Saturday, October 22, 2022
On Wednesday night, Konami bundled a batch of trailers into a showcase called the ‘Silent Hill: Transmission,’ a title which carried a faintly medical echo, as of something infectious. True enough, fans of the series, having been starved of their preferred strain of damp horror for many years, now look to have come down with a case of something weird. Hazed over, they don’t quite know how to feel. Last week, they had nothing. Now, they have it all. From the top: a remake of Silent Hill 2, from Bloober Team; something called Silent Hill f, set in 1960s Japan and involving, by the looks of it, homicidal foliage; a movie, Return to Silent Hill, directed by Christophe Gans; and Silent Hill: Townfall, from developer No Code.
A confession: the prospect of a remake doesn’t whip me into a frenzy. As someone who makes semi-regular trips back to Silent Hill 2, as if on a pilgrimage to a holy ruin, I happen to think it beyond improvement. Something about those milky streets and rusty basements belong to that generation of consoles, to the way its graphics seemed to grope at reality and arrive at a dreamy facsimile. As boring as it sounds, give me a patched-up port of Silent Hill HD Collection any day. By far the most exciting announcement was that of Silent Hill: Townfall, for the simple reasons that (a) it is something new, and (b) that it comes from an excellent studio.
No Code has a back catalogue of only two games: Observation and Stories Untold. However, they both adopted the underrated strategy of being very good. (Put together, those titles sound like a great brief for making a Silent Hill game – observe the series’ odd power, and tell a fresh story.) The studio’s founder and creative director, Jon McKellan, was the lead artist on Alien: Isolation, in charge of making its graphics look as though they had been chewed through a video tape. Sure enough, the trailer for Silent Hill: Townfall is scratchy with static. It features one of those pocket televisions from the 1980s, a silver brick of brushed chrome, with a pull-out aerial and a sliding frequency dial. As the camera draws slowly toward the screen on the device, which crackles with pictures of pavement, mist, and monsters, we hear a voice: “I think you’ve done something so awful that you’re stuck here in this place, to be judged by these people.”
That almost sounds like an indictment of Konami, coming under fire from its most fevered devotees. But it also rings true the peculiar premise of these games. Traditionally, some poor sap gets drawn to the town of Silent Hill, a charming New England burg with a pretty lake, quaint shop fronts, and a trademark fog that rolls in and fouls the place into a wasteland of unending dread. Often, it turns out that the sap in question ought to be just that: in question. Are they as hapless and unlucky as they first appear, lured to the town by nothing other than good intentions and bad luck, or might their stranded presence there be rooted in something sticky from the past?
No Code seems perfectly tuned to that air of private torment. Consider the heroine of Observation, Dr Emma Fisher, trapped in a space station off the shore of Saturn, having been pulled off course. As the plot proceeds, there is no escaping the distinct feeling that the pulling is personal, and that Dr Fisher’s mission was ringed with doom from the start. What is more, the developer’s knack for rustic tech is exactly what Silent Hill needs. The series has a history with radios, and with the white noise that pours out of them at the approach of something awful. Stories Untold felt true to a similar idea. Set in 1986, its narrative was told through old computers, but it tapped into the same notion – that technology was a natural conductor of the unnatural, and that all sorts of malevolence might gust through it.
In any event, if these are strange days for Silent Hill, the strangeness is nothing new. Ever since the dissolution of the original developer, Team Silent, in 2005, Konami has sought to license the series out. (Hence the dreary years of Double Helix Games, Climax Studios, and Vatra Games, the begetters of Silent Hill: Homecoming, Silent Hill: Shattered Memories, and Silent Hill: Downpour.) That decision may not have yielded fruit, but the sorry state of Silent Hill has as much to do with the studios that worked on it as it does with Konami. Now, perhaps, it doesn’t look like such a bad choice. Team Silent may be no more, and the future of these games is as unclear as it ever was, but, for the first time in a long while, an unclear future sounds like no bad thing. Forget the homecoming, shatter the memories, and start looking ahead into the fog.
Tuesday, October 25, 2022 @ 12:52 AM