This week on Extra Punctuation, Yahtzee counters the hype that has swelled around the Silent Hill franchise following the Konami showcase that revealed the Silent Hill 2 remake, Silent Hill f, Silent Hill Townfall, Silent Hill Ascension, and Return to Silent Hill.
Extra Punctuation Transcript
I was doing my post-ZP stream of Scorn at the time of the Silent Hill announcement showcase, in which, amongst other things, the Silent Hill 2 remake by Bloober Team was announced. And what an appropriate game to be streaming while I was hearing about that. There I was in a hideous nonsensical world where everything filled me with visceral disgust, and then I closed my browser and went back to playing Scorn. Ayyyy!
Which I’m sure was the fully expected reaction since the last time I brought up Silent Hill on this series it was to plead for it to be finally granted the dignity of death, and I have seen no reason to update that stance. But listen – let me say right now that my eventual opinion on the completed Silent Hill 2 remake is going to be completely fucking useless to you. What you want to do is find someone who never played the original and doesn’t know the plot and ask them what they think of it. I am nostalgia blinded all the way up the piss pipe on this.
I don’t want to say it couldn’t possibly be good, that’s kinda my point. Any speculation or expression of opinion at this stage is useless because all we saw was prerendered trailers without gameplay, that is to say, bugger all in terms of what the finished product will reflect. But there is a role I am happy to play in these situations. Hype is an insidious thing, one of the lubricants that powers the giant money machine that has ensnared all of entertainment media, and I’ve long considered it my duty, usually in E3 season, to counteract its influence. Ultimately hype has nothing of substance to offer, it just pointlessly takes up headspace going “this could be good!” Allow me to provide essential balance by explaining how it could just as easily be shite.
First rule of counterhyping: if they had anything that would sell the product, they would show you it. They wouldn’t tease you about it. I have fond memories of the Doom Eternal E3 presentation. They sat me down, turned the computer on and said “Go nuts.” That’s confidence. Whenever I was at those hands-off demos where we had to sit and watch a developer play, all I could think at the back of my mind was that the game probably doesn’t look so good when you’re not following the script.
But I digress. Let’s start with the big one. The Silent Hill 2 remake, helmed by Bloober Team. Leaving aside the usual argument of what’s the point of remaking things that were already good in the first place, one of the things that made Silent Hill 2 so hauntingly effective was that it was subtle. It was understated. It knew how to use the power of suggestion. And silence. Funnily enough. And triple-A games are incapable of subtle. Especially ones that are exclusive to PS5. Gotta push that hardware. Gotta put the money on screen.
Well, not INCAPABLE of subtle, I guess. I always thought Alien Isolation was surpisingly subtle, at least until you get to the final act and ninety thousand more aliens show up. But there’s also the fact that Silent Hill 2’s unique character also includes being a little bit janky. The voice acting was bad at times, and it didn’t sync well with the mouth movements, there was a general awkwardness to the characters and animation. But all of this inadvertently helped. It lent a sense of otherworldliness that enhanced the surreal atmosphere. And that’s the kind of unintentionally helpful fuckup that’s virtually impossible to replicate, especially in an environment where the dual pressures of big money publishing and being fingerquotes “respectful to the original” is going to result in polish, polish and more polish until every edge is sanded off.
It’s like how in The Strange Case of Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Jekyll is unable to recreate his original formula no matter how pure the ingredients because there was some kind of impurity he didn’t know about or count on that somehow made the whole thing work. Sometimes game development be like that. That sort of thing can’t happen when you start with a fixed idea of the finished product.
Okay, fine, so far these have been fairly flimsy reasons to dismiss the game, so how about this one: fucking Bloober Team are making it. Just to repeat myself, did you play The Medium? No one who ends their game with cut to black, gunshot, credits, should be trusted to reboot anything beyond a Sinclair ZX81. The absolute best case scenario here is that they’re just gonna make a scene-for-scene remake, like when Gus Van Sant remade Psycho in 1998, and I did kinda get that impression from the teaser. And much as Psycho 1998 did, this will provoke the question “What’s the bloody point?”
