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Silent Hill (PlayStation 3) artwork

Silent Hill (PlayStation 3) review

"The car wonít drive anymore -- you'll have to ditch it. You strain your eyes to seek her out, but the snow makes it hard to see. Cheryl is out there, somewhere in the whiteness. Sheís a little girl lost, drowning in a sea of powder: The lonely resort town of Silent Hill has claimed her."

Silent Hill asset

She was sitting on the seat beside you, and then: she was gone.

The car wonít drive anymore -- you'll have to ditch it. You strain your eyes to seek her out, but the snow makes it hard to see. Cheryl is out there, somewhere in the whiteness. Sheís a little girl lost, drowning in a sea of powder: The lonely resort town of Silent Hill has claimed her.

And as her anguished, guilt-ridden father, you simply must find her.

You enter the town on foot, and -- wait, isnít that her up ahead? You give chase down an alley and things start to change. First comes the pulpy carcass, splayed out on the concrete. Then comes the incursion of darkness, which is sudden and complete; the blackness dropping like a curtain. The camera moves up and away, makes you feel small, pans over your position dizzyingly.

Through an iron wrought fence you push on, panic mounting. The path narrows, the walls begin to choke your forward movement. You careen clumsily onward through the severe angles like a pinball -- what else can be done? And thatís when you see something bloody and incomplete strung up before you. Thatís when the tiny bandaged wraiths swarmÖ

Two kinds of people havenít experienced Silent Hill before. The kind who donít enjoy horror games at all, and the newer gamers whose introduction to the series may have begun with the flawed Shattered Memories or the unremarkable Homecoming. To the former group: youíre wasting your time. If you donít want to be scared, youíve come to the wrong place. For the latter group, however, you owe it yourself to start at the beginning, with the first game of the series. And the best.

Even the best Silent Hill, though, is far from perfect, especially now. I am two ways about the game, and that never used to be the case. My enthusiasm for chasing ghosts through evil, shrouded streets was once unequivocal. Now the uneven brilliance of KCETís classic first entry to their faltering canon is tempered by the unkind effects of time.

Now I am ambivalent.

In its day, Silent Hill would genuinely unsettle you. Somewhat stupidly, it was a game I could hold up as evidence of a more sophisticated strain of horror game; the Jacobís Ladder of gaming to Resident Evilís Romero films. It is fraught with filthy things that go bump in the night, but they are not of the usual ilk, and the jack-in-the-box scare is not their weapon of choice.

Evil shades of children who walk through walls in the school are not scary because they crash through windows to startle you, but because they simply should not be. Similarly, nurses should not be demon automatons skittering in the dark of a hellish hospital. This rarer breed of monsters represents perverse takes on our expectations as we wander, lonely and tortured, from one haunted locale to the next.

Equal helpings of indifference and annoyance taint my nostalgic journey. The annoyance comes of the gameís clunky controls -- which were always clunky, but now, we demand silky control schemes because weíve played Resident Evil 5, and itís what we expect. We are less forgiving of the ponderous controls with which we must direct our protagonist through chaos.

The indifference arises from the dated presentation, the languorous pacing. Again: Silent Hill was never pretty, its pacing never perfect, but time spent with more refined fare has made the unsightly graphics less palatable, made the storytelling drag.

Despite all of this, Harry Masonís mission to find his lost daughter either in this world of snow-covered solitude, or another world of night-clad hell, is easily the most compelling the series has ever offered. The puzzles make the most sense -- inasmuch things can make sense in a world of madness. We are given thematic context, not a road map.

And that's the key: Silent Hill left things unsaid, unexplained, unseen. Playing the game is like unearthing a monstrous otherworldly fossil in the darkness -- you are equal parts fearful of the impossibility of what you can make out, and unsettled by the dreadful mystery of what you cannot.

No game had treaded that fine line quite so masterfully before, and no game has done so since. Silent Hill's own sequels have explained away all of our dread, like the parent who shows their child the behind-the-scenes video clip forever ruining their favourite magic show.

But before more recent dressed up husks ruined the magic, there was Silent Hill. It's far from perfect now, and it never was. But it was pure dread. And it still is.


Masters's avatar
Staff review by Marc Golding (July 29, 2011)

There was a bio here once. It's gone now.

