Silent Hill 2 remake

By the time you read this, the remake of Silent Hill 2, being developed by Bloober, is less than 2 months from its expected release. So nothing I write here can possibly change the game. But there has been something that has been nagging at the back of my brain ever since the first trailer for the remake released. Since most of the concern about Bloober's Silent Hill 2 is focused on their historically awful depictions of mental health and trauma, I haven't seen a whole lot of content addressed at this particular concern of mine. So I thought I'd share my thoughts.

First and foremost, I will be discussing the story and ending of the original Silent Hill 2, as well as speculation regarding whether Bloober will change this ending, or somehow botch its execution. As far as I'm concerned, the announcement trailer has already shown that it will be one or the other: a changed ending, or a botched ending. But in any case, if you haven't played Silent Hill 2 before and don't want to be spoiled, then don't read this post. You've been warned.

The announcement trailer for Silent Hill 2: Remake.

Before moving on, feel free to check out the announcement trailer in its entirety, above. You can also watch this complete analysis in video essay format on YouTube.

This entire analysis is also available in video essay format on YouTube.

The original opening

For anyone still here after the spoiler warning, let's talk a little bit about the opening scene of Silent Hill 2, how it relates to the game's ending(s), how this same scene is depicted in the remake trailer, and what the changes to that scene mean for the ending. Silent Hill 2 opens as such:

A mostly calm and collected James Sunderland stares at himself in a dirty bathroom mirror, taking a deep breath, and then walking out to a scenic overlook to explain the premise of the game. He got a letter from his wife, who died of a terminal illness 3 years ago. The letter says that she's alive and waiting for him in Silent Hill. He knows it can't possibly be true, but if there's any chance that she is somehow still alive, he has to know.

This opening shows us a James who is supposedly 3 years removed from the death of his wife. He isn't necessarily grieving any more, but doesn't seem to have completely moved on; otherwise, why be here? Regardless, he is completely surprised by this letter and in disbelief. This is a subtle, subdued opening that gives the player little reason not to take this all at face value. And it goes on to follow this up with a slow-burn opening act to the game, in which James strolls casually through a wooded path along the lake and doesn't encounter anything overtly scary or threatening for a good 20 or 30 minutes, depending on the pace that the player is going.

The original is subdued and gives little reason to not take the premise at face value.

This puts the player in the same headspace as James. We are just as confused, surprised, and curious as him, but with that nagging certainty that all must not be as it seems. This allows the player to role play as James in good faith and sets up the game's eventual twist, and also sets a relatively clean slate for the various ending triggers. The player doesn't see James as anything other than a confused husband, desperately hoping to see his possibly-not-dead wife again. The player is able to play James as such, and how you role play as James will inform how he eventually deals with the game's twist revelation. But the game will be slowly pulling the rug out from under James and the player over the course of the game, gradually establishing him as an un-reliable narrator.

Considering the additional context that this is a sequel to Silent Hill (which was about a father trying to rescue his daughter from a demonic cult), players may have had even less reason to not trust James. They have no clue that this game is going to deviate from the first game's premise and be an introspective and metaphorical tale that is almost completely divorced from the first game's plot. They just know it has the number 2 in the title, so it probably follows from the story of its predecessor. Maybe Mary really is alive? Maybe she's another vessel for the cult's demon god? Or maybe her soul was also split and there's a psychic Mary doppelganger living in Silent Hill who is summoning James to help her stop the cult's plans? Or maybe that doppelganger wants to trick him into helping the cult? And hey, guess what? A few hours into the game, we do indeed meet a Mary doppelganger!

Based on the opening minutes of the game, Silent Hill 2 can go in a lot of potential different directions, either introspective, supernatural, cult-driven, or any combination thereof.

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The rumors regarding new Silent Hill games are true. Well, some of them anyway. It doesn't look like Hideo Kojima or Guillermo del Torro will have anything to do with any of it. Konami finally broke the silence regarding its plans for the Silent Hill franchise, and announced 4 new games and a new movie! I have very mixed feelings about all of this.

Market saturation

First and foremost, announcing 4 new game projects all at once feels like overkill to me. I really hope that these games are spaced out and aren't all released at the same time or in quick succession. Remember the last time Konami tried releasing a bunch of new Silent Hill content in its 2012 "Month of Madness"? Yeah, that didn't go over too well.

I'm having enough trouble keeping up with the oversaturation of streaming Franchise TV series.

