Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Saving Silent Hill

Silent Hill Downpour hit shelves last month, it was an installment I was looking forward to because it not only would feature full Stereo 3D support (and 3D TVs are not that expensive, I’m poor and I have one) and upon first glance looks to be a back to basics return to formula. Sadly this game, developed by Vatra games has gotten panned by critics. According to IGN it only netted a 4.5 out of 10 possible whereas the HD re-release of part 2 and 3 fared much better despite replacing the bad voiceovers of the originals with even worse ones. Years ago I’d have bought anything Silent Hill day one, I’m glad I didn’t get Downpour yet. I will when I can get it for about $20 or as part of the Gamestop buy two get one free sales.
The first three Silent Hill games were brilliant, the fourth had an amazing murder mystery story marred by a broken saving and item management system. I have, but have yet to play Origins, but from part four on the series has been marred by one let down after another.  The reboot for Wii was the biggest disappointment of the lot until now. There you had some ingenious new ideas, but the constant running from monsters wasn’t as much scary as it was frustrating.
I’m not sure why but it seems like the western developers handling the series have no clue what makes this series scary. Impossible to kill monsters  or creatures that cannot be entirely evaded do not a scary experience make. Something has been lost. Limiting our options isn’t making the game more intense, it’s making the experience annoying. Here’s what I think needs to be done to save the series.  
-Stop with the breakable weapons, stop with unstable aim, just keep weapons and munitions reasonably scarce.
-Stop limiting our inventory let those who conserve their supplies reap the rewards of having a full supply of ammo at the end of the game when it’s most needed.
-Go back to the original camera but not control. The “2D” analogue option is better than the tank-like “3D” non-analogue controls. However, the camera spends the game “stalking” the player’s avatar, it adds to the atmosphere and is critical to creating tension in these games.
-The fun of Silent Hill is in not knowing or understanding what it is you’re looking at. Today the monsters are clearly inspired by debauchery. While that was an important theme of Silent Hill 2 given James’s psychological state the subsequent titles have had nothing to do with sex and the monsters should have been more custom tailored to the psyche of the main character.
-Japanese developers must take this series back. The Western mind simply cannot re-create the sort of scares Japanese horror does, it’s radically different from our own style of horror and that’s okay, but it’s precisely why the westerners who have had the series post part 4 have failed to re-create it.
If Silent Hill can be saved at all those are the steps that I believe must be taken, but after three disasters in a row I wonder if there is enough love and patience from the fans left out there for there to be a ninth game or if Downpour represents a whimper ending to a series that started with a bang.

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