I’m a sucker for horror games, so I jumped at a recent opportunity to watch a short demo of Konami’s upcoming PS3 survival-horror epic Silent Hill: Downpour. In a development applauded by series fans, Downpour strongly emphasizes creeping psychological horror over the twitchy action of recent entries like Silent Hill: Homecoming.
You play as Murphy, a maximum-security inmate with a deeply troubled past. You awaken on the fringes of the cursed town of Silent Hill after your prison transport bus crashes. True to Silent Hill form, you’ll spend the rest of the game evading the town’s monstrous denizens while piecing together Murphy’s deepest secrets — including the dark truths that brought him to Silent Hill.
I spoke with Producer Devin Shatsky, who answered some key questions while playing through the first section of the game. If you have questions, leave them in the comments and I’ll do my best to get you answers!
PlayStation.Blog: From an interface perspective, how is Downpour different from the last game in the series, Homecoming?
Devin Shatsky, Producer, Silent Hill: Downpour: We’ve gone with a more realistic weapon and inventory system. In past Silent Hill gamess, you had this magic pocket where you could carry a full arsenal of weaponry — Uzis, swords, hammers and more. That took away from the player’s suspension of disbelief, but it also empowered the player a bit too much and it impacts the scare factor. In Downpour, you’re limited to carrying what’s in your hands, plus a holstered firearm. You’ll want to use your weapons carefully. Each weapon is breakable, so wooden weapons will break after a couple of hits while metal weapons will last longer. Most weapons are everyday items: rakes, bottles, kitchen knives. There are no katanas or the like in this game.
The health system has also seen quite a few changes. There’s no HUD; all that information is tied directly to the character, so he’ll limp, bleed, his clothing will develop holes…we tried to focus as much on realism as possible.
PSB: In Homecoming, your character came from a military background and that reflected itself in the action-centric combat system. How is Downpour changing that?
DS: Yep. In Homecoming, you played a somewhat more badass character. But in Downpour, Murphy is more of an everyman. He’s far from a tough guy. He can fend for himself, but overall he veers much closer to the protagonist of Silent Hill 2. You’ll want to run from enemies more than usual: you may be able to stand toe-to-toe with one enemy, but if you’re outnumbered, the best strategy is to run.
PSB: What lessons did Konami learn from Silent Hill: Homecoming?
DS: It was reviewed fairly well by the critics and it’s definitely a good game. But I think that Silent Hill fans expect a game that veers more psychological horror versus a lot of combat. Homecoming was a fairly combat-heavy game, which turned off certain fans. There’s a dichotomy among survival-horror players: the Resident Evil fans tend to prefer heavy combat, and Silent Hill fans tend to prefer slower, exploration-based horror. There’s still combat in Downpour, but it’s not nearly as frequent as in Homecoming.
PSB: Which Silent Hill game would you say most closely compares to Downpour?
DS: Definitely Silent Hill 2. Downpour has a standalone story that’s not tied to any other Silent Hill game, so it’s taking the broader concept back to its roots. Silent Hill 2 was one of the big fan favorites in the series, so we took elements that were appealing in that game and integrated them here.
PSB: Will classic enemies such as the Puppet Nurses be returning in any form?
DS: No. In Silent Hill games, the monsters are directly tied to the protagonist’s background, so the enemies in this game all have meaning to Murphy. We won’t be shoehorning in Pyramid Head or the nurses just to do it. It wouldn’t make sense. That could be seen as a mistake of Homecoming — the developers paid fan service by introducing monsters from previous games, but it didn’t really make sense. The core fans called us out on that, and rightfully so.
PSB: But the iconic white fog will return, right?
DS: Definitely. Fog is a visual trademark of Silent Hill, but the main visual theme of Downpour is water. We’ve got a cool randomized weather system that impacts the gameplay: when the weather ramps up, so do the amount of monsters. So if the weather goes to hell, you might want to head indoors and find a place to hide…
PSB: I’m seeing some open-world influences in the environment designs here. Is that my imagination?
DS: The town is completely explorable. The previous games was a series of locked doors that tended to discourage players from exploring. Downpour has a lot of side quests that aren’t tied to the core linear storyline. You might stumble across a room that triggers a side quest, and completing it might reveal a new bit of Silent Hill lore.
PSB: Longtime Silent Hill composer Akira Yamaoka is no longer with the company. Who will be filling in for audio design?
DS: When Akira Yamaoka left the company, we were forced to look elsewhere. The sound design is handled by Nathan McCree, who has worked on Tomb Raider and it an extremely effective audio designer. In terms of the music score, we hired a Dan Licht, who scores the show Dexter. He’s a great fit for the series. We sought him out because we were huge fans of Dexter and thought he’d get Silent Hill. One great detail is that Dan is a highly accomplished mandolin player, and Akira Yamaoka used to incorporate a lot of mandolin as well, so it’s a perfect fit.
On a side note, we also signed up Korn to perform the title song for Silent Hill Downpour. It’s not a heavy metal sound, it’s a very different sound for Korn. They’ve actually sort of changed gears lately in terms of their sound. But they’re only doing the intro song, not the in-game music.
PSB: How is work on the Silent Hill HD Collection coming along?
DS: We’ll be releasing the Silent Hill HD Collection for PS3 in the first quarter of 2012, and it’ll include HD versions of Silent Hill 2 and Silent Hill 3. And for PS Vita, we’ll have Silent Hill: Book of Memories for the launch timeframe. For the PS Vita game, forget everything you know about Silent Hill. Book of Memories is a completely new experience, a multiplayer dungeon crawl that brings in a lot of cool elements from the series. It’s not a hack job with Silent Hill slapped on the box — it’s a very cool game in its own right and it explores interesting elements from the series.