By now you likely know the story of P.T., the interactive demo released for PS4 during Gamescom 2014 that turned out to be a teaser for the next Silent Hill game, entitled Silent Hills. The teaser revealed that the game will be a joint collaboration between Hideo Kojima and Guillermo del Toro, and that it will star Walking Dead’s Norman Reedus. That’s some serious star power, but will a real actor like Reedus be able to live up to the digital performances of Silent Hill’s past?
One could look back at Reedus’s filmography for reference — a selection of minor roles and a cult following thanks to Boondock Saints — but we all know it’s his role as Daryl Dixon that landed him the job as new protagonist of Silent Hill. His troubled but lovable hillbilly character is one of the show’s highlights, and certainly Reedus’s best work by quite a large margin. I wouldn’t call Daryl Silent Hill protag material, though, especially when you compare him to the more muted heroes of the series past.
From Harry Mason in the original game, to James Sunderland in Silent Hill 2, all the way to Murphy Pendleton in Downpour, the leading roles of the series have always been plain, ordinary, soft-spoken guys. They’re everymen with dark issues at their hearts. Daryl certainly has his share of darkness, and he keeps to himself, but placed beside Silent Hill’s men he may as well be a clown on a unicycle juggling flaming chickens. He is a well-defined character, where Silent Hill’s protagonists are boring and ill-defined by design. They’re meant to be ciphers to a certain extent, allowing anyone in the audience to place themselves within the role and suffer alongside them.
Place Daryl directly into Silent Hill’s world and make him the star, and you may run into issues. If your playable character is larger than life, than the scares lose some of their bite. Suddenly his dilemmas are a bit less relatable, and the character is no longer “you” but someone else. That works fine for many games, but the most enjoyable horror protagonists of the past have always been relatable. They’re regular people like you or I, reacting to a terrible situation in the same way you’d expect.
That said, the game industry is maturing at a rapid rate. What passed as a perfect Silent Hill protagonist in the past may come off as “yet another generic white guy” in our more diversified culture. A plain, white, male “cipher” may be relatable for me, a white male, but it isn’t for a bunch of other people. Maybe it’s time the generic cipher role dies altogether.
The real answer for Silent Hills may be to start fresh — and for a series looking to dust off those old bones with some new names, it’s time for some changes. Rather than crafting a boring cipher character for the player to relate to, it might be time to create a well-defined, three dimensional protagonist that simply acts believably. It worked for The Last of Us, after all. Those characters weren’t trying to be anybody but themselves, but we bought into them because they felt real.
With any luck, the team at Konami is hard at work crafting this well-defined horror protagonist. And hopefully, with Kojima and del Toro at the helm, his pathos are even more dark and disturbing than anything we’ve seen in the past. Perhaps most importantly, though, I hope we can buy into this character when it has Norman Reedus’s mug plastered all over its polygons. It sounds like a big challenge, and I sincerely hope that Reedus is up for the task.
Enjoy random thoughts about the latest games, the Sega Saturn, or the occasional movie review? Follow me @JoeDonuts!