What’s scarier than knowing what’s coming? What you didn’t see the first time.
In the wake of Hideo Kojima’s P.T., which actually turned out to be a teaser for Silent Hills, the discussion of what constitutes true horror has come up. Many people expressed disappointment with the game for having jump scares but it still embodied the psychological horror that Silent Hill is so well known. It’s actually possible that Silent Hills may end up being one of the scariest games of all time. This is due to Kojima’s experience with the Metal Gear Solid series, believe it or not.
When Amnesia: The Dark Descent had released, it signalled a return to true blue horror. None of the action adventure, over the shoulder shooting here – you solved puzzles, confronted an unstoppable monster that could appear anywhere, at any time and tried your level best to survive. In fact, survival was the only base instinct one could revert since there was a complete deprivation of other information. Who are you? Why are you being chased? Will this ever end? Will you find any answers before it does and achieve some form of meaning with your brief existence? Amnesia was smart enough to keep it simple and while it’s an amazing horror experience, it’s still caught within the confines of a linear experience.
"But one of the key elements of horror lays in the unexpected. You can't be surprised if you've played through it once and know what to expect."
The same is the case with Red Barrels’ Outlast, one of the most terrifying things this generation. Rather than take a nuanced approach, the developer went balls to the walls with terror. Escape sequences, peppered with obstacles and running; stealth sequences wherein you had to avoid a specific inmate/monster in order to activate some machinery; and so on. Some sequences were just too bizarre to even categorize – often times, you’d be freaked out by simply walking in on what inmates were doing or in your encounters with the demented cast. The problem? In order to achieve that level of horror, Outlast was a highly linear experience. Make no mistake, you could and should play it multiple times.
But one of the key elements of horror lays in the unexpected. You can’t be surprised if you’ve played through it once and know what to expect. The most you can do is up the difficulty and surprise yourself with how much harder it is the second (or third) time around. And there’s not a lot of horror to be derived from taking one stab to die versus two.
That’s why Silent Hills has us so excited. If you’ve played P.T., you’ll notice that no two people have the exact same scares. Some people see the ghost of Lisa (?) in the bathroom mirror. Others have encountered her up close in the hallways. She may be upstairs, peeking out over the railing and observing you, always with that sick smile on her face. The most unnerving part? When you go to switch off the radio and a dastardly voice tells you to “look behind you”. What’s there? Nothing. Or there most definitely will be something. It’s insane and in a very good way.
"Silent Hills - if it indeed takes place from the first person perspective - subverts this because it's a Silent Hill game. You rightfully don't know what to expect."
Kojima did make sure to stuff a bunch of other non-typical horror elements as well. Some elements of the scenery change as you observe them closer. The lighting will alter. You’ll need to take a non-linear approach at some paints. There are experiments with motion as well as you suddenly speed up in a blur-induced spell, witnessing eyeballs spinning in paintings. While it has been indicated that the gameplay is not representative of the final product, we can only hope that this is indeed Kojima’s approach.
Horror games, for better or worse, need a shake-up. It was novel three years ago to do a first person horror title that had you on the edge of your seat at all times, listening for each little sound to make sure you didn’t get got. Now it’s been done to death. Silent Hills – if it indeed takes place from the first person perspective – subverts this because it’s a Silent Hill game. You rightfully don’t know what to expect. Mix that with Kojima’s own brand of madness (remember Metal Gear Solid 2?) and you have a solution that’s potent enough to appease even the most hardened horror fans.
Because if there’s one thing we need more than anything in the horror genre right now, it’s the unexpected and being completely unprepared each and every time.