Bloober Team Isn’t The Right Studio For Silent Hill
We’ll never return to the glory days of Silent Hill. P.T. came close, although a nasty break-up between Konami and Hideo Kojima ensured the full version of this ambitious effort never saw the light of day, and everything else we’ve seen outside of Team Silent’s original quartet of classics has been riddled with mediocrity. Silent Hill Origins and Shattered Memories were solid attempts at recapturing the magic, but a willingness to hurl the property at inexperienced Western studios only helped cement the series’ cement its ruined reputation, an icon that would spend the rest of its days failing to reach its once immeasurable heights.
Upon its initial announcement, Silent Hills felt like a dream. Hideo Kojima, Guillermo del Toro, Norman Reedus, and much of the original Team Silent were back for a project that seemed to perfectly understand the series’ brand of horror. It wasn’t about jumpscares or gore, it was all focused on a pervasive sense of dread designed to unsettle you. Even in the Playable Teaser, an unfolding mystery makes it impossible to put the controller down as desperation to uncover who you are, what this place is, and why the radio presenter is unfurling a twisted anecdote keeps the game’s claws in you. It was exquisite, and nothing has matched this benchmark of survival horror ever since.
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However, many have tried, with the cultural influence of Silent Hill bleeding into smaller indie efforts and blockbuster releases alike as they attempt to ape the aura of helpless isolation that P.T. managed to capture so perfectly. Bloober Team sits at the top of this pile, having made its name with titles like Layers of Fear, The Observer, and, most recently, The Medium. Now, Konami has announced that it is working with the studio on a yet to be announced project, and you don’t have to be a genius to work out that it’s probably Silent Hill. If this is true, I’m tremendously worried, since I don’t feel the Polish studio is the right fit for this series, especially when you take a step back and look at its most popular games.
Layers of Fear and Layers of Fear 2 both have a rather shallow view on mental illness, using the corrupt nature of one’s own mind to depict horrific imagery while also delving into supernatural elements. Blair Witch is somewhat similar, placing you in the shoes of a character with PTSD as they slowly come to terms with the fact they might have been responsible for some horrific acts in a past life. Already, you can see the inspiration from Silent Hill rearing its head, a series that was incredibly ahead of its time in the early noughties when it explored the human condition, mental paranoia, and accepting one’s own grief in a way that felt startlingly realistic. You can pick holes in it today, but for 2001, it was masterful. By comparison, Bloober Team sits in its monolithic shadow, one it could only dream of outgrowing.
I admire the studio’s ambition, and all of its games present a selection of distinct ideas that could have been excellent, but are so often held back by the clumsy handling of themes I’m unsure it has any right in addressing, at least not in their current form. The Medium, which launched earlier this year as an Xbox Series X and PC exclusive, is the most blatant example of this. It follows Marianne, a spirit medium who finds herself travelling to an abandoned Soviet-era holiday resort to uncover the truth behind an ancient evil while also delving into her own past.
On her journey she meets Sadness (yes, it really is that subtle), a young deceased girl who is heavily implied to have been molested by her father’s close friend. It’s a woefully dark piece of storytelling, and something that could have been powerful, but instead it’s tackled with not nearly enough care. Flashbacks even suggest that we should feel sympathy for the supposed paedophile after finding he himself had been experimented upon and toyed with as a child due to his own psychic powers.
This could have worked, but the act is so monstrous that expecting the player to bend over backwards and accept such absurd logic simply doesn’t work, and comes off as offensive with the way it trivialises a very real example of trauma that many people have experienced in reality. I feel games can explore these themes, but not when they’re purposefully used for the macabre. It’s tasteless, with Bloober Team’s brand of horror only serving to highlight such thematic inconsistency.
The Medium’s wider narrative also isn’t strong enough to carry this sort of heavy subject matter, concluding in a way that leaves the player to make up their own minds, instead of having the confidence to put a stamp on things in a way that matters. Once again, I can admire the tenacity on display here, but it isn’t the right attitude to tackle a series like Silent Hill, especially if Konami wants to see it become a survival horror juggernaut to rival Resident Evil. But if recent news is any indication, Bloober is going to deliver its own spin on the series, and I’ll just have to cautiously step forward and hope for the best.
According to VGC, another Silent Hill project has been outsourced to a Japanese studio, supporting rumours that some of the original staff, such as art director Masahiro Ito, are returning to the series after a long absence. Perhaps Konami is aware of the fanbase’s wariness of a Western studio taking on the property, so it’s simply playing it safe and having a more traditional entry produced alongside an experimental one. It’s the best of both worlds I suppose, as Hannah Montana would say, but why not put all of your eggs into the Japanese basket where success is far more likely.
It’s an unusual situation, and one with too many unclear factors to draw any conclusions, but I can say that Bloober Team and Silent Hill are far from a match made in heaven. I sound like a pessimist, but when I think of Silent Hill at its best my mind goes to unlikely heroes, poignant thematic storytelling, and horror with a frighteningly realistic grasp on what makes humanity fragile, and how easy it is to break. We’ll never relive the glory days of Silent Hill, so maybe it’s time we stopped trying.
Downloadable content is coming, so Resident Village needs to place the spotlight on Lady Dimitrescu.
- TheGamer Originals
- Bloober Team
- Silent Hill
- The Medium
Jade King is one of the Features Editors for TheGamer. Previously Gaming Editor over at Trusted Reviews, she can be found talking about games, anime and retweeting Catradora fanart @KonaYMA6.
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