Hi everyone, this is a new weekly feature where we look at games that have been through development hell, games or game franchises which have no sequel planned or series which you could call in ‘crisis’ whether it’s a divisive fanbase or direction game is taking, this feature will try to explain and give own opinions on the situation. If you like the piece or have any words of your own to say, don’t hesitate in liking or leaving a comment below! (Spoilers may follow so be aware of this now before reading on).
Episode 1: The Future Of – Silent Hill
Silent Hill. It would be very foolish to try to deny the impact the first two games brought to the horror genre and the first three are acclaimed classics. With 2 motion pictures, spin offs, dedicated fanbase and countless material inspired by the series, it seems strange then that Silent Hill for a long while has divided fans in the direction the games have taken as well as clearly lacking in strength, plot wise, gameplay wise and horror wise, in each subsequent release. Now with rumors on the next installment and a foggy future (see what I did there? huh? You know cos Silent Hill has…doesn’t matter) for the series, this is the point where the series can also truly evolve and deliver a classic. How? Read on…
Here’s just a quick history of Silent Hill for all those unfamiliar. For those who are, you may learn one or two new things. SIlent Hill 1 was released on the PS1 in 1999. The famous fog which is present throughout most of the game was actually included in the game to hide the technical shortcomings of the first title. unbeknown to them, they had just created the key feature which identifies Silent Hill from the rest of the gaming world and it’s hard not to (especially in a horror title) encounter fog areas and be reminded of Silent Hill.
Although the game was praised, the plot was very vague and even after multiple playthroughs, there was still the fair amount of head scratching, though the community revelled in coming up with theories and ideas to explain the game. Then came Silent Hill 2.
The protagonists of Silent Hill, each as memorable as the next.
This is ‘the’ horror game, one of those horror games any fan must play through, exploring such themes as sexual abuse, murder, disease and the consequences it has on those around, bullying, it didn’t shy away from anything and delivered a strong plot along with one of the best endings any video game has produced. Besides the plot, the whole game was radically transformed and everything felt darker and much more dangerous this time around, with creatures such as Pyramid Head symbolising something important for James Sunderland and all the creatures in the series do indeed represent something to do with either the main character or the others involved. This element made each new game that much more exciting as you tried to understand each creatures place and meaning in the Silent Hill world.
Silent Hill 3 was the sequel to the first title and expanded on what Silent Hill 2 worked on as well as continuing the plot and explaining a bit more of the town itself this time around as well as having a female protagonist (the only so far in the main plot) and though not considered on the same level as its predecessor, is a classic in its own right.
This is where things for the series started to shake and eventually the events here would lead up to the current day. Silent Hill 4, despite the internet legend that the game was not intended as a Silent Hill game, was indeed Team Silent’s attempt at creating a different kind of game, as they had wanted to do with SH3 but a decision was made to tie up the loose ends of the first title, until Konami quickly decided to play it safe with a Silent Hill title.
This game has ultimately kept fans divided on its formula of gameplay and game itself and The Room would prove to be Team Silent’s last title as they disbanded soon after and this is where I guess the second part of the Silent Hill series begins.
Climax Studios, Double Helix Games, Vatra Games and with the release of Book Of Memories, WayForward Technologies, that makes four different developers between 5 games (Shattered Memories was produced by Climax Studios). Now a strong criticism of Silent Hill fans is the handling of the series in foreign hands as opposed to Japanese developers, as it was with the first four titles, when Team Silent worked on the games.
Now this isn’t a matter to do with where the games are made. Granted that the two different cultures allow different ways of storytelling and influences but the whole fact that people will solely blame the perceived decline of the series just because foreign = instantly bad Silent Hill game is preposterous.
The feeling of running away from Silent Hill.
Looking at the title that have come after the The Room, we get Origins, a prologue to the original game and originally released on the PSP, Homecoming changed location to Shepard’s Glen and combat was a focus, Shattered Memories was a reimagining of the first title while changing completely the elements that make a Silent Hill game and Downpour changed the world with water, secondary missions and open world gameplay like none before. Looking at it this way, it doesn’t seem that the series has remained stale, constantly changing itself and how it tells its story.
