As most internet-savvy Silent Hill fans know, the recent rumors regarding Hideo Kojima working on a Silent Hill game are true. Konami stealthily released a hidden teaser for the project within a demo for a fake game (called "P.T.") being made by a fake studio (7780 Studios).
I don't currently own a PS4, since there haven't been any interesting games out for it yet (although Bloodborne and No Man's Sky both look like they sell me a console). As such, I was a little bit late in getting a chance to actually play the "P.T." demo, but I finally was able to play it on a friend's PS4 over the Labor Day weekend. Given my strong opinions regarding the Silent Hill franchise, I thought I'd weigh in on this whole teaser thing.
It is, however, important to note that "P.T." is just an announcement teaser, and not an actual demo. As such, it is not necessarily representative of the final game - and in fact, the demo clearly states this in the final cutscene. So the demo doesn't really tell us much about the gameplay or story of the new Silent Hill game. At least not directly. And so any conclusions that any one comes to will need to be taken with some degree of skepticism.
Considering my nature as a Silent Hill "purist", I'm skeptical and cynical about any new developments in the franchise. As such, I'm going to begin by getting my concerns and fears regarding this project out of the way.
One piece of disturbing news is that the development team is currently experimenting with whether the final product should be in first person or in third person. The "P.T." demo, after all, is first-person, so it would seem to make sense that the game that it is actually demo-ing would also be first-person.
The first-person perspective works well for "P.T." because it doesn't have any action elements. I would expect a proper Silent Hill game to have at least some creature combat and boss encounters. A first-person perspective in such a game might put pressure on the developers to design the game to be "shooter-ish", which, as we saw with Homecoming, is a bad move.
The character's face is intentionally obscured to hide his celebrity until the end reveal.
I find it highly unlikely that the final game would be in first person, since Konami went to the trouble of hiring Hollywood talent to lend his likeness and voice to the game. So if they modeled Norman Reedus, then they'll probably want to show him off. Likely, the first person perspective was just a method of hiding the character's face (after all, the mirror also obscures his face) until the end reveal, and the final game will retain a third person view.
Or maybe the final game will have the option for first or third person.
Reshaping a niche game for the mass market
I'm also worried that using Norman Reedus is an attempt to appeal to the Walking Dead audience. No offense to Walking Dead or its fans (I've never watched the show, but I've heard that it's very good), but zombie hordes is exactly what we don't want in Silent Hill!
With Kojima, del Toro, and Norman Reedus' involvement (and maybe even Ryan Gosling?), it is apparent that Konami is pulling out all the stops on this production. The amount of money being used to hire celebrity talent and to virally promote the game with fake demo teasers means that Konami will need this game to perform exceptionally well commercially. Which makes this a "Triple-A" title. Something that historically hasn't worked well with horror gaming. Horror is a niche genre, and trying to cater to a mass-market demographic often means taming the more horrific elements - especially the intellectual and psychological ones - in favor of action, gore, and jump-scares.
Look what happened to Resident Evil.
That series was dying a slow and painful death. Then the developers began working on a new, more action-oriented project that was eventually rebranded with the "Resident Evil" name. Resident Evil 4 was a radical departure from the rest of the series, but it became immensely popular. The game is exceptionally well-designed, and it is a great game. Or at least, it's a great action game. It's not a very good horror game. And it's especially not a very good survival horror game.
I fear the same fate may lie in wait for Silent Hill: the series could be rebranded as a shooter to cater to the mass market, leaving its horror roots behind. These fears are somewhat tamed by the fact that the "P.T." demo is pure horror without any action at all.
"P.T." is a short and simple ghost story. No repressed memories or cult influences that I noticed.
But this does lead to the question of whether or not Kojima's team will continue the trend of making games based around a character's repressed guilt rather than maintaining the occult influences that were so very critical to the narratives and themes of the original games. After all, the occult elements of the original games get mixed opinions even from the fans, so Konami might try to play it safe with the larger public by avoiding such a taboo topic. The "story" of "P.T." doesn't give us much in the way of clues. It is a short and simple ghost story about a house possessed by a murdered wife, but it has nothing to do with occultism.
But then again, Kojima doesn't shy away from paranormal and conspiratorial elements in his Metal Gear Solid games, and those elements have many similarities with occultism.
"Silent Hills": plural?
Probably the single most immediately bothersome detail about this game (from my standpoint) is its working title: Silent Hills. With an "s" at the end. Plural.
While some have interpreted this to mean that the game may be released as a series of episodes rather than a single game, I think it has more significance to the game's content.
