|Silent hill: Downpour|
I'll really try to keep the rose tinted glasses in a drawer for this one but this is just irking me. Silent hill, and especially silent hill 2, were staples of survival horror. They represented terrifying trips into the subconscious of flawed but engaging protagonists. The first a father searching for his daughter. The second a husband searching for his wife. They were not the ideal men but their purposes were noble in their desperation. The series sort of went off the deep end at that point.
The third didn't captivate me to the same extent as its two predecessors but it was true to its origin. The fourth.. an inventory juggling mess of annoyance that had, possibly, the most intriguing premise yet the (by far) clutchiest implementation. Then the west took over and we got game after game of scattershot attempts to capture the essence of the series. While none never really did we did get some close calls.
Downpour. Where do I start. I applaud the decision to include a murderer as the protagonist. If that is, in fact, what we play. I've still got a chapter or two left before I finish the game. A father avenging the death of his son. Fantastic. Piquant even. Forcing him to realize that he is just like the man that murdered his son. A murderer. It's a notion that seems completely lost on people today. An overused concept is "punch a nazi", i.e. the ends justify the means.
Murdering a murderer is still murder. If the tables turn the result is always the same. Punch a nazi, punch a communist, punch an innocent. Someone punches. Someone gets punched. Action and reaction. Endlessly. Which is really what silent hill is all about. It cares little about the social constructs you use to justify your actions. Your morality is not superior to that of another. If you punch, or murder, you're the assailant. It knows what we deny even to ourselves.
We're taken on a lovely little stroll through silent hill with some novel concepts. I particularly appreciated the sidequests that reminded me of silent hill 2. It was quite annoying when all the items you needed to solve them were in the same house or just down the street though. Maybe I should have put the puzzles on hard instead of normal but either way, felt lazy. Or the developers just had very little confidence in their target audience. Truth be told they're probably right considering gamers of today. Not having something right in front of you results in an immediate google query since backtracking would be inconceivable. And no, that's not me taking the piss out of the feebleness of modern gamers, even I (a stalwart survival horror nut) ended up googling. Just the times I suppose.
Technically I wasn't impressed. Oddly the older games hold up fairly well, expectations being lower considering they're 1-2 console generations even older. But holy smokes does downpour look terrible on the ps3. Not sure if it was a horrendous port or if it was really designed this way but good grief. Most scenes even lacked a sense of depth considering the absence of shadows. The constant stuttering when it was loading resources even resulted in me getting killed a couple of times. If you want to play downpour today then don't do it on the ps3.
All that aside I want to dig into the main annoyance I had. What the hell does this even have to do with silent hill besides it apparently taking place there? The other side, a medium to represent the inner nature of the protagonists, have been morphed into some kind of chase sequences where a red light follows us. It's completely on rails leaving no notion of exploring. It used to be a vehicle to allow the developers to show us a second side of silent hill, areas that were inaccessible in the real world opened up there. Allowing a glimpse at two sides of the coin, so to say. Red light hallway running simulator. Awesome.
Next, what the hell am I doing here? I'm a murderer, yes, my bus got run off the road, yes, I ended up in silent hill, yes. Is my purpose to leave? That's the direct opposite of the point. In all the other games we wanted to get to silent hill, not get away from it. The protagonists wanted to explore it to find what they searched for, we wanted to explore it to find what they searched for. We never wanted to get away from it. Why do we always want to leave in the western developed games? Danger bad, run from danger? That's a thrilling look into our pysche. Sigh. Embrace the subconsciousness of silent hill, embrace your own subconsciousness. Stop trying to make us externalize the city and force us to run from it. Make us a part of it as it is a part of us.
Do I mention the water slides of doom here? Maybe the segments where the almost utter boredom of the chase sequences actually get surpassed by squeezing through narrow slits filled with spikes that instantly kill you if you get the timing wrong? Ooh, or the puzzle where you have to click buttons of the right color.. as deciphered by a child's poem that is laying RIGHT NEXT TO THE FUCKING MACHINE. Subtle, real subtle. Nope, won't mention any of them. NEXT PARAGRAPH.
Throughout the tedium of going from place to place and diluting the mythos (every bloody game seems to want to put more historical notes tied to the franchise, so it was a mining town with native american heritage now, great) I encountered but a few interesting segments. The mailman who seems doomed to forever deliver mail to the unfortunate souls stuck in the metaphor. A bit hamfisted but sure, I'll take it. A chase sequence that almost made me reconsider the red light, namely me being called the boogeyman by a little girl then running after her holding a fireaxe while shouting "stop little girl, I won't hurt you".
For just a second there I thought, wow, I'm the red light. I'm the bad guy. I'm the murderer. But nope, then the red light appeared behind me again and I wept... silently on my hill of disappointment. Maybe they went for the hunter becoming the hunted. Whatever. The sensation was lost forever. If they had just had the nerve to let the player remain the bad guy chasing little girls (a metaphor for other men, as a murderer would look upon any docile joe blow as a child when they were murdering them) this game might have clicked. But no.
Right after that we get into another awesome chunk of western silent hill'ishness. Two staircases you run up and down chasing paintings that either have a girl in them, whereupon you're supposed to enter the door, or don't have a girl in them, whereupon you should ignore them. Holy shite. That's the very crudest look upon gamers I've encountered in years. Might as well have reduced it to big lights that are either green or red for enter or don't enter. And that facking quadriplegic stapled to the wall doing Elvis like hip thrusts and jizzing red ooze all over us as we chase the right painting with our slack jaws dragging on the ground behind us.
Now then, let's take a slightly more nuanced view of this. It does appear I'm taking a dump on western developers over japanese ones. This is not my general view, in fact for almost all modern games I despise eastern design. It feels like they're stuck in the 90s, trying to recapture some glory age where they were the pinnacle of game design. In reality their plots, mechanics and design is regressive, clunky and in many cases outright silly. What they do have over western developers is a sense of innate purpose. Where we end up having our protagonists flee they revel in it. Their stories tend to be a bit on the sublime side, ours a massive slap over the face to make sure the feeble player doesn't miss the brilliance of the designer's vision. This is a crippling blow to a series like silent hill where the player's analysis is as important, if not more so, than the designers'.
The end of downpour does tie a lot of things together. You take on the role of the bogeyman chasing down the daughter of a man you murdered, allowing her to kill you results in a deliciously ironic spin where she becomes the prisoner and you the guard. Before then you fight some type of perverted husk of a man in a wheelchair by pulling the respirator tubes from him. Upon first entering that scene I was intrigued. Is it meant to be a representation of the disease in my soul? Maybe it's the sickness of the system. Fascinating. Nope, very next scene the aforementioned chick tells us flat out that we beat her father until he ended up in a wheelchair. Great. They allowed my imagination to flourish for one whole scene, then they snatched away all thought and outright told me what I should think.
This approach to silent hill is symptomatic of what happened when western developers took over the franchise. We're not allowed to think for ourselves. We can barely explore. Anything out of the beaten path is immediately frowned upon and corrected. Heaven forbid we allow the player some semblance of autonomy, either of movement or thought. But hey, they added bird cages in obscure places so that makes it all better, right?