So there's this rumor going around saying that the new Silent Hill may be done in First Person. Well, it got me thinking. Just how well could this whole thing work? The series really got its chops for the chilling atmosphere and creepy vibes, but not exactly the gameplay mechanics. Silent Hill, like many other horror games of the past, has had a bit of an identity crisis in trying to evolve with current gaming standards. Silent Hill 1-3 may have come out at a time where the tank-like controls were considered acceptable; but by the time 4 came out the whole scheme was getting old and tired. Recent series entries Homecoming and Shattered Memories both did their part to create a better third-person control scheme (Shattered Memories needs way more credit for the very fluid use of the wiimote-flashlight setup).
But now we're taking a look at a new world where Silent Hill has never gone before: fully First Person perspective. Are the days of carefully constructed third person dynamic camera angle changes thrown out of the window? Is the series about to lose even more of its signature style that made the first games so unique?
Relax and take a deep breath, and grab some food while you're at it. Here is why I think Silent Hill can live on in a first person style.
There is a scene in Silent Hill 4 which inspired me to think about first person horror games and how they could work. I remember getting to the spot where you are walking around the apartment building that faces Henry's, and there is a hallway where a bunch of screeching creatures are jumping from one rooftop to the next. There are so many of them, but thankfully none seem to care that you are beneath them. Their speed, trajectory and urgency made me think about a possibility of having to run from these creatures. For some reason, I thought up of a First Person scenario that played out closer to Mirror's Edge than the way the in-apartment segments did in that game. You would jump from rooftop to rooftop evading these bastards and finding ways to make them fall to their deaths, before finally reach a safe zone of escape.
I haven't thought about that for a few years, but it was the first thing that popped up in my head as I read the title of the article on the front page this afternoon. Just imagine it: You're being chased by something in the thick fog, unsure of your next route of escape. There's plenty of routes to take, but which street is the best one to lose this creature on? Or do you run to a building or alleyway and try to ambush it with a good 2x4, complete with rusty nails crashing down on its head? And what are the risks of you finding more creatures in the foggy ether? It's a lot to take in, but could be very well done if we recall that the series for the most part allowed you to escape every encounter on foot.
First Person Horror is not something new. One of the most popular recent examples I can think of is Condemned: Criminal Origins. Now I never did finish the game, but what I did play of it felt so right in how it executed level design and enemy placement/movement to create a fear in the player. I hear Condemned 2 lost some of the charm but she was certainly a looker. While I don't think Silent Hill needs to follow exactly in Condemned's hobo-bashing footsteps, it is a great place to start. Another game series to look at for first person horror done right is the Penumbra series, which provided some chilling moments and the right amount of atmosphere. Or even the often mentioned Bioshock/System Shock 2.
Then there's the Half Life 2 mod Korsakovia. While it wasn't exactly the most well designed mod out there, the final levels were breathtaking in their deconstruction of everything the mod had taught you up to that point. It struck me as something the gods at Silent Hill may prepare for a special breed of asshole.
This is because the last two levels were no fun to play. The platforming was pretty bad, and I got so tired of stupid slip-ups that, after a few tries, I just no-clipped through quite a few of the annoying segments. But the design, the very fact that these objects were just floating in space in that manner, felt like something Silent Hill would churn out. I'm sure we can find a way to mix the trademark otherworldly beauty with level design that doesn't make the player want to rip their hair out.
One of the other tactics that Silent Hill used well was Impossible Space. Doorways that inexplicably teleported you to the other side of a hotel, but going back into the door would put you into the hotel room the door actually belonged to. Sudden drop-offs where actual ground once stood. Twisting paths of grated floor that would take you not only off the beaten path, but well off of your map as well. The way that Silent Hill toyed with your expectations during exploration is something that can be done very well in the First Person as well. Hazard: The Journey of Life is an Unreal Tournament 3 mod that uses exploration and puzzle solving along with impossible spaces to confuse and humble the player at the same time.
I think you should experience the way Hazard works, as that will help you understand where I'm coming from better than I can explain with words without becoming too long-winded. You can download the demo (It's standalone, but your computer will need to be able to run Unreal Engine 3 games) or watch this youtube.
Checked it out yet? Alright then, now imagine that with some Silent Hill settings!
One of the hobbies that Silent Hill caused me to take some interest in is Urban Exploration. People often go to abandoned buildings and areas and walk around capturing the haunting images of a place rotting itself down. The people that do this aren't doing so in a third person perspective, they are in a first person perspective and so are all of the photos and videos we get to see of their findings. If one studies UE long enough, you'll find that a first person Silent Hill could benefit from studying what makes these images so haunting. People have chilling tales of exploring these areas only to get spooked by something, causing them to run for their lives. We could use these fears to our advantage to create the proper Silent Hill atmosphere again.
The next step would be to write the next warped tale to wrap our heads around, to base the decay and the darkness for our flashlights to illuminate and cause shadows to dance around in. If we could capture that "I'm running up these basement stairs because for all I know some nasty shit is coming up behind me" feeling, tie it together with the proper sound design, another Akira Yamaoka soundtrack, and the other elements I've listed above... I believe Silent Hill will have found its calling in today's gaming market.