As we learned last week at Gamescom, Konami couldn’t have chosen a more… eclectic team to develop the next Silent Hill. The mysteriously titled (and mysteriously pluralized) Silent Hills brings together filmmaker and horror geek Guillermo del Toro, Stalker and Metal Gear series creator Hideo Kojima, and The Walking Dead star Norman Reedus.
But what the hell is a Silent Hill game anymore? And after ten years of not-great games in the franchise, what does the series need to come back to its sickly, poisonous life? We have some thoughts for the great minds behind Silent Hills, and guys, we’re hoping you’re listening…
6. Get Weird With the Endings
If there’s not at least one dog manning a control panel or an alien or something in one of Silent Hills‘ endings, then you’re doing it wrong.
One of the hallmarks of the series has been its multiple endings based on your play style, completion time, and and secrets uncovered throughout the game’s story. Both Kojima and del Toro are funny guys and I hope both don’t shy away from the goofier aspects of the series.
But let’s get down to the nitty gritty. How can they keep Silent Hills scary? Well, for starters…
5. Let del Toro Design the Monsters
Okay, ignore the stupid part of this scene (seriously, did she just not want to survive the vampire super monster, or what), and look at the pair of glorious monster designs from del Toro’s Blade 2. The cockroach monsters in Mimic. The fairies and the titular creature in Pan’s Labyrinth. The new, proboscis-slangin’ vamps in The Strain.
Del Toro has an affinity for a mix of practical and CG monster designs, born out of a love of folklore and creature features, which is something that could give Silent Hills an interesting new spin on the franchise’s psychosexual horrors.
I’m not saying the series should lose that – I think the reason we play the Silent Hill games is to crawl around in the fears and anxieties of its protagonists – but I am suggesting that after nearly 20 years, it would be nice to move away from the bloody bandages and barbed wire aesthetic of the previous entries.
And lest you’re thinking I’d like to see a bunch of arbitrary changes to the upcoming game…
4. Only One Person Can Make Silent Hill Sound Like Silent Hill
Silent Hill: Downpour was the first to not feature the work of composer Akira Yamaoka, who’s been with the series since its first entry. And while Dexter composer Daniel Licht’s work was fine – more than fine, actually – it couldn’t match the haunted, strange sounds of Yamaoka’s work.
It never really sounds like one thing: informed by ’60s and ’70s pop, traditional Japanese music, industrial, and some Spanish guitar thrown in for good measure, Yamaoka is a monster and his Silent Hill soundtracks are essential.
He’s been working with Grasshopper Manufacture on their last couple of titles, seemingly breaking away from Konami after 2009’s Silent Hill: Shattered Memories (his name was on the second Silent Hill movie, but that was largely because some of his themes from the games were reused), so it would almost be a homecoming for Yamaoka to get him back in the studio for Silent Hills.
So if it sounds good and looks good, how should it play?
3. Keep Gamers on the Run
There are two certainties in video games: every year, there will be a new Madden and every Silent Hill will have awful combat. Drawing a gun on the horrors of Silent Hill always felt counter-intuitive. These were things dredged up from our darkest, wettest nightmares and some of the most effective moments throughout the series have involved fleeing from something with more limbs than sense, making combat feel like a jarring break in the action.
Look at it this way: as soon as the franchise puts a gun in your hands and expects you to square off against a handful of enemies, it’s like a mid-story shift from the largely psychological horror of Alien to the brawny action of Aliens, and it often takes some time to recover the slow dread of wandering around, getting lost, and getting scared.
Games like Outlast and the upcoming Alien: Isolation have shown that gamers are cool with putting the hardware aside if they can run, hide, and otherwise find clever ways to deal with monster encounters.
Which is why Silent Hills should…
2. Let the Town Be a Mystery
The online response to the Playable Trailer was pretty respectable, as gamers learned that what they were actually playing was a Silent Hills demo. That’s not something you can easily recapture, but something I hope Kojima Productions and del Toro will strain towards with their sequel/whatever.
What was so effective about the demo was the way it basically created this open puzzle for players to solve, not really allowing any explicit dialog to intrude and give the experience much in the way of context. All gamers had was the baseline information: they were trapped in a space and they would have to make their way out of it.
Of course, hiring Norman Reedus would tend to make me think that the actor isn’t just lending his face to a largely silent, minimalist horror game: instead, it will be driven by an explicit narrative, same as every other game in the series.
That’s completely fine – I just hope everyone involved remembers what worked so well with P.T. and attempt to capture some of that magic here. But use a light touch and…
1. Let Silent Hills Stand Alone
Resident Evil 6 had a lot of problems, but one of the biggest was this incessant need to tie everything together, dig through theoretical loose ends, and basically add an extended prologue on top of the largely satisfying Resident Evil 5. It didn’t work.
And while the Silent Hill games have largely been standalone affairs, one of the things that has earned director Hideo Kojima an army of fans (and detractors) both is love of finding connective tissue in stories where there might otherwise be none, poking at stories and backstories and generally creating deep wells of (talky) fiction.
That scene up above: it’s a well-directed cutscene playing out decades of teased-out character interaction and would make for an interesting movie. But it’s not really a gameplay experience and more troubling, it connects all of the dots for the players rather than asking them to seek out answers.
Again, let the town be a mystery, and let some threads dangle and be open to interpretation. Answering every question in Silent Hill robs the game of its power, drawing everything tightly to some pop psychology explanation dulls the scares and ultimately makes the entire experience nothing more than a wild trip through a troubled character’s psyche.
Get weird with it. Accept the mystery, Konami.
What do you want to see from Silent Hills? Let us know in the comments below.