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Sunday, September 21, 2014

Five things Silent Hills needs to do right

By on 3:57 PM

If one were to make a list of the biggest and most talked about game reveals of 2014, the brief yet terrifying interactive demo called P.T. would certainly be on it, now backed with the scream filled trailer at Tokyo Game Show. As many gamers already know, what was thought to be a new indie horror title ended up being an interactive preview for a new entry in the venerable Silent Hill franchise. The game, which is titled Silent Hills, is being made through a partnership between Hideo Kojima and Guillermo Del Toro and stars a character based off the likeness of actor Norman Reedus. However, even with so much talent attached to the project, Silent Hills is going to have to be truly exceptional in order to shake the negative image of more recent Silent Hill games. Fortunately, I've listed five ways which can help it be just that.

Combat that's feasible but not preferable

Combat has been a part of the Silent Hill series ever since the very first game on the original PlayStation but only in more recent entries, such as Silent Hill Homecoming and Silent Hill Downpour, has it been implemented in a feasible manner. Some would argue that the poorly implemented combat was part of the earlier entries' charm but I’d reason it's safe to say that today's gamers wouldn't find a poor combat system in Silent Hills so charming.
I think the combat system in Silent Hills should strive to find a balance between feasibility and tension. It should be functional to a point but not so powerful that it can be constantly relied upon. Powerful guns should have extremely scarce ammo, melee combat should be tense and deliberate, players should have to think carefully every time they stumble across a hostile creature (or creatures) and ask themselves: "is solving this problem with force really worth it?"
I'm not saying combat in Silent Hills can't be engaging, maybe even fun. But one thing I am saying it shouldn't be is taken for granted or treated as a throwaway problem-solver. In fact, the P.T. demo didn't feature any combat at all, which falls in line with recent survival horror games like Outlast. So, it's quite possible that Silent Hills could follow suit and go weaponless.

Bring back Downpour's side stories

Silent Hill Downpour didn't do many things right - but one thing it did do right was subject the player to not only the desperate plight of protagonist Murphy Pendleton but also to a variety of equally horrifying side stories. These optional side adventures succeeded wonderfully at creeping the player out through a variety of different scenarios that, in many cases, ended up being more memorable than Downpour's main story.
If the long-running list of Silent Hill games proves anything, it's that the dreaded town of Silent Hill has a lot of stories to tell and the writers behind Silent Hills should make sure to include not just one but several of these stories. Even more importantly, these side stories should encompass several different forms of gameplay. Utilizing gameplay elements such as stealth, combat, and puzzle solving to piece together some of the horrifying tales Silent Hill has to tell should be high on the developer's list of necessary features.

Don't make a Daryl Dixon clone

If there’s one thing I feel it is imperative for both Kojima and Del Toro to remember, it’s that Silent Hill isn’t The Walking Dead and that Norman Reedus has played many other characters aside from Daryl Dixon. There’s obviously a lot to love about Dixon’s character in AMC’s The Walking Dead; he’s rugged, he’s badass, he’s noble, and he wields a crossbow with expert precision. However, the grim nature of The Walking Dead is an entirely different beast than the more psychological horror of Silent Hill and I hope that shift in tone is reflected in Reedus’s character.
I’m not saying the main character in Silent Hills has to be the exact opposite of Daryl Dixon, but I do think it’s important that Kojima and Del Toro try their hardest to make him feel like an original character with his own personality, his own motivations, and, most importantly, his own fears. The Silent Hill series has pretty much always been about getting inside the head of the main character and seeing their fractured psyche personified in the world around them. I’d imagine such a goal would be infinitely harder if the protagonist in Silent Hills was wandering around with a crossbow slung over his shoulder.

Focus more on atmosphere, less on jump scares

One thing I enjoyed about earlier Silent Hill games was that they focused way more on creeping me out than trying to shock me with cheap jump scares. Silent Hill Downpour strayed from this formula a bit, often making me jump when an enemy popped out or a door loudly banged shut, but it definitely didn’t have the amount of jump scares that games like Outlast or Daylight contain. I’m hopeful that Del Toro and Kojima will agree with me when I say I’d rather play a game that makes me feel creeped out and unnerved, not one in which I have to dread opening every door or rounding every corner for fear of being subjected to yet another cheap jump scare.
I understand many gamers enjoy feeling that sudden jump scare shock and I’m certainly not saying Silent Hills should be completely devoid of jump scares, especially if they’re used in an appropriate manner. What I am saying is that I hope Silent Hills uses jump scares sparingly and doesn’t get to a point where the jump scares feel overused or, even worse, predictable. There are plenty of ways a horror game can terrify its players and Silent Hills should draw from all of them.

Avoid unnecessary gameplay mechanics

Frustratingly difficult/obscure puzzles, on-rails shooter segments, quick-time events, it’s hard to believe past Silent Hill games have had all of these gameplay elements but it’s true. The one fortunate thing about the inclusion of these gameplay systems in past entries is that both players and developers know for certain they really have no place in the series and Del Toro and Kojima would be wise to remember that fact. The Silent Hill games are at their best when presenting players with challenges and puzzles that tease their brains (and test their resolves) without shoehorning them into a poorly-executed or hard-to-understand gimmick. But if the strange, cryptic, puzzles in P.T. are an indication of anything, extremely difficult puzzles could be returning.
As I’ve said before, one of the most recognizable traits about the Silent Hill series is its ability to make players feel immersed, and nothing can break the sense of immersion faster than the sudden appearance of a quick-time event or an on-rails shooting segment. I get the feeling that, by casting Norman Reedus as the lead, Kojima and Del Toro are planning to take a more action-oriented route with Silent Hills but trying to implement action-esque gameplay systems into a more slow-paced motif like Silent Hill can easily become a disaster. I’m sure Kojima and Del Toro have plenty of ideas for keeping players on their toes, I just hope none of them involve non-immersive and overused action gameplay tropes.


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