Welcome back, fellow Retro Junkers, as I continue to delve into the history of a video game franchise that once seemed on its way to being a multimedia juggernaut, but has since faded into obscurity.
We left things off in 2004, with Silent Hill still being a viable franchise for publisher Konami, but things were somewhat in limbo at the moment. After the release of Silent Hill 4: The Room for the Playstation 2, the crew of developers behind the games, Team Silent, had been disbanded. There was talk that Koanmi was looking to continue the franchise on the upcoming Next Gen consoles, and that they would be made by a different developer outside of Koanmi's main studio in Japan. However, information was scarce at the moment, and for the time, all the fans had were speculation. However, at this current time, the Next Generation of consoles like the X Box 360, Playstation 3 and Nintendo Wii were still a year or two away. In order to keep the franchise fresh in the minds of the public, the decision was made to license Silent Hill out to other media outside of video games, hopefully sparking a successful franchise beyond the games.
SILENT HILL: DYING INSIDE
The first effort to bring Silent Hill to the masses was a 5-part comic book mini series published by IDW (best known for publishing the horror graphic novel, 30 Days of Night) in early 2004. Silent Hill: Dying Inside features an original storyline, a few themes similar to the franchise, a couple monsters from various games making cameo appearances, and...well, that's about it. Sloppy and sometimes downright incomprehensible artwork, a cliched storyline, and terrible profanity-laden dialogue ("Look, mommy, I can use the F-word in a comic book!") that doesn't even come close to the feeling of the dialogue or writing in the games really kills whatever potential it may have had. In case you haven't figured it out, I am not a fan.
Okay, let's see what I can make out of the story through the muddled and downright craptacular art that sometimes makes it impossible to tell what the hell is going on. Silent Hill: Dying Inside is actually a 2-part story. The first part concerns Dr. Troy Abernathy, a therapist who has been hiding his pain over the loss of his wife with women, sex, and booze. As the story opens, he is given a new patient - a woman by the name of Lynn Deangelis. Years ago, Lynn was a happy young student who went to the town of Silent Hill with some friends to shoot a homemade horror movie. What happened to Lynn and her friends is known only to her, as ever since she was discovered wandering the streets of Silent Hill alone, she has become a paranoid wreck, haunted by nightmares, and tales of demons tearing her friends apart. She's been spending the past couple years at a mental hospital, and Dr. Abernathy is given the task of treating her, though nothing seems to be working.
As a last ditch effort, Troy takes Lynn back to Silent Hill in an effort to prove that her nightmares and the demons that haunt her are all in her mind, and that the town is just a regular place. Of course, we all know that's not true, and they are quickly introduced to a demonic little girl named Christabella, and her army of monsters, who takes great delight in torturing the two, and saying a lot of bad jokes with obscenities thrown into her dialogue for no reason whatsoever. The town also seems to be haunted by ghosts from Troy's past, including his dead wife, and a former abusive boyfriend of her's who he murdered long ago. Lynn is able to escape when Troy sacrifices himself to the demons of Silent Hill, and this brings us to the second half of the story.
A group of obnoxious, cliched goth punks come across the Silent Hill video that Lynn had taken years ago, since one of them was working at the hospital where she was initially being treated, and stole it without her knowing. He finally shows the video to his friends, and they all decide to head to the town of Silent Hill. We get more indeciperable graphic violence, more pointless obscenities in almost every panel on every page, and a slow realization that the lead goth chick (a girl named Lauryn) has a personal connection with evil little girl Christabella. We also come to the realization that the team behind this story had very little understanding of what makes the Silent Hill series work.
Both stories feature paper thin characters we couldn't give a hoot about, trapped in a nightmarish situation of survival that leads to non-stop graphic violence every 2 or 3 panels. Of course, since we know next to nothing about the people trapped in this hell, we could care less about who lives and who dies. Nor can we tell who's alive and who's dead half the time, thanks to the smeary grafiti-style artwork displayed within its pages. It mostly comes to a guessing game as to what you're supposed to be looking at. I'm not kidding when I'm saying some panels look like paint blobs splashed across the panel. We're supposed to be looking at a person running for his life, but it looks more like the artist spilled paint on the drawing table, and added eyes, so we'd know it was a person. Sorry, not falling for it.
