Silent Hill (PlayStation) review
"Widely considered one of the greatest survival horror games ever, does it really hold up today?"
Iíve said before that I adore survival horror games, or at least horror themed games. Yet so far I have only reviewed one horror game, well time to remedy that. Iím going to tackle one of the luminaires of the horror video game genre, Silent Hill for the Playstation.
Silent Hill is easily one of the greatest games on the original Playstation, released in 1999 and developed by a small team in Konami it was almost like an antithesis of Resident Evil, the king of the survival horror genre at the time. While RE focused on jump scares and action, keeping the player constantly on edge worrying about resources. Silent hill is relatively light on jump scares, ammo and health tend to be somewhat plentiful and action isnít focused on much. Silent hill is much more subtle, using techniques common in Japanese psychological horror like unsettling music and art direction, showing normal everyday scenarios but inverted into terrifying corruptions.
Silent Hill was developed by Team Silent in Konami, Team silent was essentially a dumping ground at the time for Konami, the primary members of it were all members of either cancelled projects or were more known for their insular natures, many of them were nearly on their way out when they got together, the advantage to this was that Konami left them to their own devices and that meant that the designers could make the game that they wanted to make and it shows, this game was made by people dedicated to their craft.
In the game you play Harry Mason, a writer who has made plans to travel to the resort town of Silent Hill with his adopted daughter: the 7 year old Cheryl, upon entering the city limits however Harry sees a young woman in the middle of the road, crashing as he swerves to avoid her and knocking him unconscious. After awakening he finds his daughter missing, the rest of the game is devoted to a single minded desire to get Harryís daughter back.
Not wishing to give away too many spoilers (even if the game is nearly 15 years old) Iíll just say that the rest of the story is usually excellent, if confusing, it is usually possible to follow the story fairly well, even if some of the twists and turns can throw you off.
The biggest complaint I have really would be the usually bland dialogue, Harry isnít a very compelling character and the few other characters present often donít leave much of an impact, the voice acting is also pretty terrible, not resident evil ďso bad itís goodĒ terrible but bland terrible (The voice of Harry is actually the voice of Richter Belmont in Castlevania: SOTN). The silent hill series would continue to have this problem until silent hill 3 with Heather.
Gameplay is fairly typical for a survival horror game, you have the obligatory ďlove them or hate themĒ tank controls, puzzle based progression and awkward camera angles. There are some differences however, you donít have a limited inventory, nor is ammo really scarce, however Harry isnít a STARS operative, he has a terrible aim and will miss more often than he will hit especially in the dark.
Another unique gameplay mechanic is the radio feature, most of the environments in silent hill are either covered in fog or shrouded in darkness and as such itís handy to have a way of knowing if there are enemies in the room you are in, if there are the radio emits static that intensifies depending on the amount of enemies in the area, itís an incredibly atmospheric way of adding tension to the game.
One major part of the game that I havenít gotten to yet is the town itself, for most of the game you will be in what fans refer to as the ďfog worldĒ itís silent hill but there are nearly no people, everything looks as if it was left as it was and untouched for a long time, wrecked cars are parked on the streets; many of which just drop into an abyss, houses are completely empty and monsters line the streets. The most defining feature of the fog world is of course the thick fog which limits your view to about 5-10 meters ahead of you leading to a claustrophobic and lost feel; itís a prime example of using technical limitations of a console to a gameís advantage.
The other and more iconic world that starts to take over the game is the very creatively fan named ďother worldĒ a world of blood and rust, gone is the fog, replaced with an inky blackness, monsters become more plentiful and stronger and strange canvas covered bodies hang on the sidelines. Itís a truly scary area, especially with itís industrial style and terrifying music, more on that later.
The graphics in the game are hit and miss, instead of using pre-rendered backgrounds like many survival horror games of the time SH uses a fully 3D world, while the character models are perfectly serviceable, the textures are very grainy, in fact the main gameplay area seems to have this layer of graininess over it which surprised me, I donít know if thatís the way itís meant to look or if itís because Iím not playing on a CRT TV, if someone can say in the comments if the graphics look the same for them and itís not just me that would be appreciated. On the flip side however the CGI cutscenes are amazing, especially considering that they were done by a single person who had no reference points on modelling Caucasian people.
Sound however is a different story; most of the atmosphere of the game comes from the sound direction, masterfully done by Akira Yamaoka. The music has this strange industrial/trip hop kind of sound, kind of like a cross between Nine Inch Nails at their hardest and Portishead at their most depressing. Often the music doesnít even seem like music, often seeming more like incomprehensible but fast paced noise. Most importantly though is that it puts you on edge almost immediately and doesnít let up, more than once Iíve not wanted to enter a room simply because I know the music present in the room scares me too much.
Summing up Silent Hill is one of the greatest survival horror games of all time and the start of what was initially a great series (I prefer not to mention any games after 3), the brilliant atmosphere and music as well as the mind bending story all coalesce into a roughly 6 hour long fear fest, however you will have to deal with the bland characters, grainy graphics (seriously itís like looking at a mega CD game sometimes) and overall mild difficulty, also if you want a true continuation of the story play SH3, which had a much better main character and 2 had a much better story and really it stands alone.
Community review by maboroshi (June 21, 2013)
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