Let’s see if you can identify with this: Imagine that, for whatever reason, there’s a game series you’ve just never gotten into. Your friends have been telling you have to have to have to play it, it’s been getting straight 9.5s for years in your favorite game magazine, and the Internet just loves it to pieces. You’re hesitant, but eventually you dive in, playing through all the old ones at a ridiculous rate…and you’re converted. You love it! You’ve experienced the genius firsthand, and you come away from it with hope for the future, excited for the next entries and educated enough to enjoy them when they come out.
But then the next one does come out, and it sucks. And then the one after that sucks. And then you get the sinking feeling that they’ll never be as good as those old ones again, and you realize that you’ve missed out on the glory days completely.
Familiar? I’m betting that a lot of gamers my age know this feeling–I know I’ve been there a few times myself. And Jesus, nowadays, with virtually every major company just churning out shitty, soulless reboots of old franchises, it must be more prevalent than ever.
If you’ve recognized the little face next to my comments or…uh, I guess if you’re a time traveler and you’ve been to the far future of my Top 50 list, you may have ascertained that I am a Silent Hill fan. Sadly, the little scenario I just laid out applies to me here. I only picked up on how awesome the series was between 4: The Room and 0rigins so, I guess you could argue that I missed the exact downturn of the series by one game, but I was pretty close either way.
So, for the last for the few years, I’ve been deeply worried that I’ll never see a new Silent Hill game quite in the spirit of the old ones. As anyone in a similar love/hate relationship with a franchise will tell you, though, you always get a little bit of that old excitement and hope back every time they announce a new one. Even for the briefest of moments, you entertain the thought that just maybe this one won’t be garbage. Just maybe the developers will follow through this time. But then, eventually, you’ll see some gameplay footage, read a review, or–God help you–buy the game, and it’s back to reality…
I don’t think I’ve ever been through that cycle faster than with this latest SH game, Silent Hill: Downpour.
Even the first little details about the project were very, very far from encouraging. First news (back when it was called Silent Hill 8) was that 1) The last member of the old Silent Hill team still involved in these things, series composer Akira Yamaoka, would not be participating, and 2) It was being developed by Vatra Games, a Czech studio whose previous work includes…absolutely nothing.
So, right from the word go, we should be worried already. I’m not one to say that a game can be made or un-made by its musical score, but Yamaoka’s work on Silent Hill has always been crucial to the experience. I think the fact that he’d still been asked to return for the second-rate, western-made entries speaks to his value to the franchise, but apparently that’s out the window at this point. His replacement is Daniel Licht, composer for TV’s Dexter. Here’s a fairly uninspiring sample of his work for the game, released by Konami earlier this year.
Sorry, guys. Just throwing some vaguely Yamaoka-esque mandolin on top of Twin Peaks steel guitar chords isn’t going to cut it.
But, realistically, this change in the music should be construed as a scary misstep–not something to issue boycotts or send death threats over. What about the rest of the game? How would it play? Thankfully, we wouldn’t have to wait long for the (depressing) answers.
Downpour‘s finer details were outed on the mostly-unreadable, payola-funded pages of Game Informer, in a six-page feature in their January 2011 issue. Feel free to peruse the scans, but please be careful…reading GI has been proven to cause cancer in laboratory animals.
Here are the parts that I find most troubling:
- You can only carry one weapon at a time, and there is weapon degradation/breaking
I’m sorry, this can ONLY detract from the game. Listen, the goal of making things scarier and more realistic by focusing on the “disempowerment” of not having indestructible superweapons IS a noble one, but the cost of these mechanics is ALWAYS too high. To paraphrase the great Ben “Yahtzee” Croshaw (in a review of a Silent Hill game, no less): name A SINGLE GAME EVER in which weapon degradation was a good idea.
- There are ‘moral choices’ that affect the plot and the ending
SIGH. I have already ranted on this blog about how stupid I think this sort of thing is, so I won’t bore you by repeating myself. Suffice it to say that the article gives the example of a ‘choice’ between letting a policewoman fall off a cliff to her death or trying to help her up…but no matter what you do she ends up falling anyways. How compelling.
- The player will not revisit any areas from previous Silent Hill games
Alright, I understand that we’ve been to Alchemilla Hospital and Midwich Elementary School, like, a million times at this point. I respect that they don’t want to just do the same thing again and again, but listen to where we are going to go.
“…a decrepit diner”
“…a huge cable car system that stretches far across the nearby canyon”
“…the Devil’s Pit gorge tourist attraction…massive rock formations and tremendous waterfalls…”
Uh…ok? And how exactly have we been to this small, country town five or six times and never seen these places? Producer Devin Shatsky, perpetrator of The Silent Hill Stare, says, “If you look at the previous games, we took the southeast corner of the map that was never explored.”
