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Scared stiff: Why should we care about Silent Hill: Homecoming?

Jason Dobson

Konami's Silent Hill franchise has forgotten more about keeping us hiding beneath our covers than most games will ever know. Even EA's own Glen Schofield tips his hat to the series, telling us earlier this week that he considers the 1999 PlayStation original to be among his favorite survival horror games ever. But after nearly a decade of stumbling through the fog, it's easy to feel that the dilapidated burg of Silent Hill has gotten a bit too long in the tooth.

For the series' sixth installment, Konami has handed the blood-soaked baton over to external developer Double Helix Games, a recent mash-up of The Collective and Shiny Entertainment. The result is this fall's upcoming release, Silent Hill: Homecoming, and we recently puzzled our way out of mist long enough to ask the game's lead designer, Jason Allen, just why we should care about this latest return trip to Silent Hill.

We began things by asking Allen what he considers to be his favorite example of survival horror done right, a question he was initially apprehensive to answer. "That's a tough question," he told us. "I'm always loathe to pick a favorite amongst the many titles I've played."

He went on to describe two series that "have always left an indelible mark" on the developer's psyche. "The first," he began, "was the System Shock series on PC. It [had] one of the best atmospheres of any game I've played; truly capturing the feeling abandonment."

"Our mandate was not to change the existing game but to improve on certain elements whilst maintaining the core experience."

"Secondly for generating fear," he added, "the Fatal Frame series I've always felt was one of the greatest... The first time I played the game, I couldn't play it alone and at night. I had to wait for daylight before I'd brave those dark hallways." This last bit made us chuckle, if only to know that we were not the only ones to come away terrified by Tecmo's take on interactive horror.

But of course, Allen's heart at the moment belongs to Silent Hill. "I felt it has the greatest depth of characterizations and the most compelling narratives of all the survival horror games I've played." But will this carry over with his team's own telling of the Silent Hill mythos?

"Our mandate was not to change the existing game but to improve on certain elements whilst maintaining the core experience," commented the game's lead designer, who told us of his belief that when it comes to survival horror two "prime components" are puzzles and fighting.

Of course, some explanation is in order. "Very often the puzzles are abstractions and have little to do with the core of the narrative. We've tried to focus on making the puzzles an integral part of the narrative experience; to ensure that the reason for solving the puzzle and the puzzle's construction are understandable in the context of the journey."

He continued: "Secondly, we've tried to focus on making the combat more accessible to casual gamers, whilst providing depth for the more experienced players. That said, Silent Hill has always focused more on the narrative elements of survival horror and not simply been about killing the next monster."

"We've tried to focus on making the puzzles an integral part of the narrative experience."

He had us right up until he dropped the dreaded C-word, leaving us hoping that by taking a more casual approach to combat, the devs will somehow keep from dumbing it down. Still, Allen reassured us somewhat, however, noting that "the team has always strived to maintain that distinctive Silent Hill experience, and it's that experience unique to this series that sets it apart from the rest of the games within this genre."

As it stands, we remain hopeful that Double Helix will manage recapture the series' near-trademark sense of dread and leave us shopping for a change of pants when Silent Hill: Homecoming ships for the Xbox 360 and PS3 this September.

For now, however, we look to wrap up our look at some of 2008's most notable survival horror titles tomorrow by analyzing just how creepy little girls can be in Monolith's upcoming follow-up to F.E.A.R., Project Origin.

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