A surprise revival for the Silent Hill series is one of the most persistent rumors in this year's gaming news, with "leaks" that range from Microsoft buying the rights to the franchise, to Konami bringing back some of the original team to make a new game. With survival horror on an upswing, thanks to the recent Resident Evil remakes, the time is absolutely right for the Silent Hill series to make a return, but it has to be done correctly. Here's what we'd want to see out of a brand-new Silent Hill game for the 2020s.
6 Things We Want to See in A New Silent Hill
Before we start, this article will contain spoilers for the Silent Hill series, especially Silent Hill 2. You can't really talk about what went wrong with the franchise without discussing some of its sharpest twists. If you aren't familiar with them, go check them out, particularly the first three (although not via the HD Collection), before you read the rest of this.
Silent Hill, depending on who you talk to, has been dormant since 2012 or 2004. The first four games were largely developed by an internal group at Konami informally nicknamed "Team Silent," which was broken up by Konami's management in 2004. The next few games in the series were produced by several different Western studios, including Climax and WayForward, before the series lurched to a seemingly permanent stop in 2012.
The general problem with the post-Team Silent entries in the series, as well as spinoffs like the comics and the two live-action films, is a general lack of understanding of what made Silent Hill successful to begin with. The worst of them treat Silent Hill as a generic horror setting, a simple Bad Place where Bad Things happen; the best seem to understand at least some of what made the first three games good, but don't fully nail the execution.
To some degree, that isn't the later creators' fault. Silent Hill's story is deliberately vague, stitched together from intimations and observations, and much more interested in sheer impact over narrative consistency. One of Team Silent's strengths was always that they weren't afraid to just go weird out of nowhere if they thought they'd get a good surreal scare out of it, which is great for their games but lousy if you're trying to build on their foundation.
Even so, the root of the Silent Hill series is that each one is a character study. It's not necessarily a study of its protagonist--almost everything in the first game relates back to Alessa Gillespie, rather than Harry, like how the Otherworld is heavily fire-damaged--but it's the story of someone's intensely specific, personal hell, created just for them by the dark powers that govern the town. If you're making a Silent Hill game and it's just a dark abandoned town full of generic zombies, with zero specific relevance to the player's character, you've missed the point.
For a 2020 revival, the first step is to sweep the board. We're going to ignore every game after Silent Hill 4. (I feel kind of bad about Origins, but sacrifices have to be made.) This is a pure back-to-basics revisitation of why and how these games got their reputation, and that means you have to cut away the chaff. In no particular order, then, here's what we'd want to see in our theoretical Silent Hill 5:
The Return of Akira Yamaoka
This was a given from the jump. The original 1999 Silent Hill gets much of its impact from Yamaoka's soundtrack and audio design, from the clever use of silence and subtlety to the distant, throbbing industrial sounds of Silent Hill's Underworld. Very few games are as good as making you feel like you've fallen quite as far away from the real world. His work on Silent Hill made Yamaoka an arguably underappreciated pioneer in video game sound design, especially in the horror genre. Without his involvement, any new Silent Hill game will come up short. It's like if Streets of Rage 4 had gotten made without Yuzo Koshiro; even if the rest of it was great, something would always have been missing.
It's important that a proper Silent Hill game not be entirely linear. When you're outside, you should have the run of the town, to flee from monsters and explore for resources; when you're indoors, you should be systematically exploring everywhere for plot items, weird puzzles, spare bullets, and health drinks. Every building, block, and street should be a strange, often surreal maze, with tons to find if you care to look for it.
If a Silent Hill game comes out and has weapon crafting, a skill tree, a parry system, or any other attempt to modernize its combat, then it's failed a crucial test. To my mind, one of the central tenets of a good Silent Hill game is that the fighting's never exactly difficult, but the environments, atmosphere, and sound design all conspire to make you feel as if you can't handle whatever's coming next. There are a lot of areas in the games--SH2's prison, SH3's amusement park, that room in SH4 with the giant creepy Eileen head for absolutely no reason--that would still be absolutely terrifying if your character was in an Iron Man suit. The combat always ought to be panicked flailing and inaccurate gunfire, just to help further that illusion. If you want to make it easier, that's what post-game rewards are for.
No Pyramid Head
One of the most irritating things about later entries in the Silent Hill series is the way that Pyramid Head effectively became its mascot. Someone clearly decided that Silent Hill needed a trademark monster, and Pyramid Head was the closest thing available. He's in the first movie and Homecoming for just long enough to be recognizable, before disappearing just as quickly.
The point of Pyramid Head, like every other monster in Silent Hill 2, was to serve as a dark reflection of James Sunderland and his guilt. Pyramid Head is James's nemesis, specific to James's crimes and desire for punishment, and using him as a generic "Silent Hill monster" devalues his impact. Hell, by a strict interpretation of the series's original canon, nobody else should even be able to see Pyramid Head. If you want something like him in a new Silent Hill game, a relentless monster to pursue the player, the best option is to design something new, and leave Pyramid Head in SH2 where he belongs.
Keep the Old Map
One of the reasons why Silent Hill 2 is so effective, particularly on your first run, is how it slowly builds the case that the town itself is your antagonist. You can find a lot of historical data as you progress through the game that seems to indicate that this general area has always been a twisted place, and the cult's failed ritual from the original Silent Hill just pulled it all to the surface. Like Derry in Stephen King's It, Silent Hill has an idyllic reputation but a bloody past.
As such, one of the most effective things you could do with a new Silent Hill is to set it firmly in Silent Hill proper, and keep as much of the old map from the first three games as possible. Recreate the town of Silent Hill in full modern clarity, including important locations like Alchemilla Hospital and Heaven's Night. For each character's particular trip through Silent Hill, feel free to block off streets or remove entire buildings, especially to give an excuse to scribble all over the in-game map with a Sharpie, but a consistent sense of place helps reinforce an important sense of place. This is Silent Hill. You've been here before. It didn't go well.
Silent Hill 2 handles its multiple endings better than almost any other game before it or since. Rather than hinging your entire result on a simple dialogue choice or an obvious branch point, the game is constantly evaluating you on a series of invisible criteria that are meant to reflect how you're choosing to play James. The list is surprisingly long and involves a lot of things that you wouldn't realize are important on a blind run, like spending a lot of time at full health or inspecting Angela's knife in your inventory screen, but it all makes a kind of intuitive sense.
Ideally, a new Silent Hill game should have at least that degree of involvement, so you can ensure that the game ends in the way that you basically deserve. Your character needs to confront their demons, and succumb or prevail as you've determined, in the way in which you've worked towards. And yes, there should be a Dog Ending. Some things are sacred.
Hopefully, the leakers are actually right and we'll be hearing official news about another proper visit to Silent Hill at some point in the very near future. In the meantime, as you kill time with other great recent horror games, check out some of our other news, reviews, and guides, including:
- The Medium is one of the best-looking horror games announced in years
- Our review of the recent Resident Evil 3 remake
- How to do the Electric Slide in Resident Evil 3
Of course, a new Silent Hill would probably just be a reboot, but even that could be good. The original Silent Hill is a 1999 PlayStation game and looks like a Monet painting by now, with polygons the size of your head for every character. Even so, I like to think of the potential of Silent Hill as an anthology series, with each entry tracking the guilt, spiral, and freedom and/or damnation of a different unique character. If you've got some feedback, hit us up via our official Twitter, @PrimaGames.