March 21, 2012
Title: Silent Hill: Downpour
Platform: PlayStation 3
Developer: Vatra Games
Released: March 13, 2012
Acquired: Purchased at Best Buy ($59.99+tax)
Approximately four years ago, Konami released Silent Hill: Homecoming, which was the second attempt at the series by a western developer and the first on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. Unlike Downpour, though, Homecoming had the promise of the original music composer of the series, Akira Yamaoka, overseeing the project and making sure the game properly reflected the same sentiment as the other iterations in the series. How much influence Yamaoka had beyond the musical score is unknown, as the game resulted in a mixture of the Silent Hill movie, Silent Hill 2 and Silent Hill mythos. Now, Vatra Games is taking a crack at the series, and it seems they have chosen to go the route of Silent Hill 2, which is to say that they have crafted their own narrative that does not necessarily connect to any of the other games in the series or explore the mythos of Silent Hill.
Murphy Pendleton is the unfortunate soul to visit Silent Hill in this outing, and it is not obvious what his ties to Silent Hill are, except that he is on a bus that crashes just outside of the town. However, it is apparent in the intro that Pendleton is a prisoner, which opens with him escorted down a hallway and later to the ill-fated transport bus mentioned before. Much in the same vein as Silent Hill 2, Murphy has some skeletons in his closet and what better way to expose them than a trip to Silent Hill, right? Most of the story plays out in cutscences and documents found throughout the game—typical for the series. It seems things started going bad for Pendleton when his 6-year-old son died shortly after being kidnapped. This puts Murphy’s life on a downward spiral resulting in him losing his wife and winding up in prison. While incarcerated, Murphy gets into some business with a crooked guard. Sewell is the name of said guard, whose appearance oddly resembles that of Kevin Bacon’s character in Sleepers (this can only mean bad things for Murphy).
After the crash, Murphy is left to explore and find a way out of Silent Hill. As with the other entries, his surreal, psychological journey through Silent Hill forces him to relive and accept some of the darker moments, thoughts and events surrounding his son’s death and his misguided revenge. Along the way, Pendleton runs into a few tormented individuals, with only one being crucial to the overall plot. The story concludes in six different ways based on choices made through the game and interactions with monsters. The endings vary in degree of satisfaction in regards to how they appear to tie together with the story. None felt as clever as the ‘In Water’ ending of Silent Hill 2 in terms of what had to be done to get the ending, such as examining Angela’s knife often, not healing when low on health, and reading notes that evoked James’ suicidal thoughts.
The gameplay is mostly composed of exploration, puzzle solving and melee combat. In typical Silent Hill fashion, the combat is forgettable; though most of it is completely avoidable. However, on the harder difficulties it can be frustrating to deal with monsters that are near a door, puzzle or item. Usually the game will not allow you pick something up if a monster is nearby, which is more evident if you have the option that displays the button prompts turned on—the icon will be grayed out. Often times it can be hard to discern between a weapon and an item for a puzzle. For example, it is easy to confuse rocks with pieces of paper and levers to be used in a puzzle with poles.
The game is longer than most Silent Hill games (8-12 hours), especially with the addition of side quests that encourage exploration of the town. Some of the side quests are clever and dark, such as one that involves finding a missing girl who was given new instructions on how to get home from her mother, while others are forgettable, like setting birds free or clearing enemies out of the bank.
Story beats mostly occurs at areas that lock Murphy in upon entering, which are an orphanage, library and prison to name a few (no hospitals or nurses). There are not many different enemy types in the game and they do not appear to be tied to any of the areas visited throughout the game. When it is raining or lightning out, they appear more frequently. Downpour lacks any real boss battles besides the final confrontation, as well. Some parts seem like they could be or should be boss encounters, but they are hardly as elaborate as other boss fights in series’ past.