The plural title implies to me that the game's designers are already committed to a depiction of the titular town as some kind of multiple universe, which is a common fan interpretation. I do not share this interpretation with the large portion of the Silent Hill fanbase - an opinion that leads to ridicule and vitriol from those who ardently insist that the Otherworld is a parallel dimension.
Cryptic text in the game hints at multiple physical realities.
Other evidence within the demo also corroborates this impression. In the opening cutscene, text implies that there are multiple realities. A monologue at the end of the teaser also talks about a dad who murdered his family, and the son talks about coming back and bringing new toys with him. I don't know what all this was about, but I am very unhappy to see such strong hints towards multiple realities.
I feel that this interpretation confuses the narratives of Silent Hill by adding unnecessary complexity, as well as diluting the influence of the key element of the series' overarching plot: the cult's attempts to rebirth its god and bring about paradise. Interpreting the games' nightmarish landscapes and monsters as simple delusions or the products of an "evil" parallel universe diminishes the objectives of the cult. I also feel that it contradicts specific evidence and events in the game.
If this is the direction that Kojima's team is going, then it is very disappointing to me, as I was specifically hoping that any future games in the series would move away from multiple dimensions and back towards occultism and demons.
Silver linings: a good game, regardless?
Alright, I think I've got all of my purist complaints out - for now. Is there anything for fans like me to be happy about?
As I mentioned in my earlier post regarding the Kojima rumors, we can at least look forward to a much more stable and competant game from an engineering standpoint. Say what you will about Kojima's story and gameplay design chops, but the man's work is always up to the highest standards of production quality!
I would expect a Kojima-produced game to look good, sound good, play well, be stable, and even push the boundaries of innovation a little bit. That by itself would be a huge step up from the post-Team Silent games that have already been released.
And I have to say that the "P.T." demo itself is actually quite good - aside from the assinine final puzzle. A lot of detail is packed into the little hallway that the game takes place in, and that hallway looks pretty spectacular. I haven't played any games on the new consoles, so I don't know how "P.T."'s graphics stand up to other "next-gen" title, but it looked pretty damned good to me! My only complaint was with the very fuzzy wall paintings, but I'm pretty sure that was a deliberate decision.
The hallway is almost a character in and of itself, and it is gorgeously rendered in Kojima's Fox Engine.
Sound design seemed pretty good as well. There was a lot of depth in the sounds, particularly the multi-layering of the radio broadcasts and ghostly sound effects. Lighting effects are fantastic and do a great job of setting a mood and keeping the player constantly on nervous about what might be lurking in the shadows at the edge of their flashlight beam.
Even the subtle footsteps and swaying of the character added to the immersive quality. It looks and feels like you are really walking through that hallway, carefully scanning its nooks and crannies with your flashlight.
And best of all, the game is slow, methodical, and immersive, and it gave me periodic goosebumps. It takes its time slowly building up tension and playing some nifty mind tricks on the player. Each iteration through the hallway provided subtle changes in detail and clues as to how to proceed if you were paying attention. It requires the player to engage their senses and be very aware of the environment around them. It pulls you in and is very engaging up until the asinine final "puzzle" that took about 2 hours to "solve".
And in addition to all that, "P.T." is also loaded with possible references and allusions to previous games and their influences. The ghost is reminiscient of the ghosts in The Room, there's a "red hallway" maze that reminded me of the Boorley Haunted Mansion in 3, roaches are a recurring theme from 2, radio static is back, and so on. But none of these references felt like fan service or rip offs in the same way that Origins' Butcher was just a sloppy and lazy reskin of Pyramid Head, or how every post-Team Silent game's story after The Room was a rehash of 2's repressed memory and guilty conscious tropes. "P.T."'s inspirations from the original games are subtle, such that you probably wouldn't immediately recognize them as being "Silent Hill" if you didn't already know it was a Silent Hill game, but there's still a vague familiarity.
I was disappointed by the reliance on jump scares later on. But "P.T." takes its time getting there, and they are used effectively, so they feel more like a payoff rather than a cheap gimmick.
If this is the direction that the developers are going with Silent Hills, then fans can expect to get a great, pure horror game, regardless of whether it fits into the overarching Silent Hill narrative.
Possible involvement from Team Silent?
It might even be possible that Kojima will bring back some of the veteran talent from the original Team Silent. Akira Yamaoka has already expressed an interest in working on the project. There's also a petition circulating around the web asking for Kojima to reinstate the original Team Silent.
This is a well-intentioned petition, but there's a slight chance that it might not be necessary. Kojima might already have some of the original creative team!
At the end of the demo, when the "Silent Hills" title is displayed, there are two white screens that show lists of names of people who, presumably, are working on the game's development. A careful examination of this list reveals something very interesting: the first and / or last names of some of the key members of Team Silent are embedded within the list of staff.
