Horror gaming has changed. Indie titles such as Amnesia and Slender have proven that audiences can be terrified without big budgets and corporate backing, so where do the triple-A franchises go from here? Today I'll discuss this question with reference to the Silent Hill franchise. Although this franchise crosses into other mediums (most notably into film) I will only be discussing the video games. My reasons for this will become apparent when I begin to discuss how the series has been run into the ground.
The first Silent Hill game was released by Konami in 1999, 3 years after Capcom kicked off their survival horror series Resident Evil (which presently is (arguably) in just as much of a poor state as Silent Hill). Silent Hill carved its own little niche within the genre of survival horror which allowed it to coexist rather peacefully alongside its partner from Capcom as it offered an experience that was as different as it was similar. The game was followed by a sequel (Silent Hill 2) in 2001 that is loved by critics and fans alike, even Ben ‘Yahtzee’ Croshaw, well known for unashamedly bashing 95 per cent of the games he reviews loves it, as you can see here. Silent Hill 3 was released in 2003 and while it was well received by fans and critics it hasn’t enjoyed the same legacy that its predecessor did. Then, with the release of Silent Hill 4: The Room in 2004, things began to change.
While 4 received mixed reviews it’s hardly fair to blame it for the demise of the series, even though it arguably rests atop the downward spiral that brought the series to where it is today, on its knees. There are positives that can be taken from this game, it showed that Konami were willing to make changes in an effort to avoid stagnation and personally I thought the story was just as good as previous titles. So what went wrong? To me Silent Hill 4 was let down by its gameplay, specifically in the second half. Mild spoilers may follow so read at your discretion. There are couple of gaming tropes that can become very tiresome very quickly (your mileage may vary). These are backtracking and escort missions, both are fine when used correctly and in fact backtracking is often an integral part of survival horror games. Following a certain narrative event Silent Hill 4 becomes a backtracking escort mission that sees the player return to all of the previously completed levels from the first part of the game, with a companion in tow, while being pursued by unkillable enemies. This is where I turned the game off. This did not have to spell the end of the series, there is no reason why Konami could not have regrouped for the next game and set out to return the series to its former glory. I mean at the least 4 wasn’t an outsourced amateur rip off of the previous games. Homecoming on the other hand…
Homecoming is exactly that. Developed by American developer Double Helix Games this was the point where the Silent Hill franchise’s descent becomes a near unstoppable downward spiral. I don’t know what when down during the game’s development but I would be surprised if it was more than someone copying and pasting from a list of things present in the earlier games. Double Helix then decided to shoehorn in a completely arbitrary appearance by ‘Pyramid Head’, a character that was specific to James Sunderland’s story in Silent Hill 2. To me this just reinforces the idea that Double Helix haphazardly scraped together a few remnants of past Silent Hill games based on the assumption that that’s all fans wanted. It wasn’t.
2009 saw another release from yet another studio, this time by Climax Studios. Shattered Memories was described as a reimagining of the first game and to be honest it wasn’t horrible, mainly because gameplay wise it marked a noticeable change from the previous titles, whereas Homecoming merely rehashed it. The reviews were positive and as it was only released on the Wii, PS2 and PSP I was hoping Climax would be given a chance to develop for the PS3 and Xbox 360, however this was not the case as the outsourcing continued.
Downpour, developed by Vatra games in the Czech Republic was released earlier this year and might as well be the final nail in the coffin. I had no desire to play this game, and thanks to Youtube commentators Two Best Friends Play who did a full Let’s Play I didn’t have to. Now if my relief at not having to play a game isn’t a sign that the series is on its way out I don’t know what is. While Downpour did manage to introduce one decent idea to the series which is that characters experience their own ‘Silent Hill’ while in the town (which was already a fan theory anyway) it also managed to fail in a way no other Silent Hill game had. The monster design was awful, gone were creepy, shuffling Lying Figures from 2 and the unnaturally disfigured Closer from 3 in favour of…a woman?
So, what do I think Konami should do with the Silent Hill series? Kill it. With fire. The reason my verdict is so strong is because I can’t honestly say I believe that Konami still cares. There is no way. Whether it’s the way the series is mindlessly being handed from developer to developer or the fact that they released a four player co-op beat ‘em up (the only thing that could be less Silent Hill would be and on rails arcade shooter oh and look what we have here) OR the fact that even managed to fuck up the HD collection consisting of 2 and 3 there is just no evidence that anyone at Konami gives the slightest sliver of a shit of what happens to this series. Sure it may spell the end of big budget survival horror games but when you’re being outshone by indie games and mods a decision has to be made. And unless Konami can recruit the services of the genius behind Metal Gear Hideo Kojima like they suggested recently I think this is the best decision (seriously if this rumour even had any chance of coming true it could result in the best game ever made, but it seems unlikely that anything will happen).
So do you agree? Disagree? Feel free to sound off in the comments below. Bonus points to anyone who can change my mind.