As a longtime Silent Hill fan, I should be doing somersaults over the two new rumored Silent Hill games. But the more I think about it, the more I feel like it’s time to let this survival horror series rest.
It’s not just that there hasn’t been a good Silent Hill sequel in 17 years, but later entries in the series also betray a Silent-Hill-by-the-numbers approach. It’s as if someone sat down with the first few titles, whisked up a checklist — a guilt-ridden or desperate protagonist, a shadowy otherworld, vaguely humanoid monsters, a tenuous link to the titular town and so forth — and figured ticking those boxes was enough.
That’s very much the tack Silent Hill: Homecoming and Silent Hill: Downpour seem to have taken, but barring the town itself, that framework has become more of a horror game staple. One thing that made Silent Hill (and then Silent Hill 2) so appealing was that it was so unlike anything the Resident Evil series had to offer. Resident Evil has, however, persisted largely because of its willingness to reinvent itself. Silent Hill, on the other hand, has done anything but; thus, the later entries have singularly failed to impress.
What really made Silent Hill and its first three sequels stand out was the cloying sense of unease that kicked in every time you picked up the joypad. It wasn’t the attention of some colossal clawed beast that tied your stomach in knots; it was stepping into an elevator and seeing a button that definitely wasn’t there before, discovering your safe room was no longer safe, or seeing a dimly lit figure watch you impassively through a set of bars.
It’s no coincidence that the “good” Silent Hill games were created by Team Silent, who understood the value of keeping the player on edge. Their meticulous approach to environment and character design was instrumental to the series’s success. When it came to creating the locations, they didn’t just smear a bit of blood and rust about the place, though you could be forgiven for thinking that.
Instead, as explained in Silent Hill 2’s behind-the-scenes documentary, they operated on the principle of repulsion and attraction, so even when you’re standing still there’s something off that you can’t quite put your finger on. When Konami (allegedly) disbanded Team Silent to hand the series over to Western developers, it lost not just the skills but the insight that made Silent Hill shine.
Now, four “proper” Silent Hill titles later, there’s not much hope of salvaging the series. I loved those first few games, and I used to get a particular kick out of introducing people to Silent Hill 2, which I maintain is the absolute peak of the series. But now? Any discussion of the series needs to be preceded by some sort of disclaimer, just to remind people you’re talking about the good Silent Hill games.
Right now, it boils down to one of two choices: let Silent Hill die, marking its demise with a PlayStation 2-accurate compilation of the first four games, or draw a line under it and reboot the series entirely. If the rumors are to be believed, Konami has no intention of doing the former, which is why the next Silent Hill absolutely has to be a reboot or reimagining.
Silent Hill: Shattered Memories proved just what can be accomplished when you give a developer free(ish) rein with the series. It was an amazing experience, nearly on par with the original Silent Hill, terrifying every now and then but utterly unsettling from beginning to end. It channeled the spirit of Silent Hill more successfully than Homecoming, Origins, or Downpour ever did.
There were hints that Silent Hills was going to be Hideo Kojima and Guillermo del Toro’s own version of Silent Hill. The prospect of there being multiple Silent Hills or, at the very least, that the town of Silent Hill spanned multiple dimensions could have been a game changer.
The concept trailer also suggested we were in for a magnificent J-horror reimagining of the game. Sure, we might have had to tolerate hour-long cutscenes and the inevitable piss gag, but Silent Hills had so much promise. Then Konami canceled the game. And while I’d love to believe the reports that Kojima and Konami have kissed and made up for a new Silent Hill, nothing is confirmed.
Bloober Team, on the other hand, is definitely working with Konami, and Silent Hill seems like the obvious property for it to tackle, though it’s been coy on the subject. Giving Bloober carte blanche to reboot Silent Hill seems like a smart move, given its work on Layers of Fear, Blair Witch, and most recently The Medium.
The ultimate question, though, is whether Konami will give Kojima, Bloober Team, or whoever ends up tackling the next Silent Hill game the freedom they need to really reinvent this ailing series. Because if Konami isn’t prepared to put the series to rest but instead insists on applying the same tired template, this next game will put Silent Hill six feet under.