The latest installment in publisher Konami's Silent Hill series, Silent Hill: Book of Memories, comes out for Sony's PlayStation Vita portable console next week. Developer WayForward (maker of Contra 4 for the Nintendo DS, A Boy and His Blob for the Wii) is trying something different with its contribution to the well-worn horror franchise, trading in the traditional formula of "let me wander around this foggy town and holy shit, genital monsters" for something more like "let me, the player, control a guy wandering around a series of rusty dungeons in an isometric viewpoint, leveling up my character, collecting loot, and holy shit, genital monsters."
I played the demo for Book of Memories when it came out last week, and while I knew that it had taken a turn toward Diablo and Torchlight territory, it still looks like Silent Hill. The environments are suitably ruined and creepy, the music (courtesy of Silent Hill: Downpour composer Daniel Licht) sounds right, and a series of nurses and split-faced dogs fell beneath the blows of my trusty steel pipe. But on the whole, the demo bored me, and I spent the whole time I was playing it wondering how anyone decided to go this route with the franchise.
Then again, Silent Hill has tried this shit before.
The aforementioned Downpour, which came out for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 earlier this year, is very similar to previous entries: You play as a guy who gets lost in the Worst Town in America (sorry, Cleveland!) and has to beat a bunch of monsters to death to discover a Deep Dark Secret.
Where Downpour mixes it up, however, is that once you get to the eponymous hellscape, Downpour turns into an open-world game, complete with side missions and no idea where the fuck you're supposed to be going. Regardless of how I make that sound, I thought that the confusion and exploration added something new to the series. I really felt like I was discovering Silent Hill again, especially after some of the previous games more or less drew a dot-to-dot on my map and walked me through it point by point.
Not all of the series' diversions from the norm have worked so well, though. Look at this freaking thing:
In 2007, Konami released a Silent Hill-themed arcade rail shooter in Japan (it came out in Europe the following year). Why? Maybe because it had been a few years since The Room came out, and not making a Silent Hill game that did not actually take place in Silent Hill hadn't been a big enough departure for the series. Still, how much easier would the previous titles have been if Harry Mason or James Sunderland could have just fired their guns off-screen to instantly refill their ammo?
The Silent Hill series has seen its share of twists and turns, and Book of Memories should come as no real surprise at this point. But I still have to wonder why, in the same year that gave us Diablo III and Torchlight II, Konami would throw one of its most beloved franchises into the dungeon-crawler arena.
I'm pretty sure the next game in the series will be some elaborate combination of Tetris and Sudoku.
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