Silent Hill(s) – The Mistakes of Your Youth

P.T. 1

Following the release of ‘P.T’ a horror-themed ‘playable teaser’ involving skin-crawling psychological horror and painfully difficult puzzles, it was revealed that a brand new next-gen entry into the venerable Silent Hill series is on the way. Silent Hills is going to be the product of a collaboration between Hideo Kojima and Guillermo del Toro. How exciting! It’s no secret that the Silent Hill series has faltered as of late. In the light of the obviously exhilarating news, I thought it best to discuss what lessons should be learned from the series’ previous entries, and what needs to happen in the newest installment. No Evil Cults In my humble opinion, the most terrifying Silent Hill game was the second one, and I attribute that entirely to the fact that the grotesque creatures and even the world around James Sunderland was suspect. Nothing was clearly understandable, and the unknown is always unnerving. In Silent Hill 1 and Silent Hill: Homecoming, the game begins with an unfortunate protagonist lost in a fog-draped town whilst being pursued by an amorphous evil, but eventually, the evil is given a human face in the shape of a sinister cult. Literally the second I realised that the greatest evil was human, and therefore had a face and knobbly knees and probably ate cereal in the morning, I stopped being scared. There’s a reason Pyramid Head lingered so long in the memory of players, and its because he’s an incomprehensible menace. If he took off his pyramid to reveal a podgy human face underneath, a lot of the effect he has would be lost. Speaking of which… No More Pyramid Head Mr Head was without a doubt one of the best horror antagonists around, but his time is over. When he appeared in Silent Hill 2, there’s no doubt that he was terrifying. However, since then his involvement in the Silent Hill series (and particularly the lacklustre films) has involved making brief and pointless cameos. He no longer frightens, and his inclusion in later games just seemed like a desperate bid to catch the old Silent Hill lightning in a bottle without any understanding of what caused it in the first place. Do Not Give Names to the Terrifying Monsters A while back, I wrote an article called ‘Quick! Hide! It’s a Cliché!’ about some of the annoying little clichés that plague horror games. One that really gets my goat is the habit of giving monsters silly names like ‘needler’ or ‘puker’. Now, we’ve all seen and been terrified by the surreal creatures featured in Del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth, so I’ve no doubt that the monsters featured in Silent Hills will be fantastically frightening. On that premise, I plead with you – yes I’m talking directly to the developers here – please do not give them silly names. It just stops them being frightening to me. You could craft the most grotesque, vomit-inducing monstrosity, but if you call it Brian, I’m not going to be frightened. Let the monsters be a mystery in of themselves. Silent Hill(s) or No Silent Hill(s) This is a tricky one, seen as though we know so little about the game, but the new Silent Hill(s) doesn’t necessarily have to be set in Silent Hill. Despite the critical paddling it received upon release, Silent Hill 4: The Room wasn’t set in the titular town and was much better for it. In the later Western-developed Silent Hill games, particularly in Homecoming, the inclusion of the town seemed as forced as the inclusion of Pyramid Head. We’ve seen the fog-draped streets so many times now that they’d have to undergo a dramatic change to still be absorbing. The most interesting Western-depiction of the town is in the hugely underrated Shattered Memories. The developers swapped fog for snow and gave the player a chance to explore a restrained and more grounded Silent Hill, emptied by a blizzard. Despite lacking in out-and-out scares, it was probably the most eerie Silent Hill has ever been. My point is that the developers of Silent Hills have a straight choice: set the new game somewhere else, keeping themes and motifs from the horror series and breathing new life into them with new environments, or radically alter the town for a new generation of Silent Hill fans. Either option is valid, and I can’t help but get excited about the idea of seeing a whole new Silent Hill with the benefit of top-notch graphics. Little to No Combat Silent Hill games and combat have always had a complicated relationship. On one hand, it’s incredibly awkward to swing a plank with a nail through it on Silent Hill 2. On the other, it was ludicrous to see Alex Shepherd combat rolling around in Homecoming. Combat in Silent Hill needs to awkward enough to induce panic, but not so counter-intuitive as to cause frustration. The answer it seems would be to take combat away entirely, but we know that doesn’t work either, because in Shattered Memories, the sections involving running away from those pesky, squealing pig-girls were by far the worst parts of the game and were not scary even for a moment. The answer, in my mind, is to give the player minimal, fairly smooth combat functions but also make the enemies difficult to fight, making fleeing preferable. If cornered, they should have the option to bash the aggressor with a big pipe or waste a few bullets, but fleeing should always be on the cards. If Outlast taught us anything, its that nothing makes a monster scarier than having to run away from it.

About Joseph Butler-Hartley
A jaded horror enthusiast, I get my kicks hiding in cupboards from whatever hideous creatures happen to be around. However, I'm more than happy playing a wide range of genres on both consoles and PC. Apart from writing for Z1G, I'm also a History student.