Silent Hill Downpour will be released on March 13, 2012.
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Silent Hill Downpour stands apart from mythology games of the series
Konami’s Silent Hill has seen a near consistent downward trend in aggregate review scores since the third game in the series, often attributed to the breaking up of the original group of developers, Team Silent, and the outsourcing of more recent games to external parties. Each has tried to implement new ideas for the series while attempting to emulate much of the atmosphere of those earliest incarnations, only to be met with limited success. The latest team to take up the mettle is Vatra Games, an outfit whose only other credits are a pair of downloadable efforts with less than enviable receptions. Even so, it is not wise to simply write them off as a result of too little experience as Downpour, by all accounts, is shaping up to be one of the more worthwhile entries of latter days.
One of the most prominent ways that the developers plan to do this is by creating a game that stands apart from much of the established mythology of the series. Gone are many of the staple environments, including the hospital and school as Silent Hill Downpour is set in a new, previously unexplored segment of the town to allow for a far greater range of creative freedom when it comes to the map. But the changes go further than this as the game will hark back to the originals in that it will be an exploration into the mind of the main character with the adversaries being influenced by his fears. Whether this will mean that we’ll see the introduction of a new iconic character like Pyramid Head remains to be seen, but it seems feasible.
Regardless, the concept of the Otherworld is very much in place, as the protagonist will enter into the nightmarish realm as he progresses on his quest to escape from the town. It just wouldn’t be Silent Hill if this wasn’t the case. But even this has seen changes. No longer does the real world get peeled away; instead, it is sucked into a vortex and altered, but this only forms half of the picture. The game is subtitled Downpour and rain plays a very prominent role. In effect, it serves as a replacement to the blanketing fog that covers the eponymous town with the interesting idea of the more heavily the rain falls, the more strongly the Otherworld merges into reality. It plays into the idea of the lead character, Murphy Pendleton, being afraid of water. Furthermore, it has been stated that the volume of precipitation will vary dynamically as one progresses through the game and if this is true, it will most certainly keep players on their toes, fearing the next deluge, but also allowing them to relax at unexpected times.
The environments and atmosphere should be enough to make for a hair-raising experience, but this will be compounded by making Pendleton one of the most vulnerable protagonists yet, irrespective of his past as a violent criminal. Indeed, it is this history that will see the creatures of the Otherworld being manifested as some of the strongest that the series has seen, emphasising the idea that fighting is not always, if ever, the best idea. Making things even more difficult is the absence of the staple inventory system. Instead, you will be limited to a single melee weapon, which will be taking a leaf out of Techland’s book and making it breakable at any time with an errant swing. It’s a mechanic designed solely to heighten the tension of encounters and deserves a place in survival horror games. Perhaps we should just hope that the game isn’t overly combat-oriented, in order to maintain a semblance of uneasiness and creeping tension, rather than trying to frighten the player overtly.
Silent Hill Downpour gameplay – Spoiler-free town exploration
As for the story of Silent Hill Downpour, the premise is rather simple. Pendleton is on a prison transport, being transferred to a higher security facility when the bus slips from the road and he escapes in the ensuing fracas. Unfortunately, it is Silent Hill that he ends up in. He quickly discovers that he is trapped by floodwaters, but with the freakish occurrences the only reasonable thing to do is find a way out. As one would expect, the story implies that the gameplay will be ruled by fetch quests and their ilk as keys will need to be found and NPCs will need to be worked alongside for this ultimate goal to be achieved. It may seem rather banal, but if successful, it won’t be noticed. Further to this the map will be mostly open, the barriers created by the town itself as floodwaters rage barring access to certain areas.
Silent Hill Downpour also follows a growing propensity for developers to add contextual animation as the character’s movements and emotions will be reflected in his posture, enhancing the immersion. This is backed up by him speaking aloud to himself as he explores and examines his surroundings. Everything about the game is designed to draw the player in and to make them fear what they do not know, tapping in to the primal instincts that form a core part of the human psyche, and if Vatra manage to make Downpour as immersive and engaging as it seems on paper, then they may well have exemplified the survival horror genre and made the best game in the genre since the inception of this console generation.
Of course, it isn’t wise to get too far ahead of ourselves in our proclamations of grandeur, and to temper this, the note must be made that the series usual composer, Akira Yamaoka, has left Konami and will have no input on the musical choices. Direction of this portion of Silent Hill Downpour will instead be placed in the capable hands of Daniel Licht, an established professional in the field whose greatest claim to fame is his work in the television series Dexter. The other major technical aspect that may cause consternation is that the game is being developed upon the Unreal Engine 3. It has proven to be a powerful, versatile engine, but has almost always been found to be lacking in certain areas on the Playstation 3 platform, while some will insist that it simply isn’t capable of adhering to a higher standard when it is utilised by third party developers, as it is in this case.
All of the elements are in place to make Silent Hill Downpour a must-have game for anyone that enjoys the discomfort produced by the genre and it now falls to Vatra to bring them in to make a cohesive whole. The extra five months of development time (it was supposed to launch in October of last year) have to have helped in improving the standards and with that it’ll be ready to go on the 13th of March. Anyone wanting to get into the series on a defined high note will have the Silent Hill HD Collection featuring Silent Hill 2 and 3 available to them a week earlier. Both the new game and the ports will be available on the PS3 and Xbox 360, though the release dates may be different for regions outside of North America.