Even being a diehard fan of the franchise at the time, I knew when I was being served up garbage, and Silent Hill: Dying Inside (or Silent Hill: Dead on Arrival, as I call it) is flaming hot garbage served up with no flare or style.
Okay, so the comic was a complete bust. But, there was still hope on the horizon, in the increasing rumors that a Silent Hill movie was in the works...
SILENT HILL GOES HOLLYWOOD
Rumors of a Silent Hill movie had been circulating for quite a few years. One popular rumor that was being kicked around for a while was that the movie was going to be an adaptation of the first game, and that Johnny Depp had been cast as Harry Mason. As information began to come out that a movie really was being made, naturally, the message boards and chat rooms that I frequented devoted to the games began to light up. And when shooting actually began, and photos of the set began leaking on line, the excitement only built.
But, everyone was well aware that Hollywood had not been kind to previous video games that had been adapted to movies. Just read my article on the making of the Super Mario Bros. movie if you want proof. There was plenty of need for worry, but as more information leaked out, there was cause for excitement. The film's director, Christophe Gans, was reportedly a huge fan of the games, and was going out of his way to make his film match the look, style and tone of the original video games. Not only that, but he was actually going to be using the music of the series' composer, Akira Yamaoka, as the score for the film. This alone was reason enough to make every fan giddy, as the music was always a big part as to what made the games so rich in atmosphere. Seriously, just go on Youtube and listen to some of Yamaoka's music from the games. They're haunting.
So, the film had a director who was committed to recreating the world of Silent Hill, and claimed to understand what made the games so special. Big words. But when the trailer was finally unleashed on line on January 19 2006, it seemed that all the promises would be met. The trailer not only seemed faithful to the spirit of the games, but it looked like them with all the creatures and the dark world of Silent Hill faithfully created. I still remember the excitement that erupted on the message boards as soon as that trailer dropped. I, myself, simply could not wait. And on April 21st, 2006, the movie was finally released, and you can bet that I was there on opening night.
The movie takes most of its inspiration from the first game, but instead of Harry Mason, our lead protagonist is Rose Da Silva (played by Radha Mitchell), a concerned mother. When she and her husband Christopher (Sean Bean) start discovering that their adopted daughter Sharon (Jodelle Ferland) is acting strangely, they are not sure what to do. Their young daughter is prone to walking out of the house in the middle of the night in a sleepwalking state, and when they finally catch up with her, she is rolling on the ground seemingly in agony and screaming incoherently about a place called Silent Hill. Not wanting to see her child like this, Rose goes against her husband's wishes, and drives Sharon to the seemingly-deserted town that no one in the surrounding area seems to want to talk about after a great tragedy concerning a fire occured 30 years ago. Shortly after breaking through the weak barriers that block the main entrance into town, Rose speeds her car through the winding mountain road to her destination, only to be met by a mysterious dark figure crossing the street directly in the path of the car. Swerving to avoid the figure, Rose ends up driving the car off the road, and is unconscious for the rest of the night.
When she finally comes to, she finds herself in the lifeless town of Silent Hill, but there is something immediately wrong. Not only is there no sign of Sharon, her passenger car door left hanging open mysteriously, but a heavy and almost unearthly fog blankets the entire town, and ash-like snow is falling from the sky. The deeper she goes into the town, she discovers even more horrifying sights, such as demons that shouldn't even exist in this world walking the streets, and a vast darkness that seemingly covers over the town at random accompanied by a blaring air raid-like siren as the only warning of its arrival. Rose is able to come across a few other survivors who are also trapped in this living nightmare including a tough cop named Cybil Bennet (Laurie Holden), a strange old woman who speaks only in riddles named Dahlia (Deborah Kara Unger), and the struggling remains of a bizarre religious cult that make the town their home led by a woman named Christabella (Alice Krige). As Rose slowly unravels the mystery behind this evil town and the sudden disappearance of her daughter, she will come to learn the truth of just what exactly happened so long ago.