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asherdeus posted July 29, 2011:

This is a great review, Marc. You kept it nostalgic, but you did so in a purposeful (and captivating way) that revealed (and explained away) your broader critique of the game. There was a good balance of valuable discussion that will engage both fans and newcomers. Despite the flaws that you yourself recognized, I thought that you compellingly demonstrated to readers that the game was still worth celebrating. Nice work.
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Masters posted July 29, 2011:

Thanks, Matt! Haven't seen you around in awhile. Still at TBG at all?
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threetimes posted July 30, 2011:

I didn't know this was on PSN. Maybe I'll cope better on a big screen... or maybe worse. I stopped playing this when I got totally freaked out about half way through with that part where you walk around on metal grids. I mean the enemies killed me, but the setting was so unnerving... I needed a break and never went back. It goes to show that you don't need graphical splendour when the ideas and setting are so clever. Thanks for reminding me. ^_^
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EmP posted July 30, 2011:

Well played, Marc.

Really good review, too. Well worth the wait.
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Masters posted July 30, 2011:

Hey threetimes, yeah that part is scary as hell. I didn't want to get too much into bits like that and spoil it for anyone.

Thanks, Gary. Good work on the screen stuff, as always, too.
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fleinn posted July 31, 2011:

@threetimes: ..I'm not entirely sure about policy on this. But you will get the absolutely best result on a laptop with hdmi (..or an Eee.. the 1215n, for example) on a good emulator. Pcsx for example. Good software driver support, and even better opengl plugins available. Better internal resolution, no curious scaling or tearing on the fmv..

The ps3 emulator is very basic. No state saves, no screenshot functions, etc, etc, no remapping of keys, alternative gamepad support, very basic graphics acceleration..

On the other hand, of course, the ps3 gets you some of it on pure software emulation, with gamepad support and hdmi, etc. But the best option is hdmi+a good emulator..
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threetimes posted August 01, 2011:

That's a good point about the lack of options on the PS3. I started playing Medieval again on the PS3, had loved that game years ago, and the controls were so basic I gave up quickly. Somehow, using the original PS1 it doesn't matter so much not having choices or save states. But I'm not that keen on emulation except for old games I can't play any other way.
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JoeTheDestroyer posted August 01, 2011:

Yeah, I'm not a fan of Medievil myself, and mostly it was the controls and combat.
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SamildanachEmrys posted August 01, 2011:

I'm not that keen on emulation except for old games I can't play any other way
I agree. That's why I bought a Master System and begged a Mega Drive off my brother. Emulation isn't the same.
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fleinn posted August 01, 2011:

Actually, it often is, byte by byte.. :p just kidding.

No, no problem seeing how the portable emulation is generally a complete waste of time. Same with the older action-based games - if you don't have 100% timing all the time, it becomes a chore to play.

But.. on psx we're typically talking 99% timing on even a single-core 1.8Ghz computer with a 3d card.. So suddenly you actually get.. you know.. better quality playback on an emulator (such as pcsx, epsxe) with a usb gamepad/analogue sticks.. than you did with the original psx.. Never mind higher resolution and cleaner sound. The FF8 version with buffed internal resolution is almost up there with the 3d-accelerated windows-version, for example.. Besides, you can avoid the entire "just have to play for another hour and a half to get to the next save-point" thing..

Not all emulators are that good, though. But a general point about emulation software is that we are talking more and more about reasonably priced computers that are quick enough to run the reduced byte-code in time for every clock-cycle. So we can suddenly run emulation without any performance drops..

And we're going to see more and more virtualisation software that basically runs the actual instruction set unmodified. This means difficult licensing issues, though, so obviously this isn't going to happen in the near future...

But it's a possibility that we could be getting something like a "universal pad" with your favourite make of thumbsticks, resolution/screen, graphics post-processing filters, etc - that basically runs any amount of console-software with 100% perfect timing. Either emulated or virtualised.

Could maybe imagine that this is something publishers would accept more readily as well, since the logistical issues are less problematic than actually producing a full new port for another system, etc.

Then again, Sony and ICO, as well as Kojima Productions and Santa Monica Studios (together with whoever did their GoW port) chose a remaster approach. And if Ueda stands behind that approach over an emulation solution, and insists it actually is better than the first version - then I can't complain either.

Still - for the thousands of other less popular titles, they're all going to disappear, basically. And that's a shame, when you know that for example the psp is fully capable of (if you will excuse my swearing) running genesis&Nes, snes, ds, gba titles, etc. Same approach that's done with gba and snes games on the NDS. And here we're talking about the same layout.. so.. This is a viable approach. Practically, say, licensing out console-titles with virtualisation engines that can run on smartphones (ARM based processors, like the PSP/iPoon, most android phones that aren't mips, etc)..

Really, the future is so bright I cannot bear to look :p lol.
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zigfried posted August 01, 2011:

For Playstation, emulation is my preferred way to play by far (I use epsx). It looks nicer, plays smoothly, and I can use the Xbox 360 controller.

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Masters posted August 01, 2011:

I actually like to play PlayStation games on my PSP. Any crappiness in the graphics is harder to make out. But that's just one reason.

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