Thursday, May 13, 2010

Silent Hill: Homecoming made me cry

And not in a good way.  Continuing my apparent theme of 'Japan is awesome', I must admit I was sorely disappointed by this game.  While it starts of with allusions to Silent Hill 2, it quickly devolves into knife fights with sexy nurses, strange sound effects and enigmatic dialogue.  I didn't mind the dialogue in Silent Hill 2 - it sounded like you were listening to half a conversation.  I do have a problem with lines like, "This your hometown?"  "You could say that."  Either it is or it isn't, boyo.  Don't try to be smart with me, you young whippersnapper!

But you see, you see... It's lost its horror and turned into an action-adventure with poor lighting.  We only encountered 3 types of enemies in our hour-long play session - giant scarabs (I'm not afraid of bugs, so not especially scary), sexy nurses with the wrong sound effects, and weird fish-men with sideways mouths.  Everything died.  Hit it enough times with a pipe, and it goes down.  There were whisperings of Pyramid Head, but he didn't appear, and I was disappointed.  I guess even our stoic main character wouldn't dream up something that weird.

And, it may just be me, but having read the Wikipedia plot entry for Homecoming out of frustration, I think Silent Hill 2 kind of ruined that storyline.  It was amazing.  Beautiful, sad, intricately related to psychology.  Any time I pick up a new Silent Hill game it seems like the focus is on killin' stuff, and not the character development that made Silent Hill 2 such a pain to get the perfect ending in.  The sexy nurses were a big part of the storyline, not just a generic enemy, and what they were told you a lot about the main character's psyche.  Everything did.

So it's a little shallow to pretend that our new hero can take them down with a hefty lead pipe.  At least the sideways fish-men show some semblance of relating to the deeper story, but when you need to rely on previously-used enemies to inspire terror, you may be doing something wrong, especially in as well-known a franchise as Silent Hill.  The idea of those first games was that no one had ever seen anything like it.  Now the enemies are commonplace, and when they can be bested with a few well-placed sucker punches, that's a good sign you're missing the point.

Silent Hill 2 and, by extension, the Silent Hill movie, were never about a real town called Silent Hill.  It was a place you wound up when the rest of your life was an absolute mess.  It's a symbol of the retreat into the self, for not wanting to have to deal with something too painful to feel.  It's full of your darkest desires and fears.  Those can't be beaten with a crowbar.  You can't subjugate lust with a combat knife, although I suppose you can technically end it, but even then, the feeling remains.  It reminds me of one of my favourite Princess Bride quotes: "Death cannot stop true love.  All it can do is delay it for a while."

Playing through a Silent Hill game should be like falling in love.  Slow, subtle, enticing, and captivating.  You shouldn't know you're enthralled until you are, and then it's too late to pull away.  You're irrevocably changed.  Forget the 10-minute anxiety rule, forget twisting the familiar to make it obscene, forget surprise noises in the dark.  Make me a different person.  Make me make choices I would never choose.  Make me feel the helplessness that's ever-present, in some aspect of my life, and help me release it as catharsis.  That is not healed by beating up monsters.  Uncertainty and doubt aren't cured by holding a handgun.  The only way out is through, and there's nowhere that's more evident than in Silent Hill.

Make me a different person.  Maybe then I'll learn to be a better person.  Show me loss, so I know that someone else understands.  Horror games aren't just about being afraid.  They're about the dark parts of the soul that we all fear we have.  Take me there, then show me who I really am.  I won't mind.  That's why I'm here.  You've been expecting me.  Right?

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