I wrote this back in September so some minor details may have changes since then....*sigh* I was really hoping to play the game this year.
Silent Hill: Downpour is set to arrive very shortly and for any fan of Silent Hill this is a nervous and trying time. It is no secret that the once great and infallible staple of horror is now met with both skepticism and worry from both its fans and the creators who are tasked to return the series back to its former glory. The challenges facing Silent Hill currently are forces that are both numerous and difficult to overcome but I have a feeling that Silent Hill: Downpour has the potential to exceed expectations.
Ten years ago Silent Hill 2 was released to nearly universal praise for its atmosphere, story, graphics, and gameplay. It weaved a story and plot mature enough to handle marital stress, sexual violence, and the consequences of murder with a setting and creature design that accurately honed in on primal fears and conveyed them both with equal clarity to its players. Then came Silent Hill 3 met with similar yet dwindling reception. Afterwards, many argued that Silent Hill 4 was starting point of the downward slope to mediocrity (Though recent opinion seems to imply a growing appreciation towards the title).
Iím not here to analyze why the series has been getting steadily getting worse mainly because I donít believe the series is in a state which I can say that they are bad to begin with. No, the real enemy facing the Silent Hill series is not that different from the internal doubt that haunts the protagonists in the games themselves. The idea that the Silent Hill games are getting worse has been accepted universally not only by the gamers, but by the developers as well.
What happened? Silent Hill 4 didnít enjoy the same praise as the games before it and a panic set in that clouded the judgment of everyone involved. Firstly, by this time Silent Hill 2 had become synonymous with the epitome of a mature horror story because it set a standard some say of a true survival horror game. The fear of a tarnish on the Silent Hill name worried many fans. Then before any time could elapse and breathing room established, Akira Yamaoka, sound designer of the series, made the even worse mistake of having said on record that Silent Hill 4 "isnít very good".
The nails on the coffin were set.
There are many that would argue that Silent Hill 4 isnít very bad at all. If the shouts of complaints for the missing Silent Hill 4 from the HD collection are anything to go by then people still have a keen interest in the game. However, the very lack of the game from the HD collection clearly shows Konami is still buying into the idea that ďthe fourth game ruined Silent HillĒ. This resurgence in opinion for Silent Hill 4 is probably because it has been some time since Silent Hill 3 and those who played the fourth game have now gone back and played it without crippling its value. Another explanation is that now that the considerably ďworseĒ Silent Hill games (which I will maintain arenít anymore bad than they are adequate) have been released, anything by the original Team Silent is a godsend. But looking back on it what was Silent Hillís original sin? That a game was a bit well less received than the ones before it?
There is an imaginary standard regarding how great the series used to be not because of any real merits, but because Silent Hill 2 and the term "true modern survival horror" has become synonymous with each other. Yes, Silent Hill 2 is a great game, a near perfect game, one of my favorite games, but at this point, if people just wish for another Silent Hill 2, gamers have better luck just replaying the game.
Another more interesting dilemma facing the series is something of a derivative from the first problem, wherein a new Silent Hill game tries to distinguish itself by trying to create its own twist ending or reveal so expected by the series. Each new Silent Hill game has attempted to establish some reveal to varying degrees of success, but a twist ending is as closely associated with the series itself that it has become expected of each game to have one. Anyone who plays enough games would argue that this diminishes the impact of such reveals. One thing Silent Hill: Downpour is doing differently is confirming a villain protagonist, a convicted felon Murphy Pendleton. And no, he was not wrongly imprisoned says developers.
I find this to be a good sign of what the game is trying to establish. Taking the usual Silent Hill guilty protagonist and toying with the idea of playing a bad person rather than revealing that youíve been playing a bad person. If done correctly, perhaps the feeling of what it truly means to be a criminal will come through with a real sense of gravity.
Now while the big reveal has been repeated with each succession of games, there is finally the problem of differentiating each game from one another. The best of the recent releases in my opinion was Silent Hill: Shattered Memories which, while a re-imagining of the first game, created a memorable experience and delivering the best use of the Wii motion controls I've ever used. Shattered Memories told a story and revealed a surprisingly shocking end that actually made sense while still being completely unexpected. The worst? Probably Silent Hill: Homecoming which just seems like a poor attempt to emulate the second game with nothing it can rightly call its own.
The series as of late have fallen into a trap in which there is a feeling of obligation to keep successful aspects of the series and begin crafting around these various and sparse story and gameplay elements. One worrying concept is that the game has taken direct aspects of previous games such as the blending other world from Homecoming and the escape portions from Shattered Memories. Hopefully these elements help redeem these creative aspects of previous games rather than simply rehash used ideas.
In fact, the Silent Hill series could take a page from Nntendo's actions with a flagship title of their own, The Legend of Zelda. Liberated from any sense of wanting to keep the fans happy by building a game around concepts established in previous titles and therefore limiting their own creative process, the current Zelda team seems to have a greater freedom in their design choices by finally moving past fan favorites to create new features and build around new ideas. There is a legacy to both the Zelda series and the Silent Hill series and the fear of attempting something, not just new, but vastly different is what's holding back these titles from evolving. But Zelda is currently working on it so why not Silent Hill?
As I said, the last few Silent Hill games arenít bad by any means. At best they are underappreciated and at worse lazy, uninspired clone stitched from successful elements of the series in a sad attempt to be a Silent Hill game. If thereís one thing to be sure of is that the series is an integral part of Konamiís library and they donít seem to want to ditch it any time soon so if Downpour doesnít put life back into the series Iím sure there will always be a next time. Hopefully by then there will be a company that can confidently take the series under its wings and fly with it to unimagined territory. Just as the protagonists in the game learn to move on without being chained to the past, so must the developers relinquish the heavy bonds with its predecessors.