Konami has apparently teased a follow-up to recent Silent Hills Homecoming and Shattered Memories, with more details apparently to be revealed at E3. As a fan of serious, intelligent horror, a few years ago nothing would have excited me more than this reveal. But these days I’m massively ambivalent. Here’s why…
Once more, a new Silent Hill game isn’t being developed by the original crew, Konami’s in-house Team Silent. The studio has been off the series since 2004’s slightly mis-firing Silent Hill 4, and is now working on separate projects within Konami. Thus, with Czech dev Vatra Games being given the reins, we have a new Silent Hill game being outsourced to an external developer for the fourth time in a row (Origins and Shattered Memories were made by the Climax Group, Homecoming came from Double Helix). It’s not necessarily bad news. In fact it could be amazing news, depending on this game’s direction. But the fact remains that the game’s makers are a massively unknown quantity.
Now I’m not for a second doubting Vatra’s creditials or ability. Indeed, a quick look at the company’s site reveals a whole bunch of talent from the likes of 2K and Headstrong. But the fact is that with every Silent Hill game that is farmed out externally, the series gets further away from the minds that crafted it’s superb earlier entries. But of course, new blood can always make a positive difference. Remember when Nintendo gave F-Zero to Sega’s AM2? Brilliant move. But I’ll come onto that properly a little later on.
Akira Yamaoka has recently left Konami and there’s barely any chance he’ll be involved in this game. There’s no getting around it. It’s a sad fact, but it has to be accepted. The Producer and Composer is a bona fide goddamn genius in the eyes of discerning horror fans, having arguably been instrumental in making the series (and in fact the movie) what they are.
Combining influences from David Lynch and Angelo Badalamenti with that cold, detached abstraction that J-horror does so well, his thematic, visual and musical direction are what made the series such a special, unique and affecting experience. His role has diminished as the years have gone on, but the one thing we could always be sure of, no matter who was directly developing Silent Hill, was that his unique blend of aural dreams and nightmares would make the game feel right in some way. But he left Konami altogether in December 2009, meaning that the new title will be the first one made without any of his influence whatsoever. Yes, this worry could turn out to be naught but puristic moaning, but I can’t help fearing a repeat of the confused bloating that happened to Resident Evil after series creator Shinji Mikami left following Resi 4.
Though however precious I might get about the old guard, the fact remains that another new Silent Hill needs a lot more than just them to really excite me now. At this point, the series is well into Resident Evil territory, pre-Resi 4. Its fresh and daring tricks have become worn. Its innovations and unique features have become clichés. Simply put, however affecting it might still be on a superficial, sensory level, Silent Hill just isn’t as powerful as it used to be. And it used to be one of the most powerful series around.
If it’s going to continue, it needs a Resi 4. I’m not saying it should go all-out action. In fact it really, really shouldn’t. SH was always brainer and classier than Resident Evil. But it needs to recontextualise all the cerebral, emotional and visceral content that made it special. That’s the only way to freshen it up and give it back its impact. To be what it once was, Silent Hill cannot continue to be what it once was. Shattered Memories on the Wii was an interesting experiment in reworking the concept, and Homecoming wasn’t terrible, but it failed as a result of being too SH-by-numbers while simultaneously losing sight of the early games’ appeal, instead becoming a slightly confused Hollywood remix.
Who knows? Maybe this new dev is exactly what the series needs. After all, the company’s manifesto is to make ‘a real impact by advancing visual and sound aesthetics on next-generation gaming platforms’, and that sort of thinking is a great start for a new SH. But it remains to be seen just how much freedom Konami gives the studio, and what kind of direction it will receive now that Yamaoka is out of the picture. Whatever happens though, as far as Silent Hill goes, the horse’s ghost is currently looking down begging us to stop punching its corpse. And I can’t help wondering whether a dignified burial is the best thing to do at this point. I’ll be ecstatic to be proven wrong though.
The exciting thing about Yamaoka’s departure; the really, really exciting thing, is where he’s gone. Grasshopper Manufacture. Suda51’s uncompromisingly ideosynchratic, gleefully punk studio has more than proven its credentials with No More Heroes, and its co-production work on Fatal Frame IV has shown us that Suda certainly has the stones to do good horror as well.
And now Grasshopper is making a new horror game with EA. And Yamaoka is on board. And there’s another guy working with them too. This guy is called Shinji Mikami. He knows quite a bit about horror games. If there’s one game that J-horror fans need to be excited about, it’s that one. And whatever the new Silent Hill game does, it’s going to have to be a lot to distract my eyes from its direction. As I said above, maybe something completely new is a better idea than the rekindling of an old love, no matter how well it’s handled. But we shall see, friends, we shall see...
But what do you think? Are you and old-school Silent Hill junkie just dying for more? Are you excited by the idea of a change of direction? Or do you think we're better off moving on, and letting an old friend rest in peace? Whatever you think, let us know in the comments, or via Facebook and Twitter.
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