Silent Hill: Downpour E3 2011 Hands-On Preview -- I Can Explain Those "Water" StainsBy Jake Gaskill - Posted Jun 16, 2011
If ever there was a studio perfectly suited to pick up the Silent Hill reigns for the eighth installment, Silent Hill: Downpour, Czech developer Vatra Games would easily be at the top of the list. The team is steeped in Gothic history that includes generation’s worth of legendary folk tales involving werewolves, vampires, and other dark creatures that go bump in the night, and Vatra itself also happens to be located directly across from a cemetery and one bus stop away from a crematorium. So when it comes to knowing horror, these folks are the real deal, and they're steeped in it on a daily basis.
With these eerie visions of what it must be like eying tombstones from your desk every day at work sitting prominently in my mind, I started my hands-on playthrough of the opening section of Downpour, which kicks off just following a horrific prison bus crash that leads to the escape of on-board prisoner Murphy Pendleton. When Murphy comes to, he finds himself on the outskirts of America’s most beloved town of terror, Silent Hll. It's a shame there isn't a better way to get a main character into a creepy town than the old accident setup, but it is what it is.
Vatra has made it a point to deliver a Silent Hill experience that is quintessential Silent Hill (i.e. a slower paced survival-horror experience, plenty of nightmarish creatures, psychological screwiness, etc.) with some much appreciated improvements to the presentation and the controls. We didn’t get to see any combat, so I can’t really speak to how that aspect is coming along, but the exploration and minimal actions we did perform, like breaking locks to opens doors using a fire extinguisher, went smoothly.
There’s also plenty of gorgeous lighting and environmental effects on display, with moonbeams cutting through thick fog and shadows creeping long and low along the abandoned streets. Atmosphere is one of Silent Hill’s most revered elements, and even from the little bit of the game that we saw, it’s clear that Vatra has put a lot of effort towards keeping this tradition alive.
After breathlessly investigating a series of dilapidated and empty buildings, including a tetanus-ridden gas station, using our recently acquired flashlight, we find ourselves in a diner. Entering the kitchen, Murphy comments that it smells like gas. Naturally, we decide to turn on the grill burners, which promptly ignites the entire kitchen. Avoiding the massive flames, we hit the nearby fire alarm, giving us our first look at the nightmarish effects water plays in the game. See, Murphy has some serious trauma percolating inside him—he is a convicted felon after all—and the trigger is water, so whenever you encounter water in the game, you know something messed up is about to happen.
In this case, the room does that classic Silent Hill thing where the world melts away to reveal a bloody, twisted, and, given our current surroundings, fiery world beneath. Sensing that this is probably not a place to get in some deep thinking, and the fact that the room is filling with water and there’s an exposed circuit breaker that needs to be turned off before Murphy gets electrocuted, we scramble to the breaker, keeping our butts alive, at least for the moment.
We walk up a newly exposed stairway into an upstairs room where we encounter our first real puzzle. It would have been a tad harder to solve if the camera hadn’t shifted to frame a creepy portrait on the left side of the screen as we walked around in the background. Rotating the picture causes a grimy cage containing an unnatural corpse of some kind to descend from the ceiling, which opens a door for us to scurry under.
Entering the adjoining hallway brings with it a whole new set of problems in the form of some sort of evil energy that has decided to give chase. But instead of running through the diner, we’re now running through a melting corridor, tossing bookcases and tables as we pass them to slow down the impending force on our heels. Why such simple objects would trip up a disembodied and bloodthirsty energy is beyond me, but it certainly added some extra tension to the chase.
Just when we’ve put some distance between us and the killer light, the floor turns into a steep and winding slide of sorts that ends up leading us to darkness and the end of the demo. I’m not sure what awaited us on the other end of this sequence, but I’m going to guess it wasn’t going to be crumpets and lemonade. Evil crumpets and lemonade, maybe.
Not having played a Silent Hill game for a number of years, I can’t really say how Downpour stacks up against more recent offerings. However, the portion I played certainly oozed the kind of tone and atmosphere of the early installments, with the addition of some stunning effects, and that has me super excited/pleasantly terrified to see more Silent Hill: Downpour as we move towards its release later this year.