As we saw back at E3, Silent Hill: Downpour evokes the feel of old Silent Hill games, by sending its protagonist Murphy into the familiar town, where he finds monsters, creepiness, and all sorts of dangerous puzzles. But producer Tomm Hulett says this version of the game isn't just about revisiting the setting of the old titles -- he's trying to collect some new fans as well.
"Bringing Silent Hill into sort of a modern game, for old fans, mainstream, for new fans, whatever, it's interesting," he told us at a recent preview event. "Because you need to keep those classic elements but you need to make them interesting for people who are used to Dead Space or Red Dead."
To that end, Downpour has a few systems in it designed to make sure that the new game not only lives up to the Silent Hill franchise, but allows newer players (and even those who just want a good scare) to experience all the frightening fun, too.
At certain times during the game, Murphy will essentially get free run of large sections of town. "The old games, the first two, Origins a little bit," said Hulett, "you had this big town to explore. And at the time it felt great, you had this enormous city, and it really felt like you were there. But you couldn't really go in any buildings, you couldn't do anything of consequence." So Downpour opens things up a few times during the game, and gets back to that sense of exploration.
Exploration, however, isn't enough these days. "We need to modernize it a bit," said Hulett. "And make sure there's things to do, and so we came up with the sidequests." Sidequests in Downpour occur in certain buildings: in one example, Murphy enters an apartment building, and finds a (repentant) thief who's hung himself in the back room. He's got a cache of items from the apartment building's other tenants, and Murphy can then go replace those items in the correct apartments for a reward.
What kind of reward? Silent Hill, as a survival horror game, naturally doesn't give a lot of resources to its player, so finishing a sidequest can really help out. "It could be a cache of items, three health packs. That's a big reward now," Hulett said. "Or it could be a really good shotgun -- you've never seen a shotgun in the game, and through a sidequest you find a shotgun."
Some rewards might even unlock what Hulett calls "title screen rewards," like a new video or a new feature accessible from the main menu. "It's not going to be this weird gamey thing where it's like, 'Find all the trinkets and you'll unlock a video,'" he promises. "You should do it because you want the story and maybe a tangible item, but there will be rewards beyond that as well."
The producers of the game are also bringing back another feature for both old and new fans of the series: separate difficulties for combat and puzzles. "A lot of people really like puzzles, and Silent Hill provides really cool puzzles, but they're not good at fighting," says Hulett. "So you can set fighting to easy, puzzles to hard, you're good to go."
The difficulty also governs some of the game's atmosphere; players who set the puzzle difficulty to hard won't get as many on-screen objectives or hints about, say, where to return those lost items. On the hard puzzle difficulty, "you're just supposed to realize, 'Hey I have this item, I don't need this for the other thing I'm doing, what does this mean?' And then you'll find the note, and figure out the sidequest for yourself."
Opening the game's world up also allows for a few new features -- Downpour includes a (mostly) dynamic rain system, which allows the game to cycle through periods of relative calm and then go into (very atmospheric) full-on rainstorms. "When it's raining heavier, you'll encounter more creatures and it'll be more difficult," says Hulett. "So the onset of rain is sort of the signifier: I need to find a weapon, I need to find shelter. It provides a new sense of fear, but it fits in Silent Hill."
And the last element Konami is tweaking for both old and new players of the series is the setting's "Otherworld" environments. "In the old games, it kind of got redundant in that you explore, say, a school," explains Hulett. "And then the Otherworld would come, and you'd explore the Otherworld school, which is the same layout, but different rooms are unlocked and things are creepier. Which is great, but it's been done before." In Downpour, players still transition back and forth between worlds, but they're much more different than before. "At the beginning of the game you're in a diner, and then a shift happens and you're in the Otherworld diner. It's still a diner, but it's not the same layout; it's this weird, strange, nightmarish layout where you don't know where you're going next, you don't know what's around the next corner."
Playing through that segment is very creepy indeed -- the walls are lit with a spooky red, and walls shift, turn and stretch even as you wander through large areas with pipes running around and overhead. There are touches of the original environment, but from point to point it's unclear where you are in connection to the world that you were once in.
"Players will come to understand that they don't know what's going to happen and they have to react and escape," promised Hulett. "And that's taking a type of horror, fear that's been in the old games, but sort of enhancing and giving it a new twist. Even if you've played all the other games, these Otherworlds will feel different and scary and unusual and you'll find things that you wouldn't have expected to find."