Is the Playable Teaser's staff credits a clue that Team Silent is coming back?
I wouldn't put it past Kojima...
- "Masahiro" and "Ito" = the creature designer and art director of Silent Hill 1-3.
- "Akihiro" = first name of Akihiro Imamura, the producer of Silent Hill 2.
- "Hiroyuki" = first name of Hiroyuki Owaku, writer for Silent Hill 1-3.
- "Akira" = first name of Akira Yamaoka, sound director of every Silent Hill up until Downpour.
There are also other names in the list that are similar to the names of original Team Silent staffers.
Now, I realize that this is a bit of a stretch. I looked up some of the names on Google, and they all appear to be actual game developers (some of which had credits in other Kojima games). But before you dismiss this, consider the following:
It is possible that Kojima picked these names intentionally as a hint, regardless of whether the listed individuals are actually working on the Silent Hills project. It's a long-shot, but I wouldn't put it past Kojima.
I also consider this a possibility since we rarely (if ever) see a list of developer credits along with a teaser or demo for a game. If the game is coming from a big-name designer like Will Wright, Sid Meier, Goichi Suda (Suda 51), Peter Molyneux, Shinji Mikami, Hideo Kojima, or someone of that ilk, then you might see that one name printed big and bold on promotional material. But never the whole team.
Kojima really wanted players to see these names! It could be that he is just very proud of this team; or there could be something else going on.
It's also worth pointing out that several Team Silent staffers have already worked for Kojima, including Kazuhide Nakazawa and Suguru Murakoshi. So Kojima already has a professional relation with part of that team. But neither of them is on this list, unfortunately.
Now, I want to emphasize that I do not believe that this little theory of mine is correct. I think it's probably just the actual credits of the developers for the "P.T." demo being listed here, since there isn't an actual "P.T." game in which they can get credited for later. This is, after all, basically an independent side-project, and the people who made it definitely deserve credit. But the names did stand out to me when I first saw them, so I wanted to at least point it out.
Feel free to watch my first playthrough of "P.T.", which I recorded on Twitch.
Be advised: this is not a walkthrough or a speed run, and I didn't know the solutions to the puzzles, so there is a lot of me walking back and forth trying to figure out what is going on...
Cautious optimism is advised
So while Silent Hill fans can likely rest assured that we will see the best post-Team-Silent game from a technical and production value standpoint, it remains to be seen whether the game can hold up from a creative, "canonical" standpoint.
Obviously, I can't get too excited or too angry until more details about the game surface. It's not due out till 2016 at the earliest - and with Kojima's talent for delays, it probably won't hit till closer to 2020! That's plenty of time for the creative team to hopefully figure out what really made the original games tick.
For now, I am cautiously optimistic. And maybe I'll give myself more nightmare fuel by playing through "P.T." a few more times in the meantime.
UPDATE (September 23, 2014 3:30 PM Pacific Time):
New Silent Hills teaser video released at last week's Tokyo Game Show
Last week, Konami and Hideo Kojima presented a new teaser video for Silent Hill at the Tokyo Game Show. I was going to write a post about my impressions from this video, but there's not enough new information to warrant a whole new post. You can view the video below:
The new video is very short, and doesn't give away much in terms of the narrative direction of the new game. In fact, it's probably just another "proof of concept" project, and not actually representative of the final product.
The hallway shown does look like it could possibly be the hallway of a school (or maybe a daycare). If it is a school, could it be a return to the familiar Midwhich Elementary?
The video does include a monster; however, there is no combat. Instead, the player is forced to run away through reality-defying doorway into a seemingly bottomless stairway. So we still don't know if creature combat is in or not. But we can add running to the list of actions that player might be able to perform.
From what I've heard, Kojima stated that the team is considering releasing the game in episodic format, citing TV season scheduling as an inspiration. I guess I can consider this good news, since it seems to imply that fan speculation regarding the plural title suggesting episodic release was true, which means that my speculation of multiple dimensions may not be true. Or they could both be true. We just don't know yet.
We also don't know if the individual episodes are going to be chapters of a continuing story, such that the putting all the chapters together creates a single, seamless game - think of Telltale's Back to the Future and Walking Dead games. It's also possible that each chapter will be a completely self-contained mini-game with little or no relation to one another. In a recent blog (regarding what Silent Hill is about), I noted that I'd rather not see Silent Hill turn into the video game equivalent of The Twilight Zone, but since this new video seems to have no connection to the previously-released P.T. demo, it looks like this is the direction that Kojima may be going.
Again, the content of the video itself looks promising. But everything around it is very worrisome.