As a movie adaptation, Silent Hill is all at once a work of genius and a disappointment. The genius is in the way that Gans has recreated the world of the games, and even recreates certain memorable moments right down to the camera angles that were used in the cinematic cut scenes, or in the game itself. He apparently had the games present at all times while shooting the film, so he could refer to them whenever he wanted. His passion for the world that Team Silent created is right there on the screen, and the way that he has recreated the environments and monsters from the series is quite admirable. The film is also beautifully shot, with cinematographer Dan Lausten giving the film a look that is all at once beautiful, dark and surreal. It's a lovely film to watch. Not listen to, but watch.
What I mean by that is all of the problems stem from the script credited to Roger Avary. Not only is the dialogue often clunky, but he alters certain aspects of the game's plot for absolutely no reason whatsoever. None of his changes serve as an improvement over the original game, and some of them downright infuriated certain fans, such as the character of Dahlia serving a very different role in the film than she did in the original game. The movie also goes out of its way to provide pointless fan service. For example, Pyramid Head from Silent Hill 2 shows up a few times throughout the film, even though there's really no reason why he should. The creature was supposed to be a representation of the main character's guilt, and took the form of an executioner, relentlessly chasing down and trying to punish James Sunderland for his forgotten sins. In the movie, he's just here because he was popular with the fans, and easily the most famous monster from the games. It cheapens not just the character, but the effectiveness of him. There are a lot of instances like this throughout the movie, where the filmmakers obviously understood the appeal of some of the locations and creatures from the game, but not the reason behind them.
Despite the script problems, and a divisive response from the fan community, the Silent Hill movie went on to become a minor success at the box office. It shot to number 1 at the box office its opening weekend, and went on to make around $47 million domestic. It wasn't exactly a blockbuster, but it made enough money that there was talk of a film sequel, and it gave Konami confidence that there was enough interest to continue with the franchise. And just one year later in 2007, we would get to experience the first Silent Hill game not to be made by Team Silent...
SILENT HILL ORIGINS
Originally released in November 2007 for the PSP handheld (and later ported to the Playstation 2 a year later), Silent Hill Origins was an attempt to further explore the backstory of the series by creating a prequel set seven years before the events of Harry Mason in the first game.
Players take control of Travis Grady, a truck driver who happens to be driving through the town of Silent Hill at the wrong time. Early on, he rescues a girl from a burning house, and that's where things get strange. He passes out after his rescue effort, and when he wakes up and tries to find information on the girl from the night before, no one seems to know anything. He keeps on seeing visions of the young girl throughout his exploration of the town, and she teaches him the ability to enter the "Other World" of Silent Hill simply by placing his hand on a mirror. With this ability, Travis can travel back and forth between the real world, and the dark demonic world that seems to be made of the little girl's deepest nightmares. As Travis unravels the mystery, he will encounter other locals of Silent Hill, whom players of the original title will instantly recognize, and they are just as shady and manipulative as when Harry encountered them. We get to see the lead up to the events that would kick off the first game, as well as learn about Travis' troubled past concerning his parents, which he would have to face as personal demons taking physical form in typical Silent Hill fashion.
The original action-heavy build of Origins that was eventually scrapped.
Origins was an ambitious project, and one that was long in the making. It even went through two different developers, who attempted different takes on the game before it was released. Originally announced at E3 2006, the game was initially being developed by the L.A. development team of Climax, a British-based game developer. The build that this team was working on was an action-heavy game, inspired heavily by Capcom's Resident Evil 4, which had blown up on the Gamecube just a few years earlier. Instead of an emphasis on exploration and puzzles as in past games, this take of Origins focused on battling monsters. Travis had a wide array of melee and gun weapons, could use a laser sight to target enemies, and could even build small barricades in order to block the enemies' progress for a short time. However, as development went along, the game ran into massive issues, and many at Climax and Konami were worried about how it was coming along. The game's engine and script just were not strong enough, and it veered too heavily from Silent Hill traditions.
