Silent Hill: Downpour Increases Panic With a Clever Weapon Mechanic
Silent Hill: Downpour didn’t give us a trusty pipe to rely on to clobber enemies for the whole game. For this outing in the series, we often had to rely on whatever weapon was on-hand. Those tools could break pretty easily, too. You wouldn’t be carrying a whole arsenal like previous games, either. While I’m not normally a fan of breakable weapons, especially when you’re limited in how many you can carry, it gave this title a more frightful edge. When gruesome, mangled people are rushing in to kill you, the fear of knowing your one weapon might break made each encounter terrifying.
Murphy Pendleton, an escaped convict, has ended up in Silent Hill. If you’ve played any games in the series, you know this place is unkind to people with darkness in their past. So, a prisoner who’s got some blood on their hands is going to have a rough go, here. This comes in the form of many weirdly-human monstrosities that will chase you around. They’re persistent, but with a bit of work, you CAN ditch them without doing them any harm. Whether you decide to fight or flee, though, you can expect to do it a lot. Especially when it rains (hence the title).
If you decide to fight, Silent Hill: Downpour gives you a few tools. There is an array of clubs, knives, axes, and more you can use to take creatures down. The trouble is that these weapons are all breakable. After a set number of thumps against enemy heads, they shatter. They also wear down from striking walls and other blockades, which you often have to do to progress. Facing down some grinning creature in a dark prison is bad enough. It gets far worse when you only weapon breaks before you’ve fully killed your opponent.
Now, past Silent Hill games let you carry an entire arsenal in your jacket. You could squeeze several guns and a handful of melee weapons into your pockets. This game does away with that, instead only letting you carry a melee weapon and a gun. Maybe two guns if that seemed like a better idea. So, you don’t get to keep a backup tool in your pocket for when things get bad. You’re stuck hoping that your current weapon doesn’t break. If it does, you’re using your gun (ammo is very limited) or your fists. And punching bat-like humans doesn’t work great.
Now, to make up for this problem, Silent Hill: Downpour puts weapons all over the place. There’s many different tools throughout the game that you can swap in. However, each of them has different damage outputs, speeds, and other features. The knife you find may be quicker, but you have to creep a bit closer to use it. Still, if you’re holding a pipe you’ve been using for a while, should you switch? Should you risk using the pipe a bit longer when it’ll probably break? Should you switch weapons when you have some breathing room, or risk it and have to swap weapons while scrambling to dodge enemies?
You usually end up in this scramble anyway, though. When your weapon snaps in two, you need to quickly grab whatever’s on hand. This means you have to get used to a whole different combat style in a hurry, which can be disorienting. Especially so when fighting a tough monster that won’t back off. That moment your tool breaks also results in a chilling moment of panic, followed by rushing around, weaving around your enemy while looking for anything to fight back with. And you’ll likely get the attention of more enemies if you aren’t careful in your search.
Combat in horror games can often fall into a sense of familiarity. You get to know your weapon of choice, its ranges, and what you can do over time. Many horror titles offer a bunch of tools, but you slowly get comfortable with them all. Or, you can at least choose when you use each tool. In Silent Hill: Downpour, where these weapons break spontaneously, and you can’t carry a specific one with you besides a gun, you end up switching play styles frequently. This adds a bit of panic to each fight as you struggle to find a replacement weapon and then struggle to relearn it. It brings a bit of terror and chaos to fights that might otherwise seem rote and familiar.
This system also plays to the exploration and survival elements of the game. Silent Hill feels more open in this game. You’re encouraged to go looking around a bit more. You can find some handy stuff while looking around the town, but you also run the risk of getting into more fights. Adding to this exploration is the varied amounts of danger you find yourself in. The weather shifts throughout the game, and when it rains, enemies are more prevalent in town. However, you may need to explore to find a better weapon. It forces you to be curious and push outside of safe areas in hopes of finding something worth using. But even if you do, that weapon won’t last.
What choice do you have, though? Silent Hill: Downpour makes you constantly weigh your options moment-to-moment. Do you explore to find a better weapon? When it’s raining, is it worth the extra risk? What if you run into something strong while only wielding a half-busted golf club? Should you scrounge for something despite the danger in case something worse is coming up? If you do find something good while searching, should you flee from your foes for a while to keep your weapon in good condition? Am I safe to run from so many enemies at once? The mind swirls with possibilities and options, and all of them create an anxious fear that you’ll make the wrong call.
Like I said, I hate breakable weapons. Silent Hill: Downpour makes it work, though. By giving players tools that can fall apart at any moment, they make the player a bit more afraid in each encounter. They may suddenly find themselves in a bad position when something breaks, turning victory into a frightening scramble. Players might have to make do with a weapon they don’t know, adding more danger to a fight. They may also have to go into more dangerous places to suitably arm themselves when they don’t want to. Through limiting weapons and making them break, the developers dialed up the fear and panic you could feel when enemies are near.