Underrated Games - Silent Hill: Downpour

A lot of Silent Hill fans will tell you that the best games of the series are the first three, no questions asked. Perhaps they’d be considered right by some; admittedly, newer games like Book of Memories, Homecoming and Shattered Memories aren’t exactly comparable to the original three for various reasons. Yet one game that is continuously and unfortunately overlooked is the most recent instalment of the franchise, Silent Hill: Downpour.

Downpour introduces protagonist Murphy Pendleton; a convict with a troubled past, to say the least. It’s eventually revealed that Murphy used to have a son, who he lost shortly before going to prison for car theft. At the beginning of the game, we know little about Murphy except that he’s incarcerated and is looking to exact revenge on a fellow prisoner, Patrick Napier. As you continue to play, more and more will be revealed to you about Napier, about the death of Murphy’s son, and particularly about Murphy himself, whose history is complex and manages to build him into an emotionally rich character. The story that unfolds is both incredibly disturbing and at times deeply upsetting; it could even be considered the darkest game of the entire series. However, that’s far from being the only reason Downpour is one of the most interesting, recent Silent Hill games.

The actual town of Silent Hill itself in Downpour is beautifully built, down to the tiniest of details. From the huge, crumbling structures of the Centennial Building and St. Maria’s Monastery, to the polished sheen left on the streets after rain everything is perfect. Similarly to previous games, Downpour’s Silent Hill is a sprawling maze of dilapidated suburbs, eerie alleyways and roads that seem to lead you in endless directions. And, of course, the all too familiar fog hangs over the entire place like a bad headache. Yet, before you even get to the infamous town you’ll come across a hellish Diner and what can only be described as a labyrinth of mines, both of which you’ll have to navigate and escape from unscathed. As you progress through the game you’ll eventually unlock new areas, like the Port District and Logan’s Park, where you can explore and pick up some valuable stuff, all while enjoying the beautiful musical score that will not fail to unnerve you. There’s even a disused subway underneath the town that you can use to get around if you complete the necessary side-quest.

While we’re on the subject of side-quests, the ones you’ll encounter in Downpour are both incredible and pretty damn horrifying, as you’d expect. They’re dotted around the town randomly and to find most of them you’ll have to do a little exploration, which is often worth it since you’ll receive some kind of reward for completing each one. You might even consider the side-quests themselves reward enough, since they’re all unique, fascinating and only add to the atmosphere of the game. Some are lengthier than others, such as the one where you can choose to look for various paintings hidden around Silent Hill that you must then piece together. Some however can be done in a snap, like the one where you can help lay the spirits of a murdered family to rest. All of them give you the chance to discover the stories of some of the former Silent Hill residents, but be warned; these stories aren't exactly fairy tales. There are fourteen of them in total, and they’re all completely worth your time and effort.

As far as monsters go in this game you’ll come across a few regular types, like the Screamer and Prisoner Minion; these can be found in almost every area, especially outside on the street. Others, like the Doll and Weeping Bat, can only be found in specific areas like the mines or the the Centennial Building. These minor monsters are generally easy to kill with a few hits but when they come at you in groups, you’d better have a good weapon to hand. It’s a good thing weapons are plentiful in Downpour and certain ones like the fire axe will stand you in good stead for a healthy length of time; there are even special, unlockable weapons, so keep your eye out for them. In addition to the weapons, you'll find a fair amount of first-aid kits dotted about as well as a whole host of what I'll call 'documents', things like letters, police reports, photographs and drawings; a lot of them will give you information on Murphy's past, serving as reminders that the town is relentlessly trying to mess with Murphy's head. It just wouldn't be Silent Hill without the psychological torture.

Alongside the mental stress and minor beasties, there are of course the bigger, meaner monsters, and the game doesn’t fail to deliver on this front. The first one you’ll meet is the Void, a strange entity almost like a vortex, that sucks in and destroys everything it reaches. The extra bad news here is that you can’t kill the Void; your only option is to keep running until you’re safe again, which is easier said than done. Then there’s the Wheelman, a grotesque, disfigured corpse in a wheelchair who will follow you for the majority of the game, only showing himself at certain points. Like many of the monsters in the Silent Hill series, this monster is symbolic of something, and the Wheelman is specifically symbolic of a character from Murphy’s past. You’ll get to know more about this character the more you play. Finally there’s the Bogeyman, the main antagonist of Downpour. Now, the Bogeyman is not exactly on the same level as Pyramid Head in terms of how terrifying he is, but that’s not to say he isn’t still a pretty damn scary monster, particularly with his heavy raincoat, gas mask and massive sledgehammer. You’d better be prepared to think fast when it’s time for you to fight this guy. Again, the Bogeyman is a symbol, but what he’s symbolic of is something you’ll have to find out for yourselves.

Like previous games, Downpour has a range of brilliant characters besides the monsters. Along your journey you’ll meet Howard Blackwood, a mysterious postman who isn’t exactly new on the Silent Hill scene, DJ Bobby Ricks from the Centennial Building, and suicidal J. P. Sater, all with their own distinctive stories and personalities.

Among all of the questionable Silent Hill installments that have recently been released, Downpour really is a gem worth playing. Echoes of the originals really ring through it, and yet it doesn’t sacrifice its own unique character in order for this to happen. Downpour has a very special, well-deserved place in the Silent Hill franchise and a brilliant story to tell.

Silent Hill: Downpour can be found at most game stores for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, at prices from around £13.00 to £19.99.

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