Rather than completely scrap the project, the game was sent over to Climax's U.K. studio, who was given permission and time to reshape the game and redesign it top to bottom. They kept the basic plot and characters the same, but outside of that, the team pretty much changed the entire direction of the project. Rather than an emphasis on action, Origins now resembled the original three games in the series, taking a much more psychological, dark and emotional approach to the story. It was ultimately a solid if not safe offering that respected the history of the franchise, while not exactly attempting much new. One new feature that was added is that Travis could pick up objects like small TVs, and hurl them or smash them at enemies. Since Travis was allowed to multiple TVs in his inventory, this created a popular running joke with fans of Travis' pockets overflowing with TVs that he could use as weapons.
Travis encounters Nurse Lisa Garland, a key character from the original game.
Even if Silent Hill Origins was nothing all that new, it was welcomed by fans after the experimental Silent Hill 4. It was a chance to revisit some of the classic characters from the first game, and add a little bit to the original game's lore. It was not a smashing success, but it succeeded enough to ease fans that even without Team Silent at the helm, the series could continue. And with the next generation of consoles well under way, many began to speculate about what the future would hold.
Silent Hill: Homecoming
The public would get its first look at the next console Silent Hill experience in the October 2007 issue of Electronic Gaming Monthly, which broke the exclusive first look at the first HD entry in the franchise. Originally titled Silent Hill 5 at the time the article was written, the game was later rechristened Silent Hill: Homecoming when it came out for the Playstation 3 and X Box 360 on October 1st, 2008. Developed by American design team, Double Helix Games, Homecoming was an effort to blend the traditional suspense and puzzle solving of classic Silent Hill, while updating the combat tactics and making them more essential to the gameplay.
The game tells the story of Alex Shepherd, a soldier who returns from a war to his hometown of Shepherd's Glen (in a nod to the previous game, Alex hitches a ride back home with Travis Grady from Silent Hill Origins), only to discover that things back home are not the way he remembers them. The town is nearly deserted and abandoned, his mother appears to have gone catatonic, and his father and younger brother are missing. As he slowly unravels the mystery of what has happened to his family and hometown, he is eventually drawn into the madness of Silent Hill, which has a deep connection both to the town, and to Alex's past, as he eventually learns. He will also be forced to face some family secrets as well, which is brilliantly hinted at in a subtle way near the beginning of the game. While you are exploring Alex's home, if you look at the family pictures on the walls, you will notice that Alex is not featured in any of them, which hints at some later themes of seeking family approval.
On the surface, Homecoming seems to have all the right ingredients for a successful Silent Hill game. The graphics, thanks to the increased power of the newer consoles, are absolutely gorgeous, featuring highly detailed monster and character models with much smoother animation than was previously possible. Not only that, but the environments were incredibly detailed, and had lots of little touches of animation, like how certain things would wobble or threaten to tip over if Alex brushed by them. It was pretty much universally praised as being the best looking Silent Hill game yet. The story was pretty strong too, even if it did deal with some familiar material of past Silent Hill games, such as the evil cult at the heart of the darkness enveloping the town, and the theme of the main character running from his own past. Regardless of the familiarity, it was handled well. Also praised was the music score, which was provided by series composer, Akira Yamaoka, who was the only member of Team Silent who stayed with the series when the franchise turned to Western developers.
