Alan Wake

[Review] Silent Hill: Downpour (PS3)

Silent Hill is a survival horror franchise that I have a little history with. I played Silent Hill: Shattered Memories on the PSP five summers ago and was terrified most of the time. I reflect back on that survival horror game, and consider it one of the first from the genre that got me into playing scary games in the first place. When the hubs suggested we play Silent Hill: Downpour together on the PS3 this past December, I agreed to it. Together, we slogged through it over a couple of weekends.

You play as Murphy Pendleton who is, at first blush, all kinds of bad. In prison serving an unknown wrap, Murphy is making enemies everywhere he goes, including officer Ann Cunningham, who has a serious bone to pick with him. It is while being transported to another penitentiary that Murphy’s bus crashes, killing everyone on board but Murphy. He is left to his own devices in the forest, but before he can even think of his freedom, he finds himself amid the eerie, rainy and somewhat abandoned town of Silent Hill, a perpetual hell where there is never any escape. While in Silent Hill, Murphy is pursued by monsters which he must defend against. He goes searching through the town, exploring abandoned buildings to find clues about his fate and objects he can use for his escape. Silent Hill’s gloomy buildings can transform spontaneously into a parallel universe where the walls turn dark, blunt obstacles turn sharp, and red shadows chase and disorientate Murphy.

Murphy’s back story is a mystery from the get-go. You are given very few details about him, and as the game progresses things eventually fall into place (sort of), but it’s a long winding journey. The gamer is provided with flashbacks periodically that lift the curtain a little on Murphy, but I have to say the pacing of the story was very slow, and I soon found myself impatient, wondering why the hell this guy was in Silent Hill, and why the heck I should bother saving him in the first place.

You direct Murphy in third-person gameplay. Like other Silent Hill games, Downpour had some jump-scare moments, especially when Murphy suddenly entered into the evil parallel world where he was being chased, or gets confronted by a monster. To that end, I found the combat in Downpour was pretty lame. You are only able to pick up one weapon at a time, each often felt pretty ineffective. Along the way you are given a gun, but the aiming sucks, so it barely did anything. Beating a creep down with any weapon, in fact, felt like an exercise in futility, and we often found ourselves running away from a monster as a more effective method than sticking around.

Wild guess: Which screenshot comes from Silent Hill: Downpour and which is from Alan Wake?*

Throughout my experience with this game, I couldn’t help but think the game designers of Downpour took inspiration from Alan Wake, nicking some key plot tropes from one of my favourite games. In fact, I can think of at least 10 similarities between the two:

  • A gloomy landscape
  • Forest hiking
  • Use of a flash light
  • Flocks of birds that attack
  • Flashbacks to the past
  • Riding a Gondola lift
  • Breaking into spooky buildings
  • Trespassing through diners and gas stations
  • A Female police officer
  • And look out for gusts of wind and fog; the monsters are coming!

There are more but, this list is a start. Whether by accident or coincidence, Downpour has really tapped into obvious parallels with Wake. The whole time, I turned to the hubs and said, “I feel like I’ve played this before….This feels like Alan Wake…” Except, Alan Wake is two years younger than Silent Hill: Downpour…and does things a lot better than this game; the story, weapons and general gameplay were much more enjoyable.

I can’t help but feel disappointment with Silent Hill: Downpour, especially since Shattered Memories was so engrossing. Take a pass on Downpour – there are better survival horror games out there.

2/5

Silent Hill: Downpour (PS3)
Konami
2012

*Alan Wake is on the left, Silent Hill: Downpour is on the right.

[Review] Alan Wake Was My Disturbing Boyfriend (Xbox 360)

Confession time.

I have been happily married for years to a wonderful guy. But, for the better part of one month, I was obsessed with a different guy.  His name was Alan Wake, and I was enraptured by the man, the myth, THE GAME for most of February 2012, and as long ago as that was, I have to say the memory of that game stays with me to this day.

The first time I saw any part of Alan Wake I was standing in an EB Games waiting for my hubs to decide what current offering he was going to buy, when one of their TVs started playing the trailer to Alan Wake. I was instantly taken in. It had a few criteria I was interested in – it looked realistic, dark, and appeared to have an intriguing story behind it. But above all, it looked scary.

I had some experience with scary games – Shiver: the Vanishing Hitchhiker (of course), Silent Hill: Shattered Memories for the PSP, and the Walking Dead game on the XBox 360 come to mind. I had sweat through those games and made it to the credits unscathed. So, I thought, I could take on Alan Wake on the 360.

Alan Wake tells the story of a writer of thriller fiction whose wife goes missing while they are on vacation in rural Washington State. As he searches for his wife, he finds himself in a nightmare of sorts, where he is living in the plot of one of his scary books, but one he doesn’t remember writing. Armed with a flashlight, he ventures into the darkness of the forest looking for his wife, fighting enemies (also called ‘the Taken’), evil ravens and possessed inanimate objects. The light is the one thing that protects you from enemies, so you are searching relentlessly for batteries for your flashlight, some flashbangs, a spotlight or streetlight to save you from the evil (and to get to a safe point). Guns also help you to attack your enemies.

I found ‘the Taken’ scary as heck, and I think that is what freaked me out the most about Alan Wake. My nightmares often have scary dark figures chasing me, so imagine being surrounded by dark shadowy figures that wield axes or sickles at you, and yell odd things that scare the crap out of you. Thanks to a decent 5.1 stereo system, I got to hear ‘the Taken’ in all their angry surround-sound glory (you can listen to them here, if you don’t care about spoilers). Partner this with a misty dirt path through the forest in darkness, and you have the makings of a horror game.

Speaking of, the scenery in Alan Wake is truly breathtaking. You can tell the developers took five years to make this game. No detail was overlooked, nor overworked.

The final screen! I had to take a picture!

The final screen! I had to take a picture!

Alan Wake made me keep the lights on when I played it. My hands shook in petrification. I was even dreaming of the game in my sleep. At one point I said to the hubs that I thought I’d have to put the game down for awhile. The further I went into the game though, the more I wanted to see how the story ended. I would then find the courage to carry on and fight some more Taken. And I am glad I did – Alan Wake is one of my all-time favourite scary games.

Also read: Alan Wake’s American Nightmare

Alan Wake
Developer: Remedy Entertainment / Publisher: Microsoft Studios
Released: May 2010 (North America, Xbox 360)

This blog was originally posted in June 2013 – but because of my recent appearance on the Retro Fandango podcast where I proclaimed this game as my favourite, I spit-shone’er and made it new to you. Hope you enjoyed!