Although I guess it can’t be scene-for-scene ‘cos they said they’re going with over the shoulder chase cam rather than the original fixed camera perspective. And that gave me a little moment of dark laughter, because the fixed camera in The Medium was the only fucking thing I praised about that game.
So let’s move on to the other new Silent Hill games that were announced, Silent Hill Townfall and Silent Hill F. Silent Hill Ffffffart. There’s not a whole lot of counter-hype I can do on these ones, because they didn’t tell us anything. All we got was a logo each and some imagery. We do know that Townfall is being developed by No Code, who made Observation, a game I rather liked even though it wasn’t for everyone, so I guess that’s good? Oh, and Silent Hill Fffff looks to be set in Japan despite Silent Hill always having been a town in America so I don’t even know why they’re calling it Silent Hill oh wait yes I do because people will be more likely to buy it mystery solved. But judging by the slimness of what was shown these games are probably both still in the very early stages of development, and as such, the games industry being what it is, I give even odds that one or both of these projects will never be fucking heard from again. Remind me how many Beyond Good & Evil 2 teaser trailers have come out over the years.
But there was more than just games being announced during the stream. You can fucking well smell the desperation coming off of it at times. After years of leaving the property to rot suddenly we’re coming out and throwing as much Silent Hill at the wall as possible in the hope that something will stick. So there’s new collectible figurines, fuck off. New skateboard art, fuck off slightly faster than before. And then of course, we have movies. Christophe Gans, who directed the first Silent Hill movie, came out and said that since that first film had been so well received – citation needed – that he was going ahead and adapting Silent Hill 2 as well. Although to my mind he’s thrown away the dream casting for James Sunderland by using up Sean Bean in the first one.
Any adaptation of Silent Hill 2 provokes much the same arguments the remake provokes. How can it be the same, or as effectively inadvertently janky, etc. But who cares, because if anything the film production had even less to show for itself than the game teasers. All they had was some sodding concept art. That’s like one stage on from coming up with the idea in your head. So with the film industry being even more what it is than the games industry is, I put even longer odds on ever hearing about this again. If not, then it’s probably enough years out that there’s absolutely no point in devoting any brain cells to it right now.
Then there’s this Silent Hill Ascension thing, and I’m not sure I’ve fully grasped the idea behind it. I think they’re saying it’s gonna be a live action real time streaming drama in which the chat gets to participate in the plot? Yeah, see, there’s your first mistake: expecting an anonymous internet audience to earnestly engage with something like this when in reality all they’re going to do is quote memes and talk about willies the whole time. I would like to debate the stated claim that horror is enhanced by experiencing it with a group. I’d like to point to the multiple narrative horror franchises (FEAR, Dead Space) that were ruined by trying to introduce a co-op focus. Dread, specifically the kind of dread Silent Hill trades in, is usually built through a sense of isolation. In my view, the only time horror works in a social setting is if you’re trying to snog someone on a ghost train.
Hopefully that’s pissed on enough chips that we can all manage our expectations better. If you are going to watch the Silent Hill announcement stream, here’s a fun game you can play: Take a drink every time some talking head asserts some variation of the sentiment that they’re going to make something that’s new and exciting while simultaneously staying respectful to the original. What a namby pamby statement. Shades of that scene from In The Loop “It’s both foreseeable and unforeseeable.” I’d have preferred it if they’d said “We are not showing the slightest respect to the original. We are going to jam our hand up the original’s arse and pull it inside out. Nothing is sacred. We’ll spread it across the garage floor, separate all the nerves and bones and blood vessels and then jump up and down on all the bits and you will not recognise it when we’re done. Because we’re restless passionate creatives and that’s the sort of thing restless passionate creatives want to do.”
My mistake. We’re not here to express any restless creative passion, are we, we’re here to make some dosh. Fine. Move along, everyone, nothing to see here. Wake me up when you’re announcing your new range of Pyramid Head kitchenware.