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The Comics Inside Silent Hill: Downpour

The Comics Inside Silent Hill: Downpour

Siike Donnelly writes for Bleeding Cool;

I'll start by saying this won't be your typical videogame review. I won't go into detail about bad frame rate, game mechanics, or give any major spoilers. The reason being is that after reading various reviews of Silent Hill: Downpour that already do those things, probably better than I could, I've decided to approach this from a different angle. There's an element on the reviews from these major websites that's missing. The one major element kept out of all of these reviews by "hardcore fans" was the connection the plot has to the IDW comic book series.

These videogame reviewers, who say they love Silent Hill and all things about it, didn't even bother to mention little things like Ryall State Penitentiary being a nod to Chris Ryall, owner of IDW. Or how about the fact that recurring character in the game, Howard Blackwood, the overweight African American postman, actually has existed in Silent Hill for over a hundred years? Those may seem like insignificant details, yet are those tiny little things us real hardcore fans look for, adding at least a little something to our overall gaming experience.

How do I know Howard Blackwood's story, when it isn't exactly explained in the game? It's an IDW comic book series called Silent Hill: Past Life; a great tale that follows two lovers that move to Silent Hill in the late 1900s. Upon arriving, they meet Howard Blackwood, a postman riding a horse that hints about knowing much more about the town of Silent Hill than almost any other character in the Silent Hill mythos, minus maybe Dahlia (from SH 1), Claudia Wolf (from SH3), Travis Grady (from SH 0 and a cameo in Homecoming) and Joseph Schreiber (from SH 4). Still, even those characters haven't been trapped within the limits of Silent Hill for over a hundred years, so my guess is Howard knows a bit more.
To me that's a HUGE addition to the mythos of the franchise and reviewers are skipping it.

Does the game have a few issues? Yes. The mechanics are clunky at times. The game freezes and there are more than its share of bugs and bad attempts at combat, but what of the plot? Is it compelling enough to make us overlook the negative? What about the ties that it has to things OUTSIDE the videogame universe?

Tom Waltz, writer of the past two Silent Hill comics at IDW, Silent Hill: Past Life and Silent Hill: Sinner's Reward, and writer of Downpour, has actually spun a very character driven piece. People want to credit Silent Hill 2 as the best game of the franchise, of which I will NOT disagree. It is, easily. What made it great though? It was character driven. We learned a bit about Silent Hill itself, but we learned far more about James Sunderland and his insane life. We learned that each monster was some perverse representation of his inner demons, self pity, and pure hatred for the horrendous act he was responsible for.

This brings me to symbolism.

Symbolism, or symbology for you Boondock Saints fans, is usually an underlining, driving force in the Silent Hill world. Fog has been an element before, as has snow and ashes. I haven't seen a reviewer yet mention symbolism in this game. What about the symbolism of rain, or how it's used in the game to enhance story elements and action scenes? How about the fact that nearly every character you try to save in the game has to fall to their death, acting as yet another reference to descending, like rain falling from the sky; everything in Murphy (the main character) Pendelton's life crashing down to the ground around him. Heck, even Murphy falls off a building at one point in the game. It's a recurring them, like James in Silent Hill 2, always having to witness Mary's death, being too weak to save her.

The creatures are also a key feature in Silent Hill, symbolizing something internal from each protagonist. Granted, the monsters in this game weren't given that much attention with a connection to Murphy… or were they? Silent Hill brings your inner demons to life, twisting any imagination you may have into creating something that would terrify you. Harry and Heather had monsters that reflected this, as did James, Henry, and Travis. The only game I would dispute this is during Homecoming, where the monsters didn't seem to reflect Alex's fractured mind, but that of his little brother Joshua, who carried more hatred and pain within him than Alex. So what if these monsters, as unimaginative as some of them come across to be, come from an unimaginative mind like Murphy's? I'm most likely not right, but it's food for thought. The giggling women and the tall lurking, skinless beasts could actually represent some dark fear within Murphy of girls laughing at him as a child, or a big brute you don't want to drop the soap around in a prison shower. Which reminds me; Murphy's an inmate who has seen a lot of crap. Besides the developers giving us new monsters to face, maybe Silent Hill itself just had to be more direct with Murphy in creating monsters for him.

Also, as much fun as it is to see the nurses and Pyramid Head, let's not forget that those monsters were specific to the psyche of the protagonists of those games, with the arguable exception of Pyramid Head in Homecoming. So to complain that there aren't nurses and that the familiar areas in town aren't visited, those are legit complaints to a degree, but also understandably absent given the plot. Vatra Games, Konami, and Tom Waltz decided to explore a part of town we haven't seen previously, and a character with a psyche we haven't encountered before either, in hopes to bring something fresh to the franchise. To me, they accomplished this by referencing really great comic books; something no previous Silent Hill game had done, building a mythology that we can explore in other Medias once the game is complete.

To keep this at least in the ballpark of a review, because I'm sure I've gone off topic many times, this game is a lot of fun for any "hardcore" Silent Hill fan. It tells an interesting story, provides a few scary moments, and brings something new to the franchise. I appreciate the attempt at making a more action based game, but Silent Hill has never been that, so hopefully in future incarnations they'll either stick closer to their roots in that respect or come up with a more compelling battle system. Still, it's great looking, the voice acting isn't bad, and the music is absolutely deserving of a Silent Hill game.

I was probably one of the most skeptical when I heard Akira Yamaoka and Mary Elizabeth-McGlynn weren't coming back, but Daniel (composer on Dexter) Licht's score is an absolute work of art. Pulling away from the industrial metallic sounds used in previous games, Daniel goes with a more organic approach, which complements the story and flow of the game nicely, especially in the opening sequences. The soundtrack comes out tomorrow, March 13th, 2012, the same day as the game. Buy them. Both are amazing.

In the end, if you are a fan of the IDW comics, which I am, you will get something extra from playing this game. And if you play the game and like it, having never read the comics, I highly recommend checking them out. The writing is great and the artwork is phenomenal. I particularly love the haunting art of Menton3 in Silent Hill: Past Life and can't help but wish every time that Howard Blackwood turns to leave Murphy in Downpour, his horse is hiding somewhere in frame.

So, to those who want a fun vacation spot for this upcoming weekend, I recommend you give my hometown of Silent Hill a try. Downpour is a fun game, and will certainly keep you entertained and frightened for about 8-10 hours of gameplay for the main story, with additional hours if you're a fan of side quests. Plus, for those old school fans, Silent Hill HD Collection comes out next week, featuring Silent Hill 2 & 3. So even if you don't fully appreciate this game, play it for the week till the best in the series returns. And please, go pick up the IDW comics if you like Silent Hill as they will only add to your gaming experience with Downpour.

We on Nerd Nation review things in pocket protectors, best of 5. Overall, Silent Hill: Downpour itself gets a 3.75 out of 5 pocket protectors from me. Sinner's Reward and Past Life get the same.

Siike (seek) Donnelly
Writer / Aneurysm Survivor / Podcaster

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Rich JohnstonAbout Rich Johnston

Founder of Bleeding Cool. The longest-serving digital news reporter in the world, since 1992. Author of The Flying Friar, Holed Up, The Avengefuls, Doctor Who: Room With A Deja Vu, The Many Murders Of Miss Cranbourne, Chase Variant. Lives in South-West London, works from Blacks on Dean Street, shops at Piranha Comics. Father of two. Political cartoonist.
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