However, there were also a lot of issues that turned gamers off. Chief among the complaints was the emphasis on action over exploration and puzzle solving. While the game still had plenty of the two other features, this was much more of an action-heavy adventure than previous titles, with intense gun fights and battles with massive boss monsters that looked more like something out of God of War than Silent Hill. For a series that started out featuring an everyman who could not defend himself very well in the first installment, it seemed a bit off. Some felt that making Alex a soldier, and therefore more than capable of fighting back, kind of lessened the intensity of the game. Some also had a hard time adjusting to the action-heavy style of the gameplay, as it was so radically different from what fans had come to expect. Those who were used to slowly unraveling the mystery at their own pace and fighting only when it necessary to survive were shocked by how prominent fighting and weapons seemed in Homecoming.
The other main issue that fans had is the one that kind of stuck with me, and lessened my enjoyment of the game somewhat. This game seemed to be much more a continuation of the theatrical movie from 2006, rather than a follow up to the games. The game took a lot of inspiration in its visuals from the movie. For example, the cult members that Alex encounters were modeled after the ones from the film. This too is a problem, as the game featured Alex going around killing cult members, who were all humans. This had never happened in a Silent Hill game before, save for one instance in Silent Hill 2 where you had a boss battle with a human character. But that was a case of James having to defend himself from someone who had lost their mind. Having human enemies serving as common henchmen in the game just seemed kind of out of place. Also like the movie, Pyramid Head showed up once again to torment our hero, and just like in the film, his presence was basically here simply for fan service. The character was created in Silent Hill 2 to represent James' secret desire to be punished for his own sins. Here, he's just making a cameo because he's the fan-favorite monster.
The infamous "drill scene". Warning: It's somewhat graphic and disturbing.
There is one more way that Homecoming went against the norm, and not in a good way. This is tied into a cinema scene that happens late in the game, where one of the antagonists has Alex strapped down, and he begins to torture him with a power drill, and drilling into his hand. This turns into a quick time event, as you must rapidly push a button to help Alex escape. If you are successful, Alex turns the drill against his torturer, and kills her by drilling up into her jaw. While the Silent Hill games obviously could be very violent, this felt like something that would be more at home in one of the Saw or Hostel films that were based around torture. Silent Hill had always been more about the psychological terror and the deep characters, and this whole sequence seemed like the kind of cheap, gory thrill that the series shied away from in the past.
With its mixed response, Silent Hill: Homecoming was the first time the series really seemed like it had lost its identity. Even Silent Hill 4, which up to now had been the most divisive game in the franchise, had not exactly built up this much of a diverse opinion among fans and critics. Everyone agreed that there was stuff to like, but no one could put their finger on whether or not the game was a true success. Still, the interest was there enough for the franchise to keep on trucking along, and the next installment would find its way to a Nintendo console for the first time...
SILENT HILL: SHATTERED MEMORIES
After the relative success of Silent Hill: Origins, Climax was given a second chance to take on the Silent Hill franchise. If Origins was a very safe and traditional game that played on the series' past, then Shattered Memories tried to take the franchise in a new direction, while also playing on its past by being a reimagining of the very first game. Also somewhat out of character for the series, the game would be released initially for the Nintendo Wii in December 2009, marking the first time (and as of this writing, the last time) a main game in the series would appear on a Nintendo console, although the game was ported a year later to the PS2 and PSP.
Just like in 1999's Silent Hill, players would take control of Harry Mason as he explored the town of Silent Hill after being involved in a car accident while driving with his young daughter, Cheryl, who mysteriously went missing after the accident. That's where the similarities between the original and Shattered Memories end, however. Climax wanted to take the story into a completely psychological direction, where the player's own personality would not only determine the personality of Harry himself and his appearance, but also how he would react to the people he met, as well as how they would react to him.
Climax created a complex personality profile system that would be a key part of the game. At various points throughout the game, the player would find themselves in the office of a therapist named Dr. Michael Kauffman. In the original Silent Hill, Michael was portrayed as a shady medical doctor who played a key role in the evil cult that was behind the demonic evil. Here, he was a somewhat smug therapist who was trying to get to the bottom of his patient's (you) problems. The scenes in the office are portrayed in a first-person view, with Michael talking directly to the player. Once in a while, he would hand the player a psychological profile, where you would have to answer a series of questions. Most of these would involve hypothetical situations, and giving you a series of multiple choice answers as to how you would react or respond to said situation. These questions were supposed to get to the bottom of the player's personality, and would actually alter the course of the game itself.
