I liked what one of the developers of the next, creepy Silent Hill recently had to say about guns. His team's new game will have guns, but not the way most games have guns.
"We're treating the gun like the gun in The Road by Cormac McCarthy," Brian Gomez, Silent Hill: Downpour's design director said, referring to the acclaimed novel about post-apocalyptic survival. "There is a gun, but there are only three bullets, so how are you going to use them?"
I believe Gomez wasn't being literal. Downpour will have more than three bullets. But I know what he's saying, and I like it.
Gomez and two other men on the creative team for one of the next notable Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 horror games, this year's Silent Hill: Downpour, showed me a slice of the game at E3 earlier this month. Like good game previewers, they said the right things while showing something promising. It's a game that, series fans will probably be happy to hear, doesn't operate with the rush of an action game. It's a crawl in darkness.
This new Silent HIll, made by Konami and the young Czech studio Vatra Games, is bleak and spooky. Its lead character is Murphy Pendleton, a prisoner who crawls himself out of a crashed prison bus to find himself on the outskirts of the town of Silent Hill.
Gomez and his colleagues showed Pendleton using a flashlight as he carefully explored the dark town, solved some puzzles and, later, fended off monstrous enemies. They said they wanted to make a game that felt like classic Silent Hill, but felt they could do it without filling the game with Pyramid Head, creepy nurses or other series hallmarks. Instead, they promise a new adventure but one that will be true to the rhythms of, say, a Silent Hill 2.
They want players to focus on exploration and survival, and they want to spare them some old Silent Hill frustrations. You shouldn't expect to find doors that won't open. See a door... enter it. You won't have to waste time finding keys. See a lock...bash it open with a crow bar. You shouldn't expect to be stymied by puzzles or combat, each of which can be tuned by the player to different difficulty levels. And you won't have to worry about simplicity. If a player cranks the puzzle difficulty to high, Pendleton will stop muttering hints.
I watched the developers make Pendleton skulk through shacks and a tram station. A mailman showed up out of nowhere, and he certainly seemed creepy. We got to a diner which was transformed in a flash into a nightmare version of the "real" world, a transformation to a different reality that the developers promise will seem more warped as the game progresses. Nightmare versions of the world will eventually seem as if they were designed by M.C. Escher, they teased.
And through it all, Pendleton will have to be a survivor. He won't be a hero with a big arsenal of guns. He'll be armed with what he can carry in his hands (thankfully he can latch his flashlight to his belt). His melee weapons will break. And his enemies will probably send him running, as was the case with a pair of "screamers" that tried to distract and then attack our hero. Pendleton can fight, but it's going to be tough. When it rains, as it will often do thanks to the game's randomized weather system, even more aggressive enemies will show up.
Most of the story of this game is a mystery for now. Part of the point of playing a Silent Hill is to figure out what is going on—and even who our protagonist is. That's the case here too in what the developers say is physically the largest Silent Hill yet, in terms of indoor and outdoor spaces. Size isn't the chief quality that makes a game of this type good, of course. It's writing and mood, pacing and the ability to instill fear in the player. The potential is there for a wonderfully unpleasant journey, a game in which bullets won't help much and where the joy will emerge via a bleak quest to survive a new visit to the demented Silent Hill.