Most of the time spent in the otherworld involves running from an orange-red glowing orb that is fixed on ending Murphy—vaguely similar to the red light chase in the Silent Hill 3 haunted mansion. Occasionally, it can be frustrating and hard to figure out which path is correct, but the incorrect paths loop around in order to avoid a dead-end while the orb is in pursuit.
At its core, Downpour’s gameplay feels true to Silent Hill, but it also feels ostensibly dated in a way that might make people unfamiliar with the series or that style of game frustrated or question the game design. Dark Souls and Demon’s Souls come to mind as games with a similar problem but not to the same degree. Having control of the camera with the right analog stick is a nice addition, but there are still some rooms that have fixed camera angles—most likely as a reference to old games in the series or for additional atmosphere.
For the most part, Downpour matches the aesthetic and graphical quality of past Silent Hill games, but out of all the games in the series, this is probably the weakest. Murphy’s character model and most of the supporting characters look decent enough, except for a fat man encountered at the beginning and a little girl seen at the orphanage. The frame rate is horrendous, especially when the game auto-saves (no designated save points). While it is not completely broken, the game does occasionally lock-up and the frame rate issue is not easy to ignore when the camera is inexplicably facing the sky/ceiling when the problem corrects itself. Another potential distraction is that it is easy to mistake the lightning as a glitch when it turns the screen an odd purple-blue color.
Despite those issues, which might be a deal-breaker for some, Vatra’s Silent Hill is one that is foreboding and desolate—minus the occasional monsters. An entirely new area of Silent Hill is at Murphy’s disposal and Vatra appropriately filled it with eerie, seemingly vacant apartment buildings and shops, all of which look ruined and on the verge of being condemned. References to past games are sprinkled throughout for those that pay attention or are seeking them out.
Daniel Licht had big shoes to fill when he took over as composer after Akira Yamaoka left Konami to work at Grasshopper Manufacture, and he did a fine job for the most part. It is hard to work in the shadows of the original Silent Hill Theme, Theme of Laura and Promise from Silent Hill 2, just to name a few. Licht sticks with traditional industrial and ambient background noise during most of the gameplay, as well keeping sounds like picking up an item mostly consistent with previous games. The menu music is moody and ominous, but other than that, the only track that really stood out during the game was towards the beginning as Murphy is escorted to the transport bus, Licht did an excellent job of expressing the dejection felt by Murphy, coupled with what is seen onscreen. For those worried about the Korn song, it only plays during the end credits and if the game is left idle too long at the “press start” screen.
While the monster sounds are not as disturbing as past games, they do an adequate job of creating tension and dread, especially if the monsters are hard to see at first or attack by surprise. As for the voice work, it manages to avoid falling flat most of the time. Murphy has some weird lines occasionally, such as when he tries to convince a kid he is not the boogeyman, and they added a The Fog-like DJ that is a bit hokey.
Ultimately, Vatra fell short of the brilliance of Silent Hill 2, but it is nice to see the series headed in a direction that focuses more on stories that deal with individuals struggling to cope with traumatizing events of their past instead of expanding the Silent Hill mythos. Downpour is a good Silent Hill game that is hard to recommend given its technical issues and gameplay that puts the game in a niche that appeals to far fewer now than when the series originally started. For those that this does appeal to, however, Downpour will likely disappoint a little but still be enjoyable nonetheless.
January 11, 2012
Towards the end of August, my launch 60 GB PS3 died as I was finishing up Deus Ex: Human Revolution. Suffice it to say that the next few weeks were frustrating and sad as my best attempt to emulate Dr. Victor Frankenstein resulted in failure that was surely inevitable. When I got over the denial and random outbursts of violence–that would make Tommy Wiseau feel ashamed–I had to let my game saves and PS2 backwards compatibility go.
I had to start anew, which meant buying a slim PS3; it was hard to get used to at first, especially since I had to start Deus Ex: Human Revolution all over again, but I grew accustomed to the much quieter system quickly.
