added a writer/producer that hated the cult storyline that Team Silent created and found the first game confusing. Ignoring the obvious follow-up question as to why you’d then put this person in a position of influence, it resulted in a game that attempted to retain the obfuscation of the older games whilst stripping out any references at all to occultism. What remained was a poorly presented choose-your-own-adventure that constantly contracts itself and often resorts to telling generic ghost stories. In fact, every side quest in the game is about a wandering soul that you need to put to rest.

Never do these quests result in anything of value, not even so much as an extra bit of lore, primarily because there is none. This town is homogenized and focus tested, asking you to explore it whilst at the same time having nothing to discover, nothing to challenge you. Buildings are reduced to mere haunted houses, sometimes offering a cheap scare or an enemy in a bad Halloween costume for you to run from. Never are you left in shock from what’s in front of you, most likely because that very thing is something you’ve seen a million times before, in slasher movies, campfire stories or Goosebumps novels.

That’s why Downpour is such an appropriate place for the series to have gone out. It’s the culmination of years and years of Silent Hill being misunderstood and misused. It’s the fourth failed attempt by Western developers to make another Silent Hill 2, still not understanding that James Sunderland’s story was about more than just guilt and a monster with a large weapon. From the words of Takayoshi Sato himself, it was about sex and death. It was about deeply shaking the hearts of the people that experienced it.

I walk away from Downpour today the same way I have so many times in the past – tired, frustrated, and worst of all, unshaken.

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2 thoughts on “Day 286: Silent Hill: Downpour

  1. Harsh…I saw it as less about repressed memories and more about guilt and denial both from Pendleton and Annie. The comic Annie’s story fleshes out her side in a way that complements the story.

    I liked the side quests and lore. Some of the stories were horrible, some tragic. They helped provide some sense of the town as as town rather than a purgatory.

    I was never a fan of the cult story lines which is why I liked SH2 and Shattered Memories so much. Cult story lines make for cheap horror when done badly (hi Homecoming!) I prefer my horror more personal.

    Downpours binary choices let it down and that was was a creative misstep but I enjoyed the experience when it didn’t involve forced combat. The final section was awful and the final boss was infuriating but it wasn’t the worst. I even liked Origins! Homecoming was a dreadful experience from beginning to end. I just wanted it over. I didn’t care about any of the characters whereas I loved Murphy’s little screams of panic. They made him feel more real than Henry’s baffled “what the hell” or ‘Soldier’ Alex’s stoic response to unspeakable horror.

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    1. Hey there. First of all, thanks for taking the time to read and comment.

      One of the most interesting things about the series to me is how differently people seem to value the various aspects of it, so I’m always welcome to hearing new perspectives, even if I disagree with them.

      The problem with the entire concept of guilt on Murphy’s part is that there are possible endings where either a) he didn’t actually do anything or b) he long passed the moral event horizon and shows absolutely zero remorse for it. While I’ve never read the tie-in comic (and have no reason to), the characterization of Anne in the game is that of an irrationally angry women that simply refuses to explain why she’s acting that way for the purpose of plot contrivance. Once Murphy actually does explain himself, Anne does a complete 180.

      The side quests to me felt aimless. I love extra bits of detail, but it felt like they did little to enhance or elaborate on the lore of the town beyond “people just end up here and can’t leave”, which is enforced even more by the mailman and DJ characters, neither of whom are ever explained (apparently there’s a comic about the mailman, but again, that shouldn’t be required reading) and who both act like the town is some sort of moral enforcer trying to teach them a lesson.

      Say what you will about the occult aspects, but that flies directly in the face of the themes established by Team Silent. To me, there is no Silent Hill without the cult and I certainly wouldn’t describe the execution in either SH1 or 3 as cheap. There was still space to tell a deeply personal storyline with both that didn’t revolve around “someone died and I forgot about it and/or feel guilty”, which dictated the rest of the series. To me, SH2 works so well because it’s a departure, not a blueprint.

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