Despite the fact that the horror genre is raking in record sales, one of the granddaddies of the genre is having trouble keeping up. That franchise would be Konami’s Silent Hill, which has had a slew of poorly received titles beginning with The Room. Everything after that took a nosedive in quality and despite handing the last installment in the main series, Homecoming, to an American developer, repetitive gameplay and a convoluted story kept the game from becoming the next-gen survival horror experience we all hoped it would be.
I’d like to throw out some possible ways Konami can use to fix the series, and I feel I need to do this for more than just to help an ailing franchise. In my opinion the term ‘Survival Horror’ can no longer be used to describe most of the titles in the horror genre. In an attempt to become more mainstream developers have created new subgenres like Action Horror and Cooperative Horror. The former category houses titles like Dead Space, F.E.A.R., Doom and Condemned. The latter contains consists of Resident Evil 4 & 5, Left 4 Dead and Killing Floor. This leaves only a handful of series that I can seriously consider survival horror, games like Fatal Frame and Silent Hill. Obviously, old school mechanics like “find the red key, open the door, run from the monster, find the blue key, open the other door and fight the boss” are a thing of the past and should stay there. So here are some ideas I’ve scrounged together that I think could quite possibly save one of gaming’s last true survival horror series. Even though I love Dead Space and have an unhealthy obsession Left 4 Dead, my problem with those types of games is that they overpower you. When you’re armed to the teeth you feel like a badass and when you feel like a badass nothing will scare you. Silent Hill: Homecoming didn’t arm you with a ton of weapons, though it did give you more than the past games in the series. Instead the game armed you with skills like dodging, counter moves, quick jabs, strong attacks, and even execution moves. I’m all for giving players basic defensive abilities, and some of these options like strafing are features the Resident Evil series should consider implementing. But when I can kill almost any enemy in your game without taking a single hit I’m no longer intimidated by the things that are hunting me, no matter how grotesque and disturbing they are.
To fix this issue Silent Hill should take a page out of Dead Space’s book. This game gave us very basic defensive and offensive capabilities but made them slow and weak so spamming the move wouldn’t save you when you find yourself surrounded by enemies. The melee move consisted of Isaac desperately swinging his weapon and the move did almost no damage but did manage to knock the creature back granting some much need breathing room. The curb stomp was another simplistic yet effective move that saved me from unnecessarily wasting ammo (though ammunition was never scarce in the game, I tend to play things safe) more than a few times. The point is Dead Space gave you realistic maneuvers that were helpful in a pinch but always remained as a last option I would use when I either needed to conserve ammo or wanted some baddies to back the fuck off.
The enemies of Silent Hill almost always require a different approach to defeat them so if there were a few moves specifically designed to help take out specific creatures it would give us an alternative to defeat them should we run out of ammo or simply become overwhelmed (both tend to happen often in this series). The best part of all this, other than the fact that the idea came from me instantly making it clever (please don’t take that line too seriously), is having a collection of melee attacks specifically designed to counter certain enemies would be helpful without making gamers feel too strong. Oh, and while we’re on the subject of physical capabilities, please add a sprint button to the next Silent Hill game. Leisurely jogging through a fog-ridden ghost town trying to find out where to go while being pursued by a pack of hungry dog creatures doesn’t make sense and got more than a little annoying.
On to the next major problem with the game, a problem that’s managed to plague almost every game in the series to some extent: the story. In the first few games it was all new and fresh but with each new installment usually comes an overly convoluted story that when at its best simply doesn’t make sense, but at its worst it becomes annoyingly bizarre. Of course, a foggy town filled with nightmarish monsters that would like nothing more than to rip you to shreds is far from normal, sometimes the characters are either too mysterious or outlandish. Silent Hill 2 was the only title to get the story and characters done correctly but after that it all began to degrade faster than the shifting town we keep returning to.
Having a strong connection between the player and the character they control is important in every game but in horror titles it is even more essential. In these types of games you usually interact with only a small number of actual people, the rest of the time you’re usually trying to survive against things that aren’t human. So when the characters in your game are hard to empathize with, motivation to play through the entire game drops significantly. In our first visit to the wicked ghost town of Silent Hill the story didn’t matter but that didn’t keep the developers from giving us a reason to continue playing. In the first title we assumed the role of a father who lost his daughter after a car accident and in the second we played as a man whose wife died a few years ago before receiving a letter from his dead wife beckoning him to Silent Hill. These stories were unique, interesting, always creepy and at times moving, so why can’t we have another story of similar quality? I want an emotional experience because that’s the type of story that works perfectly with the strange and lonely world the games are known for.