More generally, keeping up with the oversaturation of content from franchises like Star Trek, Star Wars, Marvel is already difficult, and I can't keep up. I don't need all my favorite video game franchises piling onto that oversaturation. People have lives outside of media consumption, and I'm sick to death of these corporations thinking that they have a right to monopolize our time by throwing dart after dart at walls in the hopes that some particular dart sticks in the bullseye. I do not owe Disney, or CBS/Paramount, or Konami any of my time, and I've gotten to the point that I don't offer my time unless I have an expectation that it will be worth it. So if any of these Silent Hill games does not look worth my time, I won't play them, and they can go in the pile of un-consumed content along with Book of Memories and most of the crappy graphic novels and comics.

That being said, I'm expecting that most (if not all) of these titles will be relatively short, niche horror games -- "short" compared to the massive open world grind-a-thons that other studios keep trying to shove down our throats. I don't expect any of these new Silent Hill games to be 100+ hour, open world, live service games that are designed explicitly to waste my time and try to steer me towards buying "time-saver" micro-transactions and loot boxes. That doesn't mean that Konami won't find a way to put micro-transactions and loot boxes into the games. But I expect these games will likely be more traditional, conservative 8 to 15-hour horror campaigns. This means that I will likely have time to split between these games and other games, and also between these games and each other (should they all be released contemporaneously, and I chose to play them all).

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It seems we can't go a year without new rumors of Konami resurrecting the Silent Hill franchise. Frankly, I'm getting really weary of it all.

Last year, Kojima rumors resurfaced (despite seeming exceedingly far-fetched), and the rumor-mill also postulated that Konami was bringing back some of the original game's creative team for a reboot or remake. Well over a year later, there hasn't been any formal announcement on either of those rumors, so I'm assuming that they were never more than rumors.

This Tweet activated the rumor mill.

However, the rumor mill has been churning once again this year. A cryptic trailer and social media post last month for a game called Abandoned made people speculate that Abandoned might be a codename for a new Silent Hill project, and that its developer, Blue Box Game Studio might be another fake Kojima studio (because the internet just won't let the Kojima-Silent Hill rumors die). Remember that Metal Gear Solid V and P.T. were original teased as being indie games from Moby Dick Studios and 7780s, respectively.

But no, Blue Box is a real indie game studio, headed by a real developer named Hasan Kahraman, who is not Hideo Kojima. So no, Blue Box's PS5-exclusive Abandoned is almost certainly not a Silent Hill game in disguise. At least, not an official one with the support of Konami.

So that's it, right? This year's Silent Hill rumor has been squashed, right?

Apparently not.

Konami and Bloober are working together.

In just a matter of days after the Blue Box rumors were debunked, Konami went and announced a "strategic partnership" with Bloober Team. Bloober Team is, of course, the studio behind some of the most popular indie horror games of recent memory, including the Layers Of Fear games, Observer_, and Blair Witch. But it was their most recent game, The Medium, that caught the attention of Silent Hill fans. The Medium features a novel split-screen mechanic in which the player character can be navigating and solving puzzles in two parallel realities at the same time. One reality is a decaying, nightmarish version of the other abandoned and decrepit "real world". And just like with Stranger Things, the mere existence of a nightmarish alternate version of the same place made people start saying that "it's exactly like Silent Hill" (even though it isn't), and got fanboys insisting that Bloober Team should be contracted by Konami to develop a Silent Hill game.

The announced partnership already has everyone assuming that Bloober will be making a Silent Hill game. Even though the Silent Hill rumor is still just a rumor, this is the first time in all these years since Kojima's ousting from Konami and Silent Hills' cancellation, that the rumor actually seems credible. After all, there was an official announcement from Konami and Bloober this time around. And what other famous horror IP does Konami have, other than Silent Hill?

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Observer - title

Once again, it is spring time. All the big holiday releases are out, and I didn't need to bother playing them because they were all crap. So I spent all my time on the indie football games. Well now football season is over too, and I'm done with my critique of the indie football games. So it's time to dig into my Steam backlog and try to play some of the games that have been sitting around for years without being played.

I've been on a Bloober bender lately, playing through Layers of Fear 2 and The Medium, so I decided I'd check out their other game: the cyberpunk horror >Observer_.

Dialogue trees and player-driven exploration gives the player a greater sense of agency than in Layers of Fear.

