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Silent Hill creator’s new game Slitterhead prioritizes action over scares

Key art for Slitterhead
Bokeh Game Studio
Summer Gaming Marathon Feature Image
This story is part of our Summer Gaming Marathon series.

Slitterhead was the weirdest game I stumbled onto at Summer Game Fest this year. Tucked away in a small cabana at the back of the event, it was a game few people attending even seemed to know was there. I felt compelled to check it out before the event ended, as if I were possessed. I managed to get an on-the-fly appointment to see it on the last day of Summer Game Fest, eager to dissect what I saw in its action-focused gameplay trailer. That decision would bring me face-to-face with Keiichiro Toyama, who helped create iconic franchises like Silent Hill, Siren, and Gravity Rush, and has now moved on to make Slitterhead at Bokeh Game Studio.

We’re in a survival-horror renaissance now thanks to Capcom’s Resident Evil remakes and standout indies like Crow Country, but Toyama tells Digital Trends he’s now leaning into making a full-on action horror game. He believes that’s what players today prefer, and Slitterhead is a result of that. With its focus on combat, a parry deflection mechanic, and a possession system that lets players move between bodies during battle, it felt like I had stumbled upon a creepy hidden gem at Summer Game Fest.

A Siren spiritual successor

Although Toyama is best known for creating the first Silent Hill, Slitterhead has more in common with the second horror franchise he worked on: Siren. That series was a creepy survival horror game where players could “sightjack” NPCs to learn what they can see and hear. That gameplay concept, as well as the idea of telling another ensemble story with a lot of characters, is something Toyama and other returning developers from Siren want to explore more with Slitterhead.

One of the rarity characters in Bokeh Game Studio's Slitterhead.
Bokeh Game Studio

“In Siren, there was this mechanic where you could sightjack and see from another’s perspective,” Toyama tells Digital Trends. “The [development] team carries over many of those who worked on Siren as well, so we modernized that sense of borrowing another’s vision, but this time around, you’re borrowing another body instead of just seeing someone else’s perspective.”

I played the opening of Slitterhead, and it immediately thrusts me into the role of a spirit called “Hyoki,” with little context to who he is. I quickly learned I could possess most living beings I saw with the tap of a button, from dogs to regular people walking the streets of Kowlong, the city in which Slitterhead is set. Before long, a sex worker hits on Hyoki before transforming into a giant praying-mantis-like creature, one of the titular Slitterheads, and starting a chase.

In true horror game fashion, the Slitterheads’ designs are intentionally weird, off-putting, and sometimes even phallic. Toyama says that because the enemies of this game are mimics — monsters posting as real people. They were inspired by creatures that camouflage themselves into the environment in real life, like octopuses and insects like the praying mantis. Eventually, Hyoki learns that some people he possesses can also sense that he’s possessed them.

Players fight a phallic enemy in Slitterhead.
Bokeh Game Studio

From there, the quest for Hyoki to learn more about what it is and where the Slitterhead threat originated begins. Toyama wouldn’t tease much about Slitterhead’s broader story, only reinforcing what the opening of the game shows and that the big mystery of the game is discovering what the Slitterhead actually is. Dissecting the complex narratives of games like Silent Hill and Siren is part of their appeal, and I can’t wait to do that with Slitterhead once the whole game is out.

Possessed to play more

One thing I did get a clear grasp on during my playtime is that Slitterhead is much more of an action game than a survival horror game. Because players are a spirit, a majority of gameplay is centered around possession. Players can hop between bodies while running from Slitterheads; one disturbing set piece had me jump off a building as one person and possess another before that body hit the ground to get away in time.

With Slitterhead and Unknown 9: Awakening both showing up at this year’s Summer Game Fest show, 2024 is shaping up to be a surprisingly fruitful year for games with possession mechanics. Eventually, I had to fight a Slitterhead head-on, and it became a full-on action game. The people I possessed created a blood weapon to attack enemies with. There’s also a deflection parry system, although I didn’t get a handle on its timing during my time with the demo.

Slitterhead - Gameplay Trailer - SGF 2024

People stand around every combat arena, and it was up to me to switch between them before the person I was controlling died. If the player dies in someone’s body three times or stays out of a body for too long, it’s game over. Toyama tells me that there are around 10 “rarity characters” players encounter during Slitterhead’s story that are much better at combat. I learned that players will eventually unlock abilities that can be used in battle, like turning a body into an exploding time bomb that deals damage. The inclusion of abilities like that means that players must constantly be switching bodies.

Toyama admits the greatest challenge in creating this system was making players want to keep moving between bodies instead of just fighting as one character. Enemies take more damage from behind, so I found one of the best strategies was to aggro an enemy with a normal human and then switch to a rarer character to do a lot more damage from behind.

And don’t worry: While players can possess dogs, Toyama says they’ll never have to do that during combat.

Action horror over survival horror

I did find Slitterhead’s combat to feel a little loose overall. The attacks that required deflection could’ve been indicated clearer, and the action wasn’t nearly as smooth as a game like Phantom Blade Zero or a fun kind of slow like Demon’s Souls. Nevertheless, I am fascinated at why Bokeh Game Studio took a more action-oriented focus with Slitterhead rather than making a survival horror game like Silent Hill or Siren. Toyama had a shocking answer about that.

He told me that he believes “some people distance themselves from a game because it’s horror-driven or survival-driven.” When he looks at the indie games he likes and the games younger players gravitate to, they’re mostly action-focused. As a result, he decided to make Slitterhead an action horror game rather than a survival horror one because he wants “a broad segment of users to come in and enjoy” Bokeh Game Studio’s first title when it launches later this year.

A praying mantis enemy in Slitterhead.
Bokeh Game Studio

I don’t entirely agree with that sentiment, as the success of indie games like Five Nights at Freddy’s and Crow Country, as well as bigger games like Alan Wake 2, show that there is player demand for survival horror. Still, I appreciate that Toyama isn’t just replaying his greatest hits and is crafting a new kind of horror game, unlike anything he or anyone else in the game industry has made before. I’m glad I was one of the lucky few possessed to try Slitterhead at Summer Game Fest this year.

Slitterhead will launch for PC, PS4, PS5, and Xbox Series X/S on November 8.

Tomas Franzese
Tomas Franzese is a Staff Writer at Digital Trends, where he reports on and reviews the latest releases and exciting…
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