Depending on how you answered the questions during the "office" scenes, when the game would return to the main story, Harry's appearance and personality might be different. If your answers were compassionate and caring, Harry would be portrayed as a concerned father looking for his daughter. However, if your answers were more self-centered or selfish, Harry would be much more stand-offish, and his appearance would be messier and darker. This would also impact how the people Harry met would react to him. People would be more willing to help Harry if he was kinder, but if he was more sullen and self-centered, they might not be so quick to help him out. Speaking of the people Harry meets, all of the characters from the original game appear at some point, however they are all very different, and play completely different roles. I can't go into too much detail for the sake of spoilers, but part of the fun of the game is seeing how Climax has completely reimagined the cast of Silent Hill, and taken them in all new directions.
This was not the only way Climax shook up the formula of the series, however. Instead of the town being covered in a dense fog and swarming with monsters, Silent Hill was now completely snowed over, creating a different sense of isolation. Also, there were no longer any monsters wandering the streets. At different points in the game, Harry would be pulled into a "nightmare scenario", where the normal environments would become completely iced over, and monsters and demons would suddenly appear and give chase to Harry. Unlike previous games, Harry could not defend himself against monsters, and would instead have to run to survive. These sequences would involve Harry having to avoid various obstacles in order to try to stay ahead of his pursuers. It would only end when Harry would run far enough, and the town of Silent Hill would return to normal, with the monsters vanishing.
While this was an interesting concept, it also ended up being the aspect most criticized by players and professional critics. These sequences were often frustrating, since they relied heavily on the Wii's motion controls, and some players had a hard time reacting in time, or getting the game to read their movements. Some players also felt that having the monsters appear only in set and staged areas throughout the game killed a lot of the tension. No longer were monster attacks unexpected. You knew you were safe when you were exploring Silent Hill, trying to gather information, and that nothing bad could happen. Only when everything around you suddenly turned to ice would you have to worry about demonic attacks.
In the end, Silent Hill: Shattered Memories was praised for its heavily psychological and personality-driven gameplay, which was viewed as innovative and unique. However, many also argued that the game simply was not that fun to play, due to the sometimes frustrating motion controls, and the lack of real tension. To me, this is an ambitious game, but one that kind of falls short. I like what the team of Climax was trying to do here, but I don't think they truly succeeded. Despite the unique angle and the return to the original story with a new angle, many fans skipped this entry, and sales were poor, which is probably why the franchise never found its way back to Nintendo after, and why future games took a somewhat safer and more traditional approach.
MARCH 2012: THE MONTH OF MADNESS (AND BEYOND):
In March of 2012, Konami promised Silent Hill fans that they were in for a big celebration of the series. Dubbed "The Month of Madness", three games were set to be released, all on the same day. Not only were two of them to be original titles, but the third was to be a Silent Hill HD Collection, which would contain both Silent Hill 2 and 3 remastered for modern day consoles. What was intended to be a celebration of the series would wind up being a giant black eye for both the franchise and the company itself. Not only did one of the three games not ship until much later in the year, but the two that did were widely criticized by fans and critics alike, and would pretty much spell the end of the franchise.
First up was the next main entry in the series, Silent Hill: Downpour for the Playstation 3 and X Box 360. Developed by Vatra Games, Downpour attempted to return to the structure of the original three Silent Hill games, while also adding an open world element of exploration. Players took control of Murphy Pendleton, a convict being transported to a prison on a bus, until said bus crashes on the outskirts of Silent Hill. Like previous protagonists, Murphy would explore the town, solving puzzles and fighting various demonic monsters, while also being forced to face some personal demons that would slowly unravel Murphy's backstory, and what led to his conviction. Unlike previous entries, there was a much bigger emphasis on optional sidequests and missions. And much like Shattered Memories, weather played a key element in the game. As the title suggests, Silent Hill would be experiencing a rainy season, and at various times, it would start to rain down upon Murphy as he explored the town. This had a key impact on gameplay, as monsters would be much stronger and more frequent when it rained. The only way for Murphy to avoid this situation would be to duck inside one of the nearby buildings, and wait out the storm.
