Gaming History 101

Know Your Roots

Now & Then: Silent Hill

with 2 comments

sh_coverConsole: Playstation
Released: 1999
Developer: Konami
Publisher: Konami
Digital Release? Yes, PSN version compatible with PS3, PSP, and Vita for $5.99
Price: $20.87 (disc only), $33.99 (complete), $130.00 (sealed)  per Price Charting

Note: I did not have screen shots available from my last play and it appears all screens online are from emulation.  This title does not look this good on the PS1.

Dichotomies exist in all forms of media.  Whether it’s Elvis or the Beatles, Shakespeare or Marlowe, Alien or Aliens, and even Star Wars or Star Trek, the rule remains the same: you are allowed to like both but you always prefer one.  In the realm of survival horror, the clear competition is Resident Evil or Silent Hill.  Longtime readers and listeners know where I stand (RE), but that’s not to say the Silent Hill isn’t just as easily justified, if not moreso, as the better game even if it’s not necessarily the more popular one.  Despite the original Resident Evil being a living haunted house, the game still rooted itself into a world of intense action, the ability to kill just about every opposing force, and a heavy science fiction/biological manipulation concept – proven even more by the game’s Japanese title Biohazard.  Silent Hill, on the other hand, is classic unexplained horror and phenomena at its best.  Where Resident Evil employed pre-rendered backgrounds and forced camera perspectives, Silent Hill was fully rendered and seemed to follow the player, thus linking the character on screen with the player.  This makes it more terrifying because what happens to Harry (your playable character) seemingly happens to you as well.  Not only that, but the perspective of the title is completely different.  Harry is a regular guy, not a soldier, and he’s frantically trying to find his missing daughter, not to simply survive.  It’s all just a different perspective to the horror game where instead of trying to scare you with jumps and big gross monsters (although you will get those in this title), Silent Hill thrives on the unknown and maintaining tension instead of random fear.  In short, it’s Alien to Resident Evil’s style of Aliens.

sh_2Harry Mason wakes up to find that his car has gone off the road and his daughter Cheryl is missing.  Not only that, but he’s in the woods on a cold snow-covered night, and in searching the local area for Cheryl comes upon the town of Silent Hill.  With that basic setup you are tossed into a world that is almost like a Stephen King novel come to life.  A heavy fog surrounds the entire town limiting your view, there are no signs of life, and nearly every door is locked.  Eventually you see something emerging in front of you, but once it clears the fog you discover its a hideous bird-like creature with sharp fangs and talons coming right for you.  A pipe works to ward off the beast, but as soon as one goes down another replaces it.  You frantically navigate the town for any alleyway or door that offers shelter, but almost everywhere you turn there are blockades or locks to stop you.  Eventually you find a refuge in an unblocked stairwell, unlocked door, or making your own way through with items available to you, but this only lends to put you in a worse situation than before.  This is Silent Hill.

sh_3

I think what’s most compelling about this journey is that Team Silent, an internal group at Konami that would later go independent due to creative limitations put upon them, has properly captured the feel of being the character without the first person perspective.  It contradicts most of what you know about horror: fear of the unknown.  There’s no unknown in Silent Hill.  It flat out shows you what wants to kill you, makes it mortal, and even gives you the means to kill them instead.  What’s compelling is that it surrounds you with visual, audio, and gameplay cues that create tension and unsettles you very effectively.  Director Keiichiro Toyama created the scenario and specifically focused on David Lynch (Blue Velvet, Twin Peaks) and the occult for tone, despite Toyama not being a natural horror buff (he also integrated UFOs, but that’s only if you think the dog did it).  He must have succeeded because Silent Hill will consistently make you confused just before it frantically forces you to react on the situation at hand, which is usually jarring.  You will combat dead children in a dilapidated school, wonder the eeriest hospital I had seen at that point, and eventually watch it flip to a rust-covered prison completely overrun with gory creatures.  At various points you may wonder how in the world Cheryl can still be alive in all of this, which only makes the game’s climax even more compelling.  I must sadly admit that the game’s weakest point comes from the puzzles developed by Hiroyuki Owaku, which are more like riddles than anything else, and will most likely be the only obstacle that could make you put this game down.  If you stick with it, Silent Hill will continually freak you out.

sh_1Nowadays the game doesn’t quite hold up as well as it used to.  Since the sequel would release two years later on the Playstation 2, the visuals and controls had been greatly overhauled between generations and it makes the sluggish gameplay of the first game hard to take in.  If you frequent the late 90s Playstation scene, it shouldn’t be much of an adjustment (and may also be of the best controlled titles for the time), but most gamers who look back tend to throw out the old description of “tank controls”.  It’s also a muddy mess visually, which was about as good as that era could do, but especially on large HDTVs you may have a hard time figuring out what you’re looking at.  Thankfully the reduced high resolution screens of the PSP and especially the Vita have been quite kind to Silent Hill and you shouldn’t have any problem knowing what you’re looking at or where to go.  That doesn’t mean, however, that in a world with waypoints, indicators, and arrows telling you where to go that Silent Hill won’t come off as confusing.  You will wonder aimlessly trying locked doors and in some cases get stuck with every apparent path explored before finding that one spot in the room you’ve already been to that has the item you need to proceed forward.  In this first outing it’s few and far between, but it is a concern.  You might also find yourself unable to move on because you wasted all of your ammo too quick and come to an area where you are forced to fight and have no means for which to do so.  Thanks to melee weapons you may have an opportunity to still take out the beastie, but it can be much harder and lead to more deaths than if you had simply hung onto a handful of shotgun rounds.  If you persevere, keep an FAQ bookmarked on your phone, and do your best to immerse yourself in the world of Silent Hill before cheating your way into solutions, you will find this game is as effectively tense and scary now as it was 15 years ago.  Resident Evil may have won the Playstation battle, but even I can’t argue that Silent Hill captures the base words “survival” and “horror” much better than the competition ever did.

If you would like to hear more about Silent Hill, we covered it in our Survival Horror podcast and our Silent Evil podcast.

Written by Fred Rojas

September 19, 2014 at 2:10 pm

2 Responses

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  1. Mostly correct, in terms of plot. But since this is supposed to invite people to play the game, it’s alright.

    One important thing to note: the japanese and european releases of the game have slightly redesigned monsters, and the american release is missing a certain note (explaining the plot) which is perfectly findable in the other two versions.

    Andrew

    September 19, 2014 at 5:44 pm

    • Very true. I was trying to be more teaser-ish in terms of the plot so as not to spoil anything. I know the children were altered to in NA and even more in Europe, but I simply forgot to mention it. As for the note, thats a bit more plot than I planned to delve into.

      spydersvenom

      September 19, 2014 at 6:05 pm


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