Silent Hill (PlayStation) review
"Everyone--to this day--compares Resident Evil to Silent Hill. Both surfaced around the same time, both games received enormous success with their original release and both brought the horror genre, at least for a time, into the spotlight. But in essence, comparing Resident Evil to Silent Hill is like comparing Dawn of the Dead to The Ring. Both are great in their own right, but one has a gore/survival feel to it, the other a haunting, psychological feel. In my opinion..."
Everyone--to this day--compares Resident Evil to Silent Hill. Both surfaced around the same time, both games received enormous success with their original release and both brought the horror genre, at least for a time, into the spotlight. But in essence, comparing Resident Evil to Silent Hill is like comparing Dawn of the Dead to The Ring. Both are great in their own right, but one has a gore/survival feel to it, the other a haunting, psychological feel. In my opinion, Silent Hill was miles above anything in its genre and a masterpiece that few companies to this day can even come close to.
Silent Hill isnít about survival--well, not exactly. The gameís main character Harry Mason, I believe could have left the eerie town of Silent Hill the moment his car crashed and he woke up. But he wasnít alone when he made the journey, and his daughter Cheryl who was in the car with him is now missing. When he finally comes to, he realizes this horrible reality and instead of doing what most would (including me) he heads straight into the mouth of madness, averting road blocks and following clues torn from Cherylís notebook written in her hand writing. From the moment the game starts, it creeps up on you--the eerie, haunting feeling that you canít ever shake but for some reason, maybe a sick adrenaline rush or a morbid curiosity, you almost hunger. And the deeper you get, the more Silent Hill will chip away at your sense of security.
I could relate to Harry. The one thing that drew me in the most about the game was the fact that Harry felt real to me. He isnít a super cop or a slick special agent. Heís a regular guy. He pants if he runs for too long, he swings any weapon he can find with all the force in the world and all the grace of a drunk. He gets stressed, nervous and even scared. He doesnít put anything above saving his only daughter, even his own safety. Harry is an act first, think later type of character with a down-to-earth quality you rarely see in games.
Once the initial FMV ends and your introduction to Harry is finished, you really start to get a feel for the game. Much like Resident Evil, Silent Hill is full of different weapons like axes, handguns and lead pipes but it also has the every day items that become useful in your time of need like a pocket flash light and a simple am/fm radio.
Silent Hill, however, takes it one step further and uses these items to help create the eerie, psychological environment I mentioned earlier. The flashlight serves as a useful tool when searching dark corridors (and believe me, there are many) but the monsters in the game are attracted to the light so youíre left with a very dangerous choice: Do you leave it on and do battle with the monster slinking down the hallway or do you turn it off and pray whatever it is out there canít find you?
And this is where the radio comes into play. Rather than broadcasting news about the sudden ghost town or playing music, the radio serves as a sort of beacon for monsters. Anytime one comes into range, the radio emitís a large, noticeable static. The environment--riddled with snow and fog--makes it impossible to see anything, but you know itís thereÖ you hear it. It could be a rotting, mutilated dog that will blind side you when you least expect it, could be a giant, winged zombie that will drop from the sky and latch violently on to your shoulders. Yes, these provide the typical ďjoltĒ scares that most games do, but the real fear comes the anticipation--the build up. Turning your flashlight off and ducking into the corner, only to hear the radio blaring a screeching, high-pitched static and know that something is still out there is frightening. The kind of frightening that has you looking over your shoulder after the game has been turned off. The kind of frightening that will have you running down a darkened hallway even when you know nothing is there. The game creates this atmosphere perfectly and it never quite leaves you.
When everything is quiet, when everything is dead and you finally feel somewhat at ease the game takes an abrupt, morbid turn. Harry gets dizzy, he blacks out and he no longer finds himself in a sleepy, snowy vacation spot but a perverse mirror of the town--one where the streets are rusted metal, the rooms are dingy cages with strange things hanging from the ceiling and the only light is the one given off by your flashlight. The town no longer feels quiet, or even scary; it feels downright evil.
This is where most of the intimidating, sometimes all too difficult boss battles happen--another plus of Silent Hill. One will have you chased by a giant salamander named "Lizard Guardian", running circles around the creature and bashing its hard outer shell, intentionally trying to make it swallow you whole. Another will have you battling Cybil, the cop who befriended you when you first arrived. She cricks her neck in the most insane way possible, shrugs off your bullets and limps towards you slowly and coyly, only to lash out at you the last second with amazing speed. All of this, mind you, takes place on a broken down Merry-Go-Round that idly turns while the traditonal music plays at a much slower pace over the garbled speakers.
The one thing that made all this come together and really impacted the feel was the look of Silent Hill. Yes, it has great graphics for a game on the original PlayStation, but Konami made no attempts to make it polished, or stylish. Silent Hill has a grainy, almost worn down look to it like an old horror movie played on an even older projector. Itís dark and bereft of color, much like Resident Evil 4 was. Design wise, Lizard Guardian as well as the final boss are to this day some of the most original bosses Iíve seen in a game and Silent Hill has its share of FMV and little details to the environment like bizarre symbols and broken dolls that really add the extra touch.
I would have to say Iím a bit more partial to the soundtracks of the later Silent Hills. Most of the songs were done by Mary Elizabeth McGlynn. Her voice is soft and haunting, the lyrics matched seamlessly to the cutscene it accompanied. Itís a shame that she was not included on Konamiís first attempt. The games sound would have been a lot more memorable had she been around.
And yet, it doesnít change a thing. You can turn Silent Hill off. You can wrap it back up, trade it in or sell it but Silent Hill is one of those games that stays with you. I thinkÖ it always stays with you. It, to this day, has three of the most jolting, most terrifying, brilliant moments in any game. I wonít give them away for anyone who hasnít played it but you wonít forget them, I promise. Silent Hill is nothing short of magnificent. A dismal, dark, haunting magnificent.
Community review by True (March 29, 2007)
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