Silent Hill: Downpour ended up being a divisive game for fans. While the story of Murphy and his personal trauma was true Silent Hill and was praised for its emotional complexity, the gameplay came plagued with numerous issues. The combat, much like Silent Hill: Homecoming a few years earlier, was far too emphasized and bogged down the exploration elements of the game. But more seriously, the game was criticized for featuring numerous game-breaking bugs. The most serious issue is that the game included an Auto Save feature that sometimes did not work. The game would say that your progress had been saved, but if the player turned off the console and came back to it later, they would find out that the game had not actually saved at all, and that they would have to start at a much earlier point than they thought. There were also numerous issues with the game's A.I., including incredibly stupid enemies who would not even react to Murphy. Overall, Downpour is a frustrating title, because you can see how it could have been great. The story, character development and open world environment all hold promise, but the numerous programming issues and overall lack of polish harm what could have been a return to form for the series.
If Downpour divided fans, that was nothing compared the unanimous rage that was met with the release of the Silent Hill HD Collection that hit around the same time. Containing HD remasters of fan favorites Silent Hill 2 and 3 on one disc, what should have been a slam dunk look back at the series' roots ended up being a giant insult for fans, and a PR nightmare for Konami. Like Downpour, the two games were now plagued with a series of graphical bugs and glitches that were not present in the original versions. The most notorious aspect of the remasters is that the fog had been completely changed so that it was no longer as thick as it had been before. Because of this, players could see unfinished parts of the game off in the distance. The game also contained an all new translation and voice acting, which also disappointed fans of the original. Most bizarre of all, Silent Hill 2 gave gamers the option to switch to the original script and dub if they so chose, while Silent Hill 3 did not, and only featured the updated script. The games would also frequently crash, and was missing certain music cues that were present in the originals.
A comparison of the original Silent Hill 2 (on the right) and the remaster (the left). Notice how in the remaster, the lack of fog allows you to see where the game world ends, giving the game a very odd look.
When asked what went wrong shortly after its release, the head behind the HD Collection stated that Konami had lost the original source codes to both games, and that the remasters had to be based on unfinished versions of both games. This aspect, combined with the inexperience of the company that was hired to do the remaster job as well as a tight deadline imposed on them by Konami, led to the game being less than it could have been. And while many of the problems would be fixed with patches and downloads down the line, the damage had been done. Fans no longer trusted Konami, and the once-proud Survival Horror series was now seen as wounded, and probably forever hampered by sub-par efforts and an overall sense that the developer no longer cared about the quality of the series, and were just pushing out games for quick cash.
And what of the third game that was supposed to be a part of the Month of Madness? That would be Silent Hill: Book of Memories for the Playstation Vita, which would see its release pushed back to October of that year. The game would once again be a major departure for the series, as instead of the traditional exploration and Survival Horror gameplay that Silent Hill was known for, the game was instead a top-down multi-player dungeon crawler done in the style of the Diablo series. Players would team up to run and gun their way through multiple environments, fighting a variety of monsters that were taken from the history of the franchise. Players would take control of one of five high school kids who received a mysterious package from Silent Hill, and would be pulled into its nightmarish environments, having to fight for their lives. Gone was pretty much everything that made Silent Hill what it was, such as the psychological and personal demon-inspired gameplay. In its place was a fairly generic shooter with limited potential and limited draw to fans of the series. The game received little to no promotion from Konami, and quickly faded from the minds of just about everyone. The fact that it only appeared on the Vita, Sony's handheld that never really took off in America, probably did not help matters much.