No, the real problem here is that although these additions are surely welcome to the series and help it from becoming to stale, the constant shifting of the studio, not keeping stability between two titles and allowing the same team to continue, improve and expand on their work, means that ultimately each title is suffering more and more for the following reasons;
The story of Silent Hill, as the backstory and mythos of the town, cult and monsters is very deep and indeed there are many, many sites online that try to explain it all or look at the plots and try to understand what it all means (Silent Hill 2 taking the prize here) as people still have their own theories. Unfortunately, the series has hit a vicious cycle it seems it keeps repeating and can’t escape from. Let me explain a little more.
You see ever since the narrative power of SH2, the sequels have all been measured against the very high standards this game set, which is fair as every musician or actor is measured in this way by their best piece of work, so while this is okay to do, what the developers have seemingly done with each release is figure that seeing as SH2 story was so acclaimed, anything different should not be done and SH2 should be the guide to future titles.
Iconic moments, deep plot with numerous interpretations, Silent Hill 2 has been a blessing and a curse to the series, as no future title seems to have captured the power Silent Hill 2 has to offer.
This has resulted in each release’s plot getting weaker as a result, as well as the characters that populate the world, as each game tries to have a ‘shock’ or ‘twist’ ending which unless fitted in naturally and not placed there artificially for one, comes off as weak. Add to that each character keeps looking for someone or as was the case with Downpour, another woman police officer or the cult becoming a parody of itself (seriously when was the last time this whole cult thing was actually explored and not just teased or changed to suit the games own idea of it?
Also I have to say, the supportive cast of characters I feel should be kept to a minimum unless you can find a way to make it work. If you compare the supporting characters of Sh1-3 to later releases, there will only be one column with a clear victor. Improve the supporting characters, they aren’t there as part of the protagonists story, they should be part of the story.
What Silent Hill needs is, and this comes naturally as a result of stability, is a plot or content which is evolved in each title and connected to one another so it doesn’t seem like we learnt and explored it all for nothing with each release, the possibility of different type of protagonists (enough with the males in their 20s with very similar backstories! Why not have multiple playable characters, another female lead or someone younger or older?) and of course if one team works on something for a while, they can only get better which will help the plot of the title, which has become so uninspired and on a continuous downward spiral for years now.
The most obvious example of this is Pyramid Head. Initially used to represent the suffering and guilt and need for punishment by James Sunderland, Pyramid Head remains one of horror gamings, if not gamings, most frightening and iconic protagonists. Yet instead of trying to come up with a whole new protagonist equally as terrifying there has been an over reliance on this iconic figure. From having him appear without any real purpose besides fan service (Silent Hill: Homecoming, both Silent Hill movies) or the same basic character just slightly altered (Bogeyman in Downpour).
This holds back the series as instead of evolving and coming up with a whole new antagonist (how about a primary antagonist monster who isn’t a ridiculously powerful man with a covered face? How about a really feeble weak looking character who everyone fears for some unknown reason?) in each game, instead introducing us to the same old Pyramid Head over and over.
This can also be attributed to the bad creature design that has somewhat plagued the series since 4. Many of the designs (especially Downpour) have very bland, uninspired characters which make us Silent Hill fans feel as if we’ve seen it all before. How many more variations of the nurses and dogs will they keep adding into each title?
No the next Silent Hill game needs animators and artists who discard every monster from the previous installments and given the chance to create new creatures not in any way related to their predecessors. Why not have mechanical looking monsters or why not try to deliver different kind of monsters which need inventive ways to defeat. This might be drastic yet the series cannot keep delivering poor monsters, the essence of the horror part of Silent Hill, or clones of past monsters.
