Saturday, 25 August 2012

Silent Hill: Downpour - First Impressions/Warning

To say I'm a bit of a fan of Silent Hill would be like saying that Charlie Sheen is somewhat keen on cocaine and losing money. At least 3 of the games would go into my top 10 of all time and I could spend hours discussing the symbolism of Mary's outfits or Heather's secret guardian monster. Anyone? PLEASE!? And yet thankfully I'm not one of those weaboo hipster "Only Nihon no Silent Hillz r good" fuckheads. I've managed to enjoy most of the Western developed Silent Hill games, Shattered Memories in particular is spectacular with a story far greater than any that ever involved an evil cult. So it's not prejudice that fuels my refusal to continue to play Silent Hill: Downpour. No, it's more the fact that what I've seen so far is plaintively terrible.

The game starts with a scripted action sequence in which you, a prisoner whose parents named him Murphy Pendleton and as such almost definitely hated him from birth, murder a fat man in a shower. Sounds fun, I know, but right from the get-go I had several problems with this part. First of all, this section acts as something of a tutorial, complete with on-screen pop-ups giving you masses of instructions. Practical yes, but horribly detrimental to immersion. You see, when you boot up Silent Hill 2, there are no control charts clogging up the screen, or tutorials mandating that you use each attack 3 times to show the game you've understood it like it's your fucking nursery teacher showing you how to match shapes. It almost feels like you're actually involved and that you're maybe not playing a video game. In Downpour, it's painfully obvious that this a videogame, and not in an ironic, postmodern way like Metal Gear Solid 2 or something. This is something I've noticed in all of the Western Silent Hill games, and it takes you right out of the moment, every time. Maybe it's just indicative of the times; studios can't imagine modern casual gaming "I need something to blow up before I can get an erection" bellends tolerating having to maybe read an instruction manual for 5 minutes, which is fine in a lot of games but for a game so dependent on immersion as Silent Hill (should) be it's a poor design choice, to say the least.

Another glaring problem with this section is the fact that it shows you the murder outright. On my English course, when writing stories we were taught to "show, not tell," and of course Downpour breaks even the most basic of writing guidelines by telling and not showing. This is another sign of the times; in the past, when the writer wanted the audience to know that a murder took place, Mary's murder in SH2 for example, they built up a steady stream of clues and symbolism, culminating in some grainy black and white footage that you couldn't even be sure showed anything of significance. Downpour doesn't trust you to understand such complex symbolism and as such has you performing the murder in a well-lit room as the first fucking level. Hooray for subtelty! I suppose it might be necessary for the story to know this took place but I spent a good hour or 2 pissing around in caverns and hotel rooms, leaving a few diary entries or video clips to build up even the slightest sense of intrigue wouldn't have gone a miss here, guys! Of course, it's revealed to be a dream but I'm assured this did actually happen. I think, I didn't care enough about the story to do much research that didn't involve Wikipedia.

In a dazzling display of originality, Sir Murphy Charles Rudyard Pendleton the 3rd is being transferred to a different prison when his bus crashes and he makes a daring escape, proving definitively that there's NOTHING that modern Silent Hill games won't steal from Resident Evil and do slightly worse. The following section sees more shameful rehashing of modern action gaming tropes with the inclusion of quicktime events and moral choices, the quicktime event in which you balance Murphy as he walks over a log proving particuarly annoying with the fact that it's obscenely difficult and I died like 6 times, again kicking the immersion square in the testacles. The section does take place in a darkish forest though, the section is Resident Evil 0 was in a dark forest so it had to, which makes me picture a developer desperately pleading with the player, saying "Look, it's dark! Old SH games were dark too! See, we're still good!" A later section which invokes a similar image is one in which you run up a never-ending staircase, only to turn around and have the exit right in front of you. It's supposed to be a mindfuck, but wasting 10 minutes running up stairs with no indication that you're supposed to turn around is just irritating. In fact, in the time I spent playing Downpour there were no real mindfuck moments at all, just jump-scares and signpostings of enemies with noises from the next room, removing the thrill found in earlier games, when your radio buzzes but you can't see anything, almost entirely.

I think my real problem with Downpour as a whole is that it's aiming to be something of a Greatest Hits package. It's like the developer didn't play any of the old Silent Hill games but was given a list of things that were used in old Silent Hill games and told to use all of them. We get the rusty Otherwold from SH1, breakable weapons from Origins, chase sequences from Shattered Memories, poor combat from all of the earlier titles, a feature added to please the fans I imagine; it can't be for story purposes, this guy is a convict and I imagine more than capable with weaponry. Lack of cohesion is a massive issue, the game tries to do so much and ends up being a Jack of all trades, master of fucking nothing. It tries so hard to include all of these features to please the fans, pretty much begging them to accept this as a true Silent Hill game, but trying to do this while simultaneously trying to please modern action audiences with copious unneccesary violence and quicktime events is the game trying to have all of the cake, eat it and requesting a doggy bag, and the inclusion of these features will, ironically enough, probably turn away the Silent Hill fans the game is trying so hard to cater to. But it's not just a bad Silent Hill game, it's just a bad game in general. I can forgive quicktime events if they're done well or moral choices that make the story interesting but they're not used in any noticeably meaningful way, they're just there because the developers think they need to be. Shame, really.

After putting up with all of this bullshit, I got to part in some caverns, entered a room and heard a monster screaming in the next room. I said to myself, "if I get attacked in here I'm selling this piece of garbage." I hope whoever buys my pre-owned copy from Game has a better experience than I did.

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