Konami's Silent Hill series has been stuck in a rut for the best part of a decade, churning out average retail returns to a Stygian fanfare of middling review scores - and when you don your Cunning Parallel hat, that's rather appropriate. The first three, beyond-excellent instalments on PS2 and Xbox built their narratives on soul-wrenching existential paralysis, on being psychologically stuck in the mud.
The whys and hows differ from game to game (and ending to ending) but each premise invariably gives rise to something along the following lines: an average guy or gal on a deserted, foggy street; the words "Silent Hill" in flaking paint on a nearby billboard; everlasting torment at the hands of literally manifest private nightmares.
If the franchise's run of subpar efforts matches the decrepit state of the fiction, we can't chuckle appreciatively at the irony of it all forever. Sooner or later, Silent Hill must return to form, wrestling the survival horror crown from the hands of youthful pretenders Amnesia: The Dark Descent and Dead Space 2. The next and eighth instalment is Silent Hill: Downpour, developed by Vatra Games. Here's how Konami could make it the best yet, with a little input from producer Tomm Hulett.
Open Out The Map
Silent Hill has never been a true-blue open-worlder, sealing off huge portions of the map with broken door locks and chasms, but last generation outings left those red squiggly lines sufficiently far apart to make the town feel real - not just an arbitrary sequence of closed spaces, but an entity with its own internal structure, and a malevolent entity at that.
Origins and Homecoming represent a drift in the opposite direction, and one Konami is eager to correct. According to Hulett: "SH1 and 2 had a lot of exploration moments in the town itself, where players had to wander around and find their way. Later games lost this feature but we wanted to bring it back. Since Downpour is on much more powerful consoles, the town size and the detail we can achieve is much greater. So fans will have a lot to take in."
Bring Back The Wimps
The best Silent Hill games don't "do" strong protagonists; they do fascinatingly feeble ones. The first game's hero, Harry Mason, was a weak-kneed everyman who spent most of the plot never quite catching sight of his infant daughter. Then came Silent Hill 2's James Sutherland, a stoop-shouldered, teary-eyed bundle of impotency who can barely hold a crowbar straight. Silent Hill 3 gave us Heather, a teenage girl of interest to the forces of darkness only because she happens to be the unwitting mother of a god, and Silent Hill 4 introduced players to Henry Townshend, a man locked in his own flat.
Alas, Konami's supplies of sympathetic wussiness had run dry when work began on Origins, which put us in charge of hardened trucker Travis Grady, and this sudden streak of machismo ran over into Homecoming, helmed by war hero Alex Shepherd. Both men had their personal issues, but they were also skilled combatants, more than a match for the monsters Silent Hill conjured from the depths of their backstories.
Konami needs to arrest this process of gradual beefing-up, which presumably has to do with appeasing the COD crowd, in order to restore the franchise's waning chills. It's hard to be scared when you're putting down phantasms with your bare fists. Don't empower us, chaps - break us down. Draw out our inner children. We're all wimps at heart. Vatra isn't off to a very auspicious start here - the latest lost soul to hit the chopping block is escaped convict Murphy Pendleton.