A psychological horror video game about a man wrestling with the demons of his past, who finds them physically manifested in a sinister and deserted town; there he must survive encounters with misshapen monsters, and a relentless pursuer determined to force him to confront the dreadful truth about himself.
But enough about Silent Hill 2.
Yep, it’s time for yet another re-tread of my favourite video game of all time, one whose rotting and desecrated carcass has been exhumed and paraded around so many times over the two decades since Konami’s seminal release that even I’m growing weary of ogling it. The game’s tropes have become so hackneyed that it will take a truly special reimagining to breathe new life into it the formula… and I’m sorry to say that Those Who Remain is bringing little more than a faltering death rattle.
It starts promisingly: Edward Turner arrives at a seedy motel in the dead of night for a rendezvous with his mistress, consumed by feelings of guilt for cheating on his wife. But he finds the motel mysteriously abandoned, and while investigating his lover’s empty room he is horrified when someone steals his car from the parking lot. Chasing the vehicle down an ominously dark street, he realises his every step is being watched by sinister, blue-eyed beings who lurk on the periphery of the dim light from the streetlamps. If he ventures into the darkness, the silhouetted figures will drive him mad with fear, or chop him into mincemeat with their knives and pitchforks. Edward resolves to head into nearby Dormont to try to figure out what the hell is going on, knowing he dare not stray outside the light…
As well as the immediately evident Silent Hill influences, the motel and the surrounding forests give the game a distinctly Twin Peaks vibe, while the menu screen logo is a call-out to Stranger Things. All of these are favourites of mine, and I was initially excited to find out how this eerie adventure would develop… but I found my hopes unravelling faster than Edward’s sanity.
The game’s problems begin to surface even during this intriguing opening sequence. The very first ‘puzzle’ sets the tone for some of the irritating ‘search every single drawer’ gameplay that players are forced to engage with; key items glow bright green to make sure you don’t miss them, but then are secreted in frustratingly obscure places, often with no hints or entertaining clues as to which lockers or cabinets they’ll appear in.
Indeed, I often found myself completely unclear as to why I was even in a certain location, and what I was supposed to achieve there. There is no sense of purpose, like James’s tragic search for Mary that drives Silent Hill 2 – instead, Edward simply jumps from place to place, blundering around police stations, libraries and post offices opening random cupboards until he figures out a way to proceed.
As beautifully-crafted as these settings are, there is no overarching sense of place, no feeling that you’re trapped inside a (monstrously) living, breathing town; instead, you’re simply teleported through a series of unconnected buildings, robbed of the pleasure of exploring Dormont’s desolate streets or developing any sort of connection with the town as a whole.
Even Edward himself doesn’t seem particularly interested. He frequently lurches within seconds from breathless, gasping terror to laid-back wisecracks, a criticism that I remember levying at 2005’s Call Of Cthulhu: Dark Corners Of The Earth, and I think that’s one of my main gripes: it’s almost as though the development studio hasn’t actually played any of the litany of games they are trying to imitate – or, if they have, they certainly haven’t learned from them.
Time and time again, genre clichés appear with unconvincing results.
An invincible fiend stalks the player through the adventure, but after surviving encounters with countless other Pyramid-Head-inspired pursuers in the likes of Outlast, SOMA and Observer, I found Those Who Remain’s stalking baddie an insipid homage.
The creature design is more silly than scary, killing you with a half-hearted swipe when it manages to track you down, and in-keeping with the now time-honoured tradition of having a monster whose appearance mirrors the protagonist’s buried trauma, its design makes the game’s ending twist completely obvious.
The gameplay mechanic of having to stay within the light at all times makes for some unsettling moments – like when multiple pairs of eyes peer at you from the opposite side of a pitch-black room, only to disappear when you switch the light on – but it’s hardly an original idea, and has been explored much more effectively in games like last year’s A Plague Tale: Innocence, or even older titles like Alan Wake.
It also feels lazily implemented: the screen wobble when Edward approaches these hidden assailants conveys the limitations of the developer’s budget and imagination more than it hints at a man’s fraying psyche.