Breaking news shook the world of survival horror today, as Konami announced that Silent Hill: Downpour has been scrapped, coinciding with the announcement of a new entry in the long-running franchise, entitled Silent Hill: Domus Impertani. Hoping to appeal to fans who feel the series lost its signature atmospheric horror after the disbandment of Team Silent, Konami has enlisted Cube² Studios, a "transgressive art" collective that gained infamy in 2008 by stapling a pig to the wall the New York Stock Exchange building. The move was met with outrage by animal rights groups, but was lauded by new-art critics. Project Director Andre Atkins seemed unimpressed by the praise. "Idiots. Piddle. Facile dullards suckling at the teat of interpretation. Get bent, f***r," he said, waving his hand dismissively to add emphasis.
More on this breaking story after the jump!
This is not Cube²'s first venture into the realm of gaming. In 2009 they released
Inferum, a political parable that followed the story of Victorian-era aristocrat F. Alistair Cavendish III. It's unconventional, disjointed structure was panned by reviewers, particularly its rather anti-climactic finale, involving a baby drinking from a moldy bottle labeled "Family Unit" serving as the final boss -- a battle the protagonist could only win by committing suicide. When I asked him how one could consider the battle a victory without actually killing the boss, Atkins grinned and said "Oh, but you did; you did indeed." Infernum was noted for its "out-of-game" achievements, most of which were written in jumbled, incomprehensible text. But it was the inclusion of "arson" as an achievement that found the game being banned in the EU, after zealous players burned down a school in Belfast.
Atkins and his fellow designers got much of their inspiration for the forthcoming game from Silent Hill: Shattered Memories, which broke with survival horror conventions by largely omitting combat -- a move designed to increase tension and the feeling of helplessness -- something that divided fans, but was praised by critics and gamers who felt that the long-running series had become too safe and formulaic. "We were fascinated by that approach," said Atkins. "In violence there is catharsis -- victory, satisfaction, a feeling of accomplishment. Removing these elements invites the player to true terror: a labyrinth of contradictions; the oppression of monotony, the totality of utter absence, the tedium of madness; crystallized in the eyeless, indifferent stare of oneself backwards into the mind's center."
Early previews have shown what Atkins describes as "conceptual horror," an experimental, art-oriented take on the survival horror genre. While earlier Silent Hill games have sought to create fear through a highly-unsettling atmosphere, Cube² aims to frighten players with the idea of the gameplay experience. To illustrate this, the game begins with two hours of scrolling text listening items not present in the game, including "electrical tape, 30-watt incandescent light bulbs, ball bearings, Oreck vacuum cleaner with hose attachment," and most notably, the name of the game's protagonist. Mark Danelewski, author of the cult novel House Of Leaves has filed suit, claiming that many of the concepts, the setting, and almost all in-game dialogue was lifted directly from his book without credit. The matter is expected to be resolved sometime before the game's release in September. I couldn't help but ask whether this radical deviation from conventional gaming would alienate fans of the Silent Hill franchise, and whether the studio would be better suited retaining at least some elements of the established norm. Atkins met this with intense hostility. "Too low-concept -- too accessible. Go running back to Capcom and feed at the troff of consumerism, cretin," he said, before throwing his cigarette at this writer's feet and abruptly declaring an end to the interview. While the game is some months off, a leaked beta version was met with unkind reception. Ansley Grams, writing for horrorfiends.net, offered the following reaction:
"I cannot in good conscience bring myself to utter one kind word about this game, aside from the fact that, interminable as it may be, it does end. A meaningless, self-indulgent odyssey through the mind of an intellectual infant, Domus Impertani serves only to illustrate how pretentiousness, no matter how many layers of obscurity it uses to shroud its "message," cannot compensate for a complete lack of talent. My only hope for Mr. Atkins is that one day he will be faced with his myriad failings, and will find no respite from them in either this life or the next."
However, Domus Impertani was not without its supporters. Poststructuralistgamers.org offered a glowing review, describing the game as "a truly harrowing journey, one that lesser minds will fail to comprehend, but will find safe harbour within the hearts of those worthy of its message. Gaming is dead; long live Andre Atkins!"
While the game is sure to be controversial, it's quickly becoming one of the most hotly-anticipated titles of 2011. Whatever your opinion of Atkins -- whether you consider him to be a visionary, or just another "high-art" charlatan -- it's refreshing to see that there are still those in the industry willing to take risks, to challenge fundamental perceptions of what constitutes a video game. We'll be following Domus Impertani as it develops!