Silent Hill has plenty of things that have always been done right, and one of those things that should stay the same are the creatures. Whether we’re encountering new enemies for the first time or fighting familiar foes from past games in the series the creature designs have always been beautifully monstrous. The map is another feature that has been in the series since the first game should also remain. It shows you just enough to keep you from getting too deeply lost or frustrated but has an old school feel to it the series needs more of. The instant updates that show up every time you find a save point, locked door or other location of interest makes it even better.
This is the type of series that won’t ever require a multiplayer component so long as the single-player campaign is meaty enough, but should it be decided to include an online feature of some sort it needs to be unobtrusive. A good example of this would be Arkham Asylum, which had a perfectly satisfying story with the added Challenge Modes that made the game replayable long after completion. Unfortunately, developers tend to tack on a multiplayer component so they can add it to the list of features on the back of the box, Condemned committed this sin, so I’m going to hope Konami doesn’t do the same. The campaign should always be the main focus of a game such as this while the multiplayer is simply a reason to bring the player back into the game’s world.
This doesn’t mean the online mode(s) can suck, just that if you have to choose between an average single-player experience and an equally average multiplayer, it’s best if you just drop the online support and focus on making the former the best it can be. I realize that a lot of the time the game’s publisher will pressure a developer into creating as many features that they can fit on the disc whether or not it hurts the game’s overall quality. Should Konami decide to include some sort of multiplayer I think they should jump on the Horde/Survival/Firefight/Extraction bandwagon and include a mode where you and a handful of friends try to survive against waves of progressively stronger enemies. Picture you and a few others teaming up against some grotesque boss creature armed with bent pipes and almost empty handguns. Not terribly original but it could be fun.
You may have noticed the increased focus on cooperative play that has become much more popular over the last few years, so that might end up being the route Konami takes with their next game. Resident Evil 5 did it and succeeded to some extent but Silent Hill and Resident Evil are two very different beasts. The former seems to have dropped the scare factor entirely where Silent Hill is still trying, admirably, to unnerve its audiences. I think, if done correctly, co-op could be integrated into the series without ruining the game’s scares. Sure playing with another makes everything a little less scary so to try and stifle that effect I think most of the game should take the Gears of War route and split up the two players. However, unlike Gears, which only split you up occasionally, I think you should have to go your separate ways often. Silent Hill is a pretty expansive town so there’s a lot of ground to cover, and in almost every scary movie the cast tends to split up to make themselves easier to be killed by the monster/vampire/werewolf/masked lunatic. Of course, there’s the problem of one player dying while they’re alone, and in Gears this forced you to start over at the last checkpoint. Silent Hill would have to change that so I suggest separating the campaign into two parts. Bear with me on this:
When you choose your character you’re essentially choosing between two campaigns that weave in and out of each other, this also adds to the game’s replayability as you’ll want to play as the other character once you’re finished with the first. If you play alone you have your own campaign with areas to explore that are unique to your character and you’ll occasionally meet up with the other playable character for some short cooperative sections. This idea was inspired by Demon’s Souls in that the game lets you play in your own world with the intermittent help of other players who assist you until the level’s boss is slain and then return to their own world. So take this idea and carefully apply it to Silent Hill and you have two players bound by a single objective, exploring their own areas, collecting their own items, and meeting up at the more difficult areas of the game (enemy arenas and boss fights for example) to work together. Is this idea perfect? Certainly not, but it could work and I believe this would give the Silent Hill series a fresh start that its been desperately searching for over the last four games.
So those are my ideas, varying in worth. I’m a fan of the franchise because as I said before, it’s one of the last true survival horror series out there. Horror is what got me into gaming so I’m going to fight to make sure it remains as a successful genre in gaming. There’s nothing quite like being scared of what’s behind the next corner or locked door, always being on the edge of your seat; it’s a great feeling that only this genre can gift us with. I like being scared but lately I’ve only been scared towards the future of the games within this genre. Survival Horror is a dying breed and I hope there are at least a few good ideas for Konami to use to make their amazing franchise even better. Oh, and if you’re listening, Mr. Konami Bigwig, if my ideas tickled your fancy I’m definitely up for hire.