Ok, well that…almost makes sense. It stretches believability that none of these new places has ever been seen, heard of, or featured on the million town maps or historical documents that the player characters are constantly picking up but maybe I can live with it. But, y’know, the area down there can’t be TOO big or that’s really gonna seem strange…
“…larger, more detailed and features more variety…so big, in fact, that the developers must insert huge markers for themselves so they don’t get lost…players can gain access to Silent Hill’s subway system to make transportation to the game’s plethora of locations easier.”
Hey! You know what? Just for fun, here’s a complete list of all U.S. cities with subway systems:
- Atlanta, Georgia
- Baltimore, Maryland
- Boston, Massachusetts
- Chicago, Illinois
- Cleveland, Ohio
- Los Angeles, California
- Miami, Florida
- New York City, New York
- Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
- San Francisco Bay Area, California
- San Juan, Puerto Rico
- uh, SILENT FUCKING HILL, VIRGINIA OR SOME SHIT
- Washington, D.C.
Makes perfect sense to me. Next!
- There are sidequests and minigames
Sidequests FOR WHOM? This is Silent Hill, guys. If you’re running into more than about 3 people in the whole game, YOU’RE DOING IT WRONG. And minigames? Wow. Yeah, this is definitely going to be a moody, cerebral experience full of dread and isolation if you’re running around playing pachinko games and getting asked by old ladies to save their cats from trees in exchange for a health drinks. God almighty.
- ‘Nightmare world’ segments are linear ‘levels’ with no exploration
That’s stupid. I don’t want to watch a movie. This was the biggest problem of the otherwise better than usual Silent Hill: Shattered Memories. You just walked or ran in a straight line through the scary parts until you found the end. Exploring a nightmarish world is a cool idea, guys. Otherwise, it’s just like a real dream. It just happens, and then it’s over, and walking around in the real world is boring.
Speaking of which, there’s some footage of what the ‘nightmare world’ in this one looks like, and it’s notable to see not because of the artistic design, but how it’s presented as compared to the old games. Go to 1:29 in this video:
Oooooh what dramatic camera movement and music! Nice zoom out there to see miles and miles of catwalks and whatever the hell else. Sorry, I didn’t realize I was watching a Lord of the Rings movie. You know, like at a part where the group stumbles upon some huge impressive city and the music swells and the camera zooms around it while the characters gape at the CGI landscape?
Yeah, watch those few seconds of ‘gameplay footage’ again and tell me exactly how scary it is. For comparison, here’s the first time shit goes sideways in the original Silent Hill. Turn down the lights, put on headphones, fullscreen it and watch from about 4:10 to the end. Or, you know, watch the whole thing because the game is a fucking masterpiece. Whichever.
So, yeah. A little bit of a difference, maybe? I think Vatra would benefit from watching/playing that segment a couple more times. Anyway…
- QTEs in boss battles
Oh, fuck you.
There’s a lot more in there that I don’t really care to go into…no plot ties to the original games…lots of Alan Wake style wandering around with nothing but a flashlight…a ton of NPCs…it’s all very disquieting.
As you may have gathered by now, I am less than hopeful about Silent Hill: Downpour. HOWEVER–and I want to make this perfectly clear to the world, God, karma, and whatever else–I WOULD LOVE TO BE WRONG ABOUT THIS. Please, universe, make me eat crow! Make me look back on this post in shame, having enjoyed the perfection of the completed product. I would take that punishment gladly if it meant having another great Silent Hill. Somehow, though, I don’t think you’ll take me up on that.
Oh, and one last thing…
I’d like to point out–completely independent of the many apparent problems with Downpour as a game—how obscenely hypocritical the tone of this article is, coming from Game Informer. They open with a silly little paragraph about how Silent Hill has lost its way, saying:
“In the intervening years since the town’s PlayStation origins, [its] reputation for terror has been tarnished by mediocrity. Konami’s flagship horror franchise mutated from the harbinger of sleepless nights to a cookie-cutter haunted house fraught with cheap scares”.
A little dramatic, but basically true, right? Well, you’ll have to excuse me, but GI’s lament-the-good-old-days stance strikes me as pretty asinine. Here’s why:
Game Informer Issue #72, April 1999
SILENT HILL, PSX – 7.75/10, 7.25/10, 7/10
“Silent Hill is a decent Resident Evil rip-off”
“Silent Hill tries its hardest to imitate the Evil that Capcom created”
“…a cheap imitation”
“…hours upon hours of pure boredom”
Game Informer Issue #102, October 2001
SILENT HILL 2, PS2 – 7/10, 8/10
“…a sloppy, monotonous bore”
“Big fogging disappointment”
“A niche group will eat this up, but the rest of the world will rightly shun it”
So, thanks for trying to sympathize with the fans, Game Informer, but it’s a matter of public record that you know exactly JACK and SHIT about the good old days of Silent Hill. Do us a kindness and shut the fuck up already.