Bloober Team and Konami’s forthcoming Silent Hill 2 remake will feature a playable origin story for Pyramid Head, according to a Best Buy listing. Specifically it says “fan favourite character, Pyramid Head, makes a return along with a special origin story for fans to play through.” That’s pretty much all she wrote, where the much vaunted “news-reporting” aspect of this news article is concerned. Now to spend several hundred words whining about why this is probably a terrible idea.
Pyramid Head, in case, you’ve yet to have the pleasure, is a big, gnarly and apparently unkillable dude in a butcher’s smock with a rusty metal pyramid on his head. Inasmuch as “iconic” means anything anymore in these days of mass brandification apocalypse, he’s an iconic horror game villain whose influence is felt throughout the Silent Hill series and is basically manifest wherever any baddie in a horror game dons any kind of geometrical hat. He’s also made a surprisingly convincing cameo in International Track & Field.
Within Silent Hill 2, Pyramid Head is a lumbering cipher for an absolute quagmire of unstable emotions – grief, guilt, lust, cruelty, take your pick. At the risk of sounding like I have any real understanding of things like Jungian archetypes, his menace and power lies with his facelessness. He does link into the “real” past of Silent Hill, or at least, into one of its pasts, but he isn’t reducible to a character with a backstory. Not yet, anyway: the Best Buy listing makes it sound awfully like Bloober intends to defuse the symbolic and metaphorical elements of Pyramid Head and as we say in the trade, “do a Pac-Man: The Movie” on the guy.
I’m also basing this reading on my previous experiences of Bloober’s games, which have followed a dramatic arc from thrilled to bored. I quite enjoyed Layers of Fear, the game about a mad painter rattling around a house with Tardis-like properties, described by Adam Smith (RPS in peace) as “a collection of spooky scrapbook clippings rather than a magnum opus”. I really liked Observer, Bloober’s Bestest Best-winning cyberpunk investigation sim, with its fissured, wired-up Kraków apartment block full of organ sellers and leaky augmented-reality elements.
The strength of both games, for me, is how they turn notionally small settings into prisms for a wealth of nasty history and psychological shenanigans, which is a solid foundation for a Silent Hill adaptation. But then came third-person The Medium, which I found to be Silent Hill but with lumpy writing and chase elements (“so, exactly like Silent Hill, then”, the wags in the comments are probably saying) and a splitscreen parallel dimension gimmick that boils Silent Hill’s famous regular/dark world alternation down to a puzzle mechanic reminiscent of switching to thermal vision in a military shooter. Alice B liked it more than I did, mind you, though she also noted that “it somehow manages to include every terrible thing you can think of” while “not dealing with any these topics in-depth, glancing over all of them with obvious metaphor and memory and flashbacks”.
So! The idea of this developer specifically giving Pyramid Head an origin story, at this point in its own creative trajectory, sets alarm bells ringing. As does the developer’s January 2023 talk of a modernised over-the-shoulder camera and new combat system, if I’m honest, though that might be me succumbing to “older is better” retrohead thinking.
I’m not greatly reassured by Bloober head of production Kacper Michalski’s comments to Gamesradar last week about how the developer plans to “spiff up” Silent Hill 2’s visuals while retaining its “mojo”. During that interview, he offered a quick account of what sets a Bloober horror game apart.
“Our games focus more on story, atmosphere, and sound,” Michalski said. “We coined a term for our works ‘hidden horror’ – a subgenre of psychological horror and our fans have witnessed our deeper and deeper involvement in this category. We firmly believe that what scares us most is the unknown, the undiscovered. In our titles we focus on the complexity of the characters and on creating an unsettling atmosphere. The players are supposed to question their own choices, make uneasy decisions, and face moral dilemmas. Is there anything more frightening in life than when you don’t know what awaits you and whether your decisions lead to something bad?”
All of which is… fine, but not breathtaking as manifestos for horror games go, and that appeal to the menace of the undiscovered doesn’t really chime with the prospect of giving Pyramid Head a playable past, which just feels like the usual franchise-building activity of drilling into anything the previous games left opaque. Still, it could absolutely be worse, and there’s always Silent Hill: Townfall and Silent Hill F.