Also in October of 2012, the long-delayed sequel to 2006's Silent Hill movie was released in theaters just before Halloween. Silent Hill: Revelation based its plot on the Silent Hill 3 game, and featured the teenaged Heather (played in the film by Adelaide Clemens) being pulled into a plot that mixed elements of the game, and the original 2006 film. The effort was clumsy at best, with audiences complaining that the plot made little sense, and did little to clear up the unanswered questions left at the end of the first movie. And unlike the games it was based on, the film featured an abundance of forced gore and jump scares. In one particularly notorious moment, the movie tried to get the audience to jump at one point by suddenly cutting to a Pop Tart popping out of a toaster at the end of a quiet moment. I kid you not. The movie bombed with critics and fans, and would wind up only making around $17.5 million on a $20 million budget. And while the film did fare better overseas (where it made $38 million), it was clear that the writing was on the wall. Silent Hill was past its prime, and the once loyal fanbase had had enough disappointment, turning their backs on the series.
P.T. (OR THE LAST HOPE VANISHES):
With the Silent Hill franchise considered dead and buried by many, it was a surprise when in August of 2014, it was revealed that game designer Hideo Kojima (of Metal Gear Solid fame) and filmmaker Guillermo Del Toro (recent Oscar winner for The Shape of Water) were teaming up to revive the label with a new game titled Silent Hills for the Playstation 4. The game was unveiled to the public in a unique way. A demo was released as P.T., which stood for Playable Trailer. Initially, nobody knew it was supposed to be a Silent Hill revival. It was portrayed as a cryptic and obscure horror game, where the player had to make their way through a haunted house, and solve a series of seemingly random puzzles and riddles in order to advance. The game was very obscure, and contained frightening but often confusing images that intrigued the player and raised their curiosity. It was not until you reached the end of the Playable Trailer that the true title of the game was revealed, and fans would be treated to an image of actor Norman Reedus (from TV's The Walking Dead) playing an unnamed man who would apparently be the protagonist of the story.
The Playable Trailer (which was released for the Playstation Store for download) was an immediate smash, enthralling gamers and fans with the potential of Silent Hill's true return to the top of the Survival Horror chain that it has once enjoyed. However, as time passed, very little information was being released about the project after its reveal. And then, troubling news began to leak out from within Konami. Apparently, a rift was beginning to form between Kojima and the company that he had worked at for almost 30 years over the development of Kojima's current project, Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. While Kojima was allowed to finish the game, his name and participation were being hidden by Konami. It quickly became clear that Kojima was on the way out of the company, and would go on to start his own independent studio. Because of this Silent Hills was canceled, and any hope that the series would see a rebirth was gone with it.
The P.T. event of 2014 would be the last anyone would see or hear from Silent Hill as of this writing. In the span of 15 years, the franchise would go from among the top of the horror video game world, to the very bottom. Konami has stated numerous times that they have every intention of continuing the series, but at this point, it seems unlikely, or if anyone would care after the huge fiasco that was P.T., and the disappointing quality of the last few games that were to make their way to store shelves.
I, for one, stand somewhere in the middle. While it seems unlikely that we will see another great Silent Hill title anytime soon (especially considering that Konami's current output has been rather cheap, focusing on budget games), I don't think it's impossible. We can only hope that there is someone within the company with the talent and the ambition to return the series to what it once was.
Regardless, this retrospective look at the series as a whole has given me the chance to revisit a lot of memories, and I hope it maybe inspired some interest in trying some the classic games in the series, which remain classics to this day. Even some of the later "failed" titles have their merits, and are not without their positives. Play them with an open mind, and you're bound to have some fun. I, for one, personally believe that Downpour is really not that bad of a game, despite its obvious flaws, and could have been great if the company had tightened up the game design. I may not be the fan of the franchise that I once was, but I still hold it close to my heart, and hold out hope for the future.
Until next time, Retro Junkers, keep the past alive.