E3 2011: Silent Hill: Downpour hands-on preview

While it shares similarities with its current-gen predecessor Silent Hill: Homecoming, Silent Hill: Downpour looks like more of a return to form in terms of how it builds atmosphere and suspense through the relative helplessness of its protagonist, Murphy Pendleton. Unlike Homecoming’s Alex Shepherd, a proficient, combat-hardened soldier, Murphy is more reminiscent of James Sunderland from Silent Hill 2, an average guy who will pick up a crowbar to defend himself in a pinch, but isn’t looking to fight.

“Average” may not be the right word for Murphy though – he’s a convict whose prison bus crashes during transport one rainy night and he finds himself suddenly liberated and, of course, wanders into Silent Hill. His newfound freedom doesn’t go to waste either, and we’re told that Downpour will be much more open to exploration than previous Silent Hill games, so Murphy can discover Silent Hill’s grotesque secrets in a non-linear fashion, and take on side quests here and there as you see fit.

He needs to be on constant guard though, because Murphy’s version of Silent Hill is apparently the most unforgiving yet. During our hands-on time, we died multiple times trying to escape some kind of hellish vortex, and as fast as we ran, the hallway in front of us kept stretching out farther and farther every time we thought we had reached the end. Even after we made it through the hallway into another room, several unyielding locked doors caused us to lose any ground we had gained and we were sucked into the hellmouth again before finally finding the way to safety. Checkpoints are frequent though, to offset potential frustration due to Murphy’s high mortality rate.

Adding to the tense atmosphere, Downpour features an original soundtrack by Dan Licht, who is also the composer for the show Dexter. It’s hard to imagine a proper Silent Hill without the musical genius of Akira Yamaoka, but if anyone can create a properly dismal and psychologically torturous mood befitting a Silent Hill game, Dan Licht seems like the person to do it.

As you’ve certainly guessed, water is a motif in Downpour, and the soggier Murphy’s situation gets, the more sinister his surroundings become. Like any good Silent Hill protagonist, Murphy’s past is murky and mysterious, but with the water theme we’d bet that it turns out he drowned his wife and/or children at some point before he wound up in prison. Anyone wanna take bets?

Jun 8, 2011

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