The rain was getting heavier, beating down on my back with the kind of persistent thumping a boxer usually reserves for his punchbag. Ducking beneath an iron archway I wound my way through the park, paying little attention to the discarded kites, radios, and crowbars that littered the area. Coming to a fork in the road, I headed down the closest path, praying the rustling from the bushes behind me was simply a squirrel after it's lunch and not something altogether more… sinister. Breathless, I found myself in a clearing, where an unused fountain took pride of place. I paused for a moment to reflect upon my reflection in the stale water. Who did I annoy to wind up here? A flash of lightning illuminated the area, and my eyes finally met the gaping mouth of the creature that had been stalking me through the woods. Towering a few feet away, a hulking marionette made of sausage meat, it staggers in my direction like a drunken friend. Startled, I jump, and flail at my assailant, hurling my fire axe off into the darkness in the process. "Damn", I think to myself, for reasons that aren't yet clear, "he must have pressed the wrong button again." As it clatters off a tree into the undergrowth, never to be seen again, the creature and I share a glance of mutual confusion. Seizing the opportunity, I punch the beast in the chest and sprint back to the relative safety of the subway. Just another day in Silent Hill…
Silent Hill Downpour, a "psychological horror" game places you in the prison overalls of Murphy Pendleton, an inmate who finds himself drawn towards the titular Silent Hill, a town that seems to call out to troubled souls and helps them come to terms with their past transgressions. In Silent Hill, nightmares and reality become harder to differentiate between, with hideous, deformed monstrosities lurking in the fog, postmen that appear, say something wise, and then promptly vanish, and paintings that come to life. It's up to you to guide Murphy to safety and unravel the truth about his past.
This guy is creepier than most of the enemies in the game. He pops up, gives you some hint about where to go next, and then disappears into the fog. Unnerving.
Like the Silent Hill games of old, Silent Hill Downpour allows you to set separate difficulties for the combat and the puzzles. While changing the combat difficulty will simply increase or decrease the amount of damage you take, and the amount of hits it takes to defeat an enemy, changing the puzzle difficulty adjusts how much thought you need to put into the puzzles throughout the game, and determines how vague Murphy's objectives in his diary are. As an example of how the puzzles change with the difficulty level, right at the start of the game, in the mines you have to traverse in order to reach Silent HIll, Murphy needs to push a series of colourful buttons in the correct order to start up a train ride, with his only clue being a poem found on a corpse just around the corner. On Easy, this poem names the three colours you have to press by name (red, blue, orange), while on Medium the poem uses more elaborate words for the colours (Cerulean, Emerald, and so on). On the hardest setting, the game does away with naming the colours entirely, instead requiring you to relate the various colours of buttons to objects mentioned in the poem (blood, fir trees, and other such vague items). This allows you to tailor your adventure through Silent Hill to suit you, but unfortunately you can't adjust the difficulties mid-game, so if you run into any problems (as we did, but we'll come to that later) you can't just knock the difficulty level down a peg and continue unhindered.
Downpour opens with Murphy being led to the showers by a prison guard for some alone time with a sequestered prisoner, Patrick Napier, a convicted child molester that Murphy seems to know (and hate) from somewhere. As Murphy sets about Pat, you take over, with the section serving as a brief introduction to the weapon based combat of Silent Hill Downpour, teaching the basics of attacking and blocking.
Anne really doesn't like Murphy...
An unspecified time after this attack, Murphy is transferred to a maximum security prison, under the watchful eye of Anne Cunningham, a corrections offer who always seems rather hostile towards Murphy. Unfortunately, the transfer bus doesn't quite make it to the other prison, careering off a cliff just outside of Silent Hill, leaving Murphy stranded in the middle of nowhere.
It's difficult to explain what makes the story of Silent Hill Downpour so good without spoiling it. All through the game, you stumble across newspaper articles, prison memos, and other little useful nuggets of information that help you piece together what really happened in Murphy's past - why he knew Patrick Napier, what he was doing in prison in the first place, and why Anne really doesn't like Murphy that much, with everything finally clearing up in the final few minutes. It's one of the few aspects of Downpour that seems remarkably well done.
In fact, as in previous Silent Hill games, how the story ends will be determined by the actions you've taken as you played the game - there are six endings in total, with one only being available during a second play through. At certain points during the game you're presented with a number of moral choices, such as deciding whether or not to attempt to save someone who's just fallen off a cliff, or attempting to talk down a man who's inches away from leaping to their death. With these sections, you're given the choice between two actions, one which is obviously good, and another which is obviously bad (in the suicide situation you can either try to talk down the guy, or taunt him, egging him on to take his own life). But these aren't the only moral situations that effect what ending you'll get. For some reason, killing enemies instead of simply "incapacitating" them will impair your moral score, although it's never actually mentioned in the game that when an enemy is squirming around on the floor they're not going to spring to their feet and attack you again. We spent the first half of the game taking out every enemy we had to on the off chance that they'd come back for us when we weren't expecting it, so we ended up with the second best ending without realising we were doing something "bad".