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Silent Hill: Downpour preview: Shattered Homecoming


Noisy trade show floors are notoriously bad places to preview survival horror games. You can try to preserve crucial atmosphere with headphones, but even then it's hard not to be at least a little distracted. As such, it's hard for me to compare the overall feel of Silent Hill: Downpour to that of its moody brethren, but I can at least offer a technical rundown.

Gallery: Silent Hill: Downpour (6/9/11) | 11 Photos

It's unfortunate that I didn't get a chance to hear the new score by Dan Licht, as I'm sure the departure of series composer Akira Yamaoka weighs heavily on the minds of Silent Hill fans. For what it's worth, I did confirm with series producer Tomm Hulett that vocalist Mary Elizabeth McGlynn, who has contributed songs and voice direction to several Silent Hill titles, will return for Downpour. Oh, and that Korn song? Totally skippable.

Visually, at least, Downpour appears to be on par with Homecoming, the most recent Silent Hill to grace the Xbox 360 and PS3; however, Downpour marks the first time the series has adopted the Unreal Engine. I'd say the game still needs some optimization -- I noticed some bad texture fade-in and a few missing effects -- but the engine is more than capable of rendering Silent Hill's trademark gloom.

Downpour takes place in the southeastern portion of Silent Hill, an area not yet seen in the series. The particular area I visited included a dilapidated gas station nestled against a dark, rainy forest. Controls operate in a manner similar to Homecoming, though a few features are borrowed from Shattered Memories as well.

For one, protagonist Murphy speaks out loud when examining parts of the environment (as opposed to displaying a wall of text). This contextual action also applies to Murphy's movements. According to Hulett, players found it strange that Murphy would face the horrors of Silent Hill with a robotically rigid posture, so Vatra added contextual animations. In other words, in a frightening situation -- like being ambushed by monsters, for example -- Murphy will be visibly afraid.

Combat enters somewhat new territory in Downpour, as Murphy won't be compiling an inventory of permanent weapons. Instead, weapons are found within the environment itself and disposed of at will. During my demo, I used a crowbar to remove a lock from a fence and later took on a horde of witch-like ghouls with a shovel. Murphy can also throw weapons directly at foes, though my shovel seemed less than ideal as a spear. Combat in general didn't have a very good feel to it: my shovel's impacts barely seemed to register.

After Shattered Memories turned the series' usual "Otherworld" into a realm of snow and ice, Downpour returns once again to the traditional nightmare landscape of jagged, rusty metal. As in recent titles, the transformation from one world to the other is handled in real time. Rather than seeing the real world peel away, however, Downpour's transition sees it being sucked into some kind of evil vortex. During the one transformation I witnessed, said evil vortex actually began chasing Murphy.

In another nod to Shattered Memories, I was forced to guide Murphy away from the pursuing vortex, knocking obstacles into its path as I ran. In one particularly memorable moment, I led Murphy down a hallway that repeatedly extended itself just as he was about to reach the exit.

Without knowing how it feels to play Downpour in a dark, quiet room, it's difficult to guess how the final product will turn out, though it seems to have all the right Silent Hill elements. The combat could use some work, and the visuals need touching up, but the pieces are there.

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