Despite the over-dramatization in the opening paragraph, I did use my the backwards compatibility in my now deceased PS3 to the fullest, but until this past weekend, I had not played any of my older games because it meant I would have to find my PS2 and hope that everything still worked.
Well, this weekend I was in the mood to do just that. After rummaging through a few boxes in the basement, I found my slim PS2 with everything but the composite cables, which was not a problem due to the fact that the component cables I bought for my PS3 worked with my PS2. Tentatively, I connected everything to my TV, and much to my relief, it worked–except for the controller, which was smashed face down in a box for more than a few years; luckily, I had a spare controller that worked perfectly. Also, remember memory cards? I had to clear a couple in order to save my progress.
What got me motivated to dig up my old PS2 was a combination of boredom and the desire to play the PS2 Final Fantasy games, which was largely a result of Final Fantasy XIII-2 being just a few weeks away. Though the Final Fantasy games helped spark the process, I ended up playing Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas first, which was the start of my third attempt to complete the game. I got San Andreas the day it was launched and stopped the first time somewhere around one of the first flying missions; the controls annoyed me enough for me to put it down until shortly before Grand Theft Auto IV was released. As the newest iteration of Grand Theft Auto approached, I gave San Andreas another go on my PS3, and I got much further with the second attempt–probably towards the end of the Las Venturas portion of the game. I did not complete it before the release of Grand Theft Auto IV and never got around to finishing it.
Though I stated I am on my third attempt, I am not sure as to how serious I am about actually finishing it. I am ignoring as much of the side stuff as I can, such as the odd jobs and messing with weight training, and I finished the initial Grove Street/Los Santos portion, which after listening to a recent Bombcast where Jeff Gerstmann talked at length about his love for Easy-E and the rest of N.W.A., I could not help but think that he had to have enjoyed San Andreas quite a bit–his review certainly suggested he did.
After some confusion and what seemed to be betrayal at the end of the first act or chapter, I am at the start of the badlands portion of the game, which is why I am unsure about whether or not I want to continue. From what I can remember, driving around the badlands was boring and it took forever to get from place to place, so that is something that has me all but inspired to continue. Other than that, I was initially surprised just how bad those Grand Theft Auto games looked; it took me a few missions to get used to the graphics, and once my eyes adjusted to the bland textures, I was able to make out the environment better. That being said, it was nowhere near as bad as trying to play an original PlayStation football game or Star Fox on the SNES; to be fair, most early 3D games do not hold up well, though.
I did get around to playing Final Fantasy X, which I did not play when it was first released in 2001; the character models and the CG actually hold up fairly well. Based on how they used the camera in cutscenes, it seemed as if they were really going out of their way to show just how good games could look on the PS2. However, I cannot say I am much of a fan of Tidus so far and his ridiculous outfit, nor blitzball, but I do not mind the combat or the main story.
To wrap this up, it is nice to have the ability to play my PS2 games again. Maybe now I will (not) get around to playing Drakengard.
December 5, 2010
To give an idea of what I would like to do with this blog, I am going to use this introduction as a brief outline of what is to be expected on Push Box. Most of what I write will about video games, but I am also to planning to talk about current movies if I happen to see them the day they come out, current sporting events that interest me and maybe news/politics that I deem relevant.
As far as games are concerned, I play a wide variety of games. I would like to review them as I complete them, which may or may not include scoring them; however, I do not plan on doing this simply with new releases due to I often play older games from my backlog, and I think it would be interesting to review them compared to more recent releases, since it would be impossible to ignore newer, more advanced titles or experience the game in the context of its initial release.
Along with reviewing games, I would like to post something monthly with a breakdown of what I consumed that month in terms of video games, movies and books, as well as any miscellaneous information or events I feel are worth mentioning. With that, I would like to keep track of games I am interested in on a watch list–for my sake and for general awareness of titles that I have confidence in.
There will also be various opinion articles I will post that will comment on various aspects of the video game industry. I will also try to post about video game music that I like or think is worth noting, but I am not sure how frequent those posts will be.