Silent Hill Is Never Going To Work As An Until Dawn Clone
Konami is taking its survival horror franchise in a bunch of weird new directions.
Silent Hill fans are hard to please. I should know, I’m one of them and I never shut the fuck up about how Konami keeps dragging the survival horror icon through the mud. It was once the genre’s poster child, taking inspiration from Resident Evil and Alone in the Dark before it surpassed them with a compelling perspective on psychological horror and a willingness to make the player feel helpless and terrified at every turn. On the PlayStation 2 there seemed to be no stopping this sleepy little town, but its future bastardization would see Silent Hill grow dormant for the better part of a decade. Now, it’s back, and I’m not sure what to think.
Later entries like Downpour and Homecoming, were pale imitations of the original quartet, all failing to recognise what made those games so mesmerising in the first place. As a result of their critical and commercial failures, Konami only rolled Silent Hill out for merchandise and pachinko machines in the years to follow, each new announcement another rusted nail hammered into its rickety wooden coffin. Fans gave up hope, but the series is now making a comeback thanks to multiple new games including ambitious new entries and a fully-fledged remake of Silent Hill 2. Despite this newfound optimism however, large parts of me still aren’t convinced.
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Konami hosted a panel for Silent Hill at San Diego Comic Con, including our first proper look at gameplay for Ascension, the upcoming interactive streaming series from Bad Robot and Behaviour Interactive. As the genre suggests, this isn’t a traditional video game in the same mould as Silent Hill 2. It’s more akin to Supermassive Games’ Until Dawn or Dark Pictures, as a global community of players are able to make decisions that influence the narrative.
It will be streamed in the form of episodes as it takes advantage of twists and turns brought upon by millions of players contributing simultaneously to each decision. Knowing this, will a local version of the game be available for purchase after this experiment concludes? I have to imagine a large amount of content is being left on the cutting room floor to deliver a gameplay experience which the majority of Silent Hill fans aren’t buying into regardless. It’s a weird decision from Konami, and hopefully not representative of its other plans for the series.
Immediately after footage from the panel emerged online, there was a rampant dislike for the game’s moment-to-moment action, which was critical of the focus on horrendous monster designs and gory character deaths instead of the pervading atmosphere. Silent Hill has never been about sudden jumpscares and shitting the player up for the hell of it. For the majority of its history, Team Silent consistently emphasised the claustrophobic nature of the titular town and how, regardless of the character you inhabited, the narrative saw each one confined to a psychological prison of their own making. There was nary a means to defend yourself, and often the only solution was to run blindly into the fog hoping that whatever sits on the other end acts as your salvation. Ascension forgoes all that to pursue gory spectacle.
For all their creative ideas, I would describe Until Dawn and The Dark Pictures Anthology as easily digestible popcorn horror. They are even pitched as such, with the developer keen to encourage you to play with family and friends all making decisions together. Playing it alone doesn’t have the same effect, and I’ve always had more fun with these games when my friends and I grow close to certain characters only to accidentally get them torn to pieces by a giant monster mere minutes before the credits roll. I’m not saying Silent Hill is too good for horror like this, but it has regularly tried to skirt around the lazy clichés we often associate with the genre’s low-brow efforts. Ascension leans into them, and as our first glimpse at the series’ gameplay for what feels like decades, this was never going to go down well.
Its visual aesthetic and mechanical ideas remind me of middling feature films in how they’re clearly trying to appeal to a mainstream audience while relying on iconic designs across the series’ many creatures instead of conjuring up something original. Ascension will potentially tell an interesting story with characters we come to enjoy, but when all of this is in service of gnarly deaths and little thematic meaning, it will never live up to the expectations set by the early Silent Hill games.
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Jade King is Lead Features Editor for TheGamer. Previously Gaming Editor over at Trusted Reviews, she can be found talking about games, anime and retweeting Catradora fanart @KonaYMA6.