Konami recently released some early assets for the upcoming game Silent Hill Downpour. Included in these assets were new screenshots and a downloadable preview of the first track of the game's soundtrack, which is now being composed by Dexter composer Daniel Licht after series veteran Akira Yamaoka retired from Konami last year (a sad day for Silent Hill fans everywhere).
There was also a full article in the February issue of Game Informer about this game. If you haven't caught that article yet, you can check out these scans of the magazine's pages at www.relyonhorror.com.
So what do we know about Silent Hill Downpour so far?
Well, it's being developed by a Czech Republic developer, Vatra Games. This will be their first major game development project, so the jury is out on whether or not they are capable of delivering a solid game. Konami seems to think they can.
The game is going to take place in Silent Hill once again. However, this is not the same Silent Hill that fans of the game are used to. Vatra is going to attempt to expand into the South East corner of the existing Silent Hill map and create a whole new section of the town. This means you won't be visiting Brookhaven hospital for the 5th time. Which I guess is nice. It'll be fun to explore some new areas and not feel like we've already been here and done that.
But the decision to create a whole new map does concern me a little bit. While it is apparent from the existing maps of Silent Hill that there are areas of the town that have not been seen or explored, if new areas keep getting added in new games, then soon enough, Silent Hill is going to turn into a giant metropolis. Hopefully, the addition to the town preserves the "quiet, peaceful, resort town" feel of the first 2 games. Screenshots and videos that show gameplay segments in forested areas and what appears to be a ski resort complete with an air gondola seem to look promising. But the fact that the size of the map apparently necessitated the inclusion of a full subway system to allow the player to travel quickly from area to area makes me a little skeptical. I'm also curious to know whether Vatra will keep with the original fog, rain, and snow that created the oppressive, claustraphobic atmosphere of the original four games; or if they will adopt the smoke and ash setting that Double Helix stupidly stole from the Silent Hill movie and used in Homecoming.
So now that we have a taste of the music and setting (the ambiance), what do we know about the story?
The main character in Downpour is going to be an escaped convict named Murphy Pendleton who escapes from a prison transport bus when the bus crashes outside of Silent Hill. OK, so right off the bat, it looks like Vatra is attempting to create another "guilty conscience" plotline.
FYI 3rd-party Silent Hill developers: just because Silent Hill 2 is the most popular game in the franchise, and its plot revolved around personal guilt, that doesn't mean that every new Silent Hill game has to involve the personal guilt of the protagonist. In fact, Silent Hill 1, 3, and 4 (all of which were developed by the same team that did Silent Hill 2) did NOT have plots that had anything to do with the personal guilt of the main character(s)! Neither did Silent Hill: Origins.
Whether or not the plot will actually revolve around the crimes that may or may not have been commited by the protagonist is still unknown, but its a pretty fair assumption. But hey, at least it doen't appear to be a complete rip-off of Silent Hill 2's plot (like Homecoming was).
Poor Murphy is apparently plagued by nightmares and hallucinations. And he seems to have a complex regarding water. As such, rain and water are going to play huge parts in this game's story. Shattered Memories had the "frozen-over" segments. And it looks like this game will have similar "flooded" segments, in which water will suddenly rush into to flood whole areas and force Murphy to swim to safety or drown.
This could be a fun and interesting gameplay mechanic. But underwater and swimming levels in video games have a notorious history for being akward and hard to control. Hopefully, Vatra has found a control and camera scheme that will work well for these water segments and tie it into the game's story without making it feel like a gimmick. And hopefully, they won't involve avoiding electric seaweed while attempting to disarm timebombs... My guess right now based on the inclusion of water as a major gameplay and plot point: Murphy must've drowned someone, and that's what he's in jail for. But as for the water segments themselves, there isn't really much detail on how these segments will play out and just how big a part they will play in the story, but given that the name of the game is "Downpour", you should expect to see lots of water!
And how is the game going to play?
There are some interesting changes in the gameplay department. First and foremost, Vatra claims that they are dumping the over-the-shoulder shooter gameplay of Homecoming in favor of a more traditional 3rd person and preset camera system. This is both good and bad. It means the developers are trying to keep the feel of the early games. But on the other side, that particular style of gameplay is a bit outdated and won't work on the new generation of consoles without some major overhauls.
Combat will return in this game, but so will the "run away" segments from Shattered Memories. Personally, I thought Shattered Memories was a fantastic game! You can read my full review at Game Observer (now defunct as of 05/14/2014, read it here instead). So I'm pleased that this mechanic will return, but am curious how they will justify the chase mechanics once your character is capable of picking up weapons.
What we've seen of the monsters so far look much more human then in previous games. They even have faces and hair! Does this mean that the monsters in the game aren't really monsters, but rather just normal people trying to defend themselves from Murphy's hallucinated rampages? Fans have speculated such things about the previous games. Especially the first game, in which a nearby plant is stated to have hallucinogenic properties when burnt. Could it be that Murphy isn't hiding personal guilt, but rather, is just a sociopath who sees all other humans as monstrous apparitions?
When not running away from them, Murphy will only be able to carry ONE weapon at a time, and that weapon will be able to be broken! I'm still not quite sure how I feel about this one. On the one hand, only having one weapon to defend yourself with, and being worried about possibly breaking or losing it could add a great deal of tension and anxiety to the game. But Vatra is going to have to find a balance between the durability and defensive strength of a weapon. If weapons are too easily broken, but necessary for survival, then having to constantly pick up a new weapon could become tedius and frustrating. On the other hand, making weapons too powerful and durable could make the character feel unstoppable for large chunks of the game when they do have a weapon, taking away any sense of fear or helplessness.
I thought the version of Alone in the Dark that was released on PS3 and Xbox 360 had an interesting inventory system. Your character actually had pockets in his coat that could be used to store objects of various shapes and sizes. I would kind of like to be able to see a similar inventory system in Silent Hill, because I do feel that only carrying one weapon is a bit limiting, but I guess we'll have to see how this plays out.
Murphy will also have optional side quests to partake in. Believe it or not, this is actually not new in the Silent Hill games. The first game had an optional side quest that affected the ending of the game. I'm not sure how the side quests will fit into Downpour's story and gameplay, but an open-ended story in which optional paths through the story leading the character to different outcomes could be a very cool gameplay mechanic and could add some replayability to the game.
The jury is still out on this new Silent Hill game. But so far, it looks like Vatra games has a much better concept and design approach than Double Helix had with Homecoming. I could just tell right from the start that Homecoming was going to be crap. But this game actually looks like it could be good. And best of all, its due out this year! I'll be keeping my eyes on this one.
UPDATE 08/26/2011: More information about Downpour has been released.
UPDATE 02/27/2012: More pre-release expectations have been posted.
UPDATE 04/03/2012: A full review of Silent Hill Downpour has been posted.