Bloober seems much more cynical about trans-humanism compared to Frictional

Having played a few of Bloober's games, I was expecting a visual treat. If nothing else, Bloober's games are technically impressive in the ways that they depict surreal environments. I was curious how this would translate into a cyberpunk setting. It doesn't disappoint, as the game is a visual and technical treat from start to finish. But much like Bloober's other games, Observer is a technical treat, but as a game, it has definite shortcomings.

Observer lags behind other stand-out sci-fi games like The Swapper, Soma, and Outer Wilds by not really using the gameplay mechanics to convey its sci-fi concepts. Soma is an especially apt comparison because both games deal with transhumanist themes. I feel like Soma is a lot more thoughtful, thorough, and laser-focused on its singular main idea; whereas Observer is a bit more scatter-shot and surface-level with its various cyberpunk dystopian ideas.

You're given a few moral decisions that relate directly to the game's themes of transhumanism.

Observer also never really challenges the player to think too hard about the moral, ethical, or metaphysical consequences of your choices. There's a decision at the end of the game that determines which of two endings you get, and there's a couple optional side quests that culminate in the player making a moral decision based on what you've learned about how this world operates, and whether you think the technology is being mis-used. There's also dialogue trees that give the player the opportunity to poke and prod at how the other characters perceive this world, and to imbue a little bit of your own characterization on the protagonist. So yes, it does engage the player with the story's subject matter a little bit, which is certainly a heck of a lot more than Layers of Fear ever did.

It does fall apart a little bit in practice because the whole game is so cynically distrustful of the technology and institutions that employ them. The game only ever shows the pain, suffering, and degradation of human dignity that the cyberpunk revolution brought, but it never bothers to show any redeeming qualities of the technology. We're told that there are wealthy "A" and "B" class citizens, but we never see how they live, nor are we given any real hint at how much of the population is trapped in the disgusting squalor of these tenement buildings, or if this lifestyle is common in the rest of the world outside of Poland. By choosing to only show the heavy human toll that this technology has taken, and not giving the player any additional background knowledge or context, I feel like Bloober kind of makes the player's decisions for us.

Bloober is a bit cynical and heavy-handed in its depiction of cyberpunk dystopia.

It pales in comparison to the other games I mentioned (Soma in particular), which actually had me stopping dead in my tracks and really thinking about my choices. It's not "bad" story-telling per se (and in fact, the visual aspect of the story-telling is superb!); it's just not particularly interactive story-telling. Beyond Bloober leading the player towards these specific moral choices, there's not much else in the way of decisions or opportunities to apply the ideas towards any particular challenges or obstacles.

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Layers of Fear 2 - title

I played the first Layers Of Fear a couple years ago (just prior to the release of Blair Witch). I didn't bother reviewing it at the time because

  1. The game had been out for years, so I didn't think there was much desire for a late review, and
  2. I honestly didn't know what to make of it at the time.

I wasn't sure if it was an auteur masterpiece, or a boring walking simulator. As time has gone on, and I've played other "walking simulators" that I've enjoyed much more, I've leaned further and further towards the later. In either case, I didn't find the game particularly scary. I was skeptical to bother with the sequel, but I liked Blair Witch just enough to pick up Layers Of Fear 2 on a Steam sale. I think I might have actually liked the first game better. I found it much easier to follow along with what was happening in the first game, and its simpler, more streamlined gameplay (and shorter length) made it less tedious.

Most of the game is walking through a door into a room, looking at what's in the room,
then walking out the same door into a different room or hallway than the one you came in from.

Pretty much the whole of Layers Of Fear 2 is still just walking into a room, looking at what's in the room (often some weak jump scare), then turning around and walking out the same door into a different place than where you came from. It's the exact same stuff as the first Layers of Fear and the last couple hours of Blair Witch, but without feeling like a novel technical accomplishment. Blair Witch at least had the forest setting to play up the idea of being lost in the dark, and also had some more varied and unique puzzles and set pieces. Though to Layers Of Fear 2's credit, it doesn't repeat the same gags over and over again the way that the first game does, and more of the rooms have atmospheric set decorations to help establish a mood, instead of every one having some silly jump scare. So the sequel is a bit more restrained in that respect.

I have no idea where I am on this ship,
or where I've been.

Both the first Layers Of Fear and Blair Witch also do a slightly better job of establishing a sense of place before the reality-warping effects start happening. Having a little bit of time to explore a relatively normal house or forest makes the surreal environments more jarring. Layers Of Fear 2 pretty much just jumps right into it, never giving the player an opportunity to get a feel for how the ship is structured, where you are on the ship, or where you are trying to go. Right from the start, you're meandering through abstract corridors.

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