Evolve & Horror
Horror, in the mainstream market, is practically dead. It enjoyed a high during Silent Hill’s strongest moments and the decline reflects the mainstream markets attitude to horror gaming. So why not inspire people to come back to this genre? Indie horror gaming is enjoying a golden age at the moment with so many new ideas and gameplay being introduced and experimented on. This is what Silent Hill needs to do, instead of trying to keep the name as a symbol of the best quality of horror game (which it isn’t anymore, in all honesty) why not try to evolve?
This could be from a different way to play Silent Hill, maybe switching from third to first person during the game, changing the feel and look of Silent Hill (everything except the fog though mind you), the way the game is played. There are so many opportunities the series could evolve yet it of course must keep the horror alive. You see this has been a key point of criticism for a long while for each release sees the combat taking away from that feeling of helplessness the first few titles offered. Shattered Memories tried something different taking a non combat approach, bringing a cold world, playing out the story differently, this is probably the only Silent Hill title which has done what I’ve been talking about, trying something new and while the formula hasn’t stuck it was a sense of playing a new Silent Hill experience, not game.
Shattered Memories tried and changed many elements of the series, yet it only stands good as a stand alone, not a game to expand and continue from.
The whole gameplay and how you play Silent Hill must be completely changed. Yes of course it’s frightening for doing such a thing is very risky and could end miserably, yet without risk, you cannot evolve. Take for example the combat, you could keep that in, only have the weapons scare and only effective against certain monsters. Or instead of the person beginning in the real world before descending into Silent Hill and trying to figure out what is wrong, why not have them maybe a captive of the order who manages to escape only to end up into another nightmare? This is what the series needs, a need to bring something new to the table while feeling like you’re playing the Silent Hill ver. 2.0.
The first film, though different from the game, was an enjoyable watch. Its sequel, not as much…
2012 was a busy year for Silent Hill. Silent Hill: Downpour came out, after many delays, to divisive reception, the HD Collection (shamelessly labelled as such despite no Silent Hill 4) was released after much controversy of altering the voices of the protagonists as well as furious claims of a buggy, badly ported remastered port. Silent Hill: Revelation the sequel to the first film and adaption of SH3 was panned by most and finally Silent Hill: Book Of Memories was released, a Silent Hill multi-player experience which I’m sure in all honesty was the last thing any Silent Hill fan wanted or needed.
It’s a shame that such a year was ultimately a disappointment for Silent Hill fans, yet the question that every fan is asking themselves is ‘so what now?’
With rumours that the legendary Metal Gear Solid producer, Hideo Kojima would be interested in developing a Silent Hill title this could be a great breath of fresh air to the series from someone who has more than proved themselves that they can make a game. Yet even if this marriage between Silent Hill and Hideo doesn’t come to fruition, what do we want from the next developers.
Well first that they take their time with the game, using the previous installments as blueprints not as a step by step guide which they must follow or we’ll be playing the same old game once again. Hopefully the series will be developed by people who care and value the franchise who while listening to the fanbases complaints and suggestions, doesn’t mind shaking things up a bit, while the plot can’t be another retelling of Silent Hill 2 and the mythos should be explained as well as raising much further questions.
There are many sites and people who dedicate their time to explore and try to explain the mysteries of Silent Hill.
Also, to Konami, stick with the developers you choose and Konami, as well as the fanbase, give support and confidence to the title.
Or…or there could be two other ways for Silent Hill to go. One, it could be time to end the once great series, though I doubt this will be the case before at least another title is made and it would be such a shame to see the series go once and for all. Second, a reboot. Recently one that comes to mind is DMC, reboot to the Devil May Cry series, though this was handled poorly by the developers and the backlash has ultimately seen its effects as while not a bad game itself, the developers negative attitude towards their very fan base cost them dearly.
Whatever lays ahead for Silent Hill, it will forever remain one of horror gamings most famous and influential games ever created and will inspire many more future game developers, writers, gamers, movie directors. Who knows, maybe you reading this could be a Silent Hill fan who one day delivers a game, one which started many years ago when you first set out looking for a little girl or received a letter or discover your true self…
Like the article if you did, Comment if you’ve got your own thoughts or say and stay tuned for the next episode!