As an eternal worshipper of anything that takes place in the sleepy town of Silent Hill, I was absolutely elated to hear that a trailer for Silent Hill 6 (or Silent Hill 8, depending on whether or not you count PSP releases) was shown at E3. Having been burned by the town more than once, I viewed the trailer with cautious optimism. Despite my open mind, I’m still conflicted as to how I actually feel about it. Perhaps breaking the trailer down into individual elements will help calm these seas…
Environment/Atmosphere: The Silent Hill staple is fog, fog, and then a little bit more fog. While I’ll admit that graphically the fog looks more realistic, in that they seem to be holding themselves back from going overboard, part of what makes Silent Hill scary is just how overboard they do go with the fog. The misty nothingness could almost be considered another villain, one that shrouds the shrouds the monsters waiting to pounce. I was also put-off to the crows lurking around the deserted city, because non-psychologically-scarring animals just don’t make sense in this environment. Silent Hill is about trauma and repentance and deviant desires and sexuality, so all of the creatures that roam its streets are supposed to mean something to the main character.
I’m also hoping that the series doesn’t continue to suffer from the post-movie makeover. Ever since Christophe Gans brought Silent Hill to the masses in 2006, the games since (specifically Silent Hill 5) have been trying to capture certain elements of the movie that were changed from the game, such as the transformation between Normal Silent Hill to Dark Silent Hill. I was a fan of the walls peeling back or melting away when I saw it in theaters, but it doesn’t translate well in the game because it takes away the immediacy of the danger you’re in. When the change would happen in Silent Hill 2 or (my favorite) Silent Hill 3, it would just hit you like a train and then oh man, you’re in trouble now. I hope they don’t lose the industrial feeling of Dark Silent Hill, with the steel framing and pulsating moans. Peeling walls are not scary and they take too long.
Gameplay: I really wanted to break this down, but as we were only shown a teaser trailer there’s not much I can say about the gameplay. From this initial video we can see that the camera is over the shoulder, which I personally prefer over the fixed camera perspective.
Characters: The major thing that ruined Silent Hill 5 was the same thing that ruined Resident Evil 5 – too many characters. If you’re making a survival horror game, you almost get a free pass that lets you create as few characters as possible while simultaneously ranking up the scares. With this trailer there are at least three NPCs that our hero has to deal with, and if you ask me that’s three too many. What’s scarier: being alone in a screwed up town being chased by monsters, or hanging out with the local townsfolk and trying to solve puzzles? It’s an element of scary that Konami seemed to embrace at first, and then forget about for 4 games. As far as the main character, whose name is apparently Murphy Pendleton (geez, seriously?), his suit makes him look like he just jumped out of a Fallout Vault, and his appearance makes him look like every other Silent Hill character. Perhaps it’s too early to judge, but I hope they make him more interesting than his name is leading me to believe he’ll be.
Music: If you‘re familiar with the series at all, you know that Akira Yamaoka has provided the scary and ethereal music for every Silent Hill, from the original game to Shattered Memories. For whatever reason, he will not be composing the music for Silent Hill 6, which has me very worried. While the trailer seems to grasp the basics of what Akira was giving us all these years, it sounds more like a movie trailer mixed with a rough cut of the X-Files theme song. The heart of the game is its music, and I hope that whoever is taking over has spent these past couple years with the Silent Hill soundtracks on repeat.
Relation to Kin: So with what seems to be a new developer, a new composer, and a new-ish Silent Hill, is this latest release going to be another nail in the coffin of a series that is only great when Robbie the Rabbit, Pyramid Head, or the PSP are involved? Again, it may be too early to tell. I can only hope that the team making it has spent hours playing all of the old games, and additional hours reading about the psychology behind what makes the games great. Putting in a couple sinkholes and dunking the place in fog do not make the game worthy of a Silent Hill title. Understanding why the characters are called to the town, and subsequently why they’re unable to leave, are what the game is all about. Fingers crossed.