Silent Hill (PlayStation) review
"Outside on the streets, dark and fog is everywhere, snow will fall suddenly and then just as suddenly cease. Then it's back to textured blackness, worse than complete dark because of what the varying shades might conceal. You'll have to rely on your ears for sounds of unearthly growls and flapping wings that reveal the carnivorous canines and winged demons that seek you out. "
Appropriately enough, Silent hill sneaked up on me. Thoroughly disappointed with recent survival horror releases, I turned to the sanctity of my 2-D shooters. I expected very little from this rental, expecting to return it to the video store in prompt order. And return it I did. Right back to the video store, where I preferred to purchase it instead.
Wading in hype
Silent Hill has been called the scariest video game ever. A lofty pedestal upon which to sit, truly; but certainly within the scope of this singular experience. I had seen the foggy pictures in gaming magazines. Detractors pointed out with impudence that the fog was present to cover up design flaws in Silent Hill's 3-D environment. I would employ any excuse not to play another disappointing horror game, and reading this, I passed.
But upon renting Silent Hill, I found myself thinking (even early on!) back to past classic gaming experiences, as you sometimes do when a new game raises its head to peer over the cusp of classic Dom. Harry Mason (son of Perry) was on his way to the desolate resort town of Silent Hill with his daughter, Cheryl, when their car crashed. As soon as I witnessed Harry looking to the vacant front seat of his car--the seat that once held his little girl--I knew this game would be something special. Having played the game extensively now, I fail to see how or why anyone would feel the need to point out the programming 'fault' with the fog. Because you see, if there is one game that lifts you from your earthly seat and transplants you elsewhere to an otherworld--it is Silent Hill.
Konami calls for you to venture forth, shuddering for answers and sanity with no thought to the world of CDs and Playstations.
Usurping the throne
Alone in the Dark was the game most often credited with ‘starting it all'--the 'all' being the survival horror genre. Despite great and inevitable progress made in the realms of graphics and sounds, nary a game since the original pioneer, came close to that game's subtle emanations of uncertainty, dread and ultimately, fear. There are more guts, more movie-like interludes, and simply more dramatics these days, but an elusive quality is missing among all the superfluousness. Perhaps beneath the crisp sounds and sights, we are seeking--and not finding--the sheer weirdness that we long for.
Other Residents: evicted
Silent Hill brings back this unpredictability. Massively popular games like Resident Evil and its string of sequels and side stories give us the cheap thrills, but Konami's offering gives us constant, unrelenting fear. When I had finished the highly touted Resident Evil 2 and the disappointingly nouveau Alone in the Dark: The Final Nightmare, I was, as I said, discouraged with the genre. I considered that the format would never return to the glory years belonging to Infogrames' Alone in the Dark 1 through 3. Thankfully, I was proven wrong.
Close your eyes...
Silent Hill's visuals are the most easily noticeable method by which Konami scares us. Your eyes will meet disturbing sights, and the genius is that for some, you will not readily identify why you feel uneasy.
Outside on the streets, dark and fog is everywhere, snow will fall suddenly and then just as suddenly cease. Then it's back to textured blackness, worse than complete dark because of what the varying shades might conceal. You'll have to rely on your ears for sounds of unearthly growls and flapping wings that reveal the carnivorous canines and winged demons that seek you out.
Indoors, blood is found on toilets and walls and nurses will endeavor to end your lifeline. Even children will attack you, oddly bandaged and penguin-like, they will make squeaking noises as they come at you with their small blades flashing. You won't have to worry much about zombies clinching on to you; Silent Hill's 'human' enemies will try to hack your head off. Perhaps spookiest of all is when ghostly toddlers pass through walls. You will feel something like an anchor drop in the pit of your stomach.
Headphones are horror
To take the terror to a whole other level, play this game at night, with the lights out and your headphones on. Crank up the volume and pray that the nightmares won't follow you to your slumber.
Near the beginning of your adventure, you receive a radio. There is no reception, but eerily, it picks up when enemies are close. The resulting alert is a combination of ringing and buzzing that will continue to haunt you well after you power down the system.
Just don't be surprised if the sound of normal radio static causes you to look around when you try to make the return to normal life.
The voice acting is not excellent, but much less cheesy than it is in similar games. The actors don't take themselves as seriously, and perhaps that works to their advantage as they come off sounding relaxed, like real people rather than B movie rejects.
There isn't much orchestrated music in Silent Hill. Instead we are treated to ambient sounds and mood-setting backgrounds that serve their purpose well. There is a great example of more refined orchestration that guides us through the various ending sequences. It is certainly memorably out of keeping with the sounds from rest of the adventure, along the lines of the Castlevania: Symphony of the Night end music, compared to the rest of that game.
Fear is fun
In light of all the depressing darkness and foreboding fog, it is important to note that Silent Hill is actually very fun and entertaining to play as well. It easily surpasses its rivals in this department for many reasons.
Firstly, the game doesn't feel like it's 'on rails' like Capcom's efforts. The environment feels real, and the inclusion of quaint, gritty, true-to-life landmarks is somehow soul stirring. Go to school. Check into the hospital. Anything to find your little girl! The super-realism adds to the urgency of your task, and the urgency adds to the fun. You don't approach your next 'X' on the map in any perfunctorily fashion; you stake it out with grim resolve and a most enjoyable, welcome trepidation.
Secondly, the exploration of the rather expansive maps would be hellish if not for a simple, yet often ignored feature: save anytime. Not anywhere, mind you, but one of the two conveniences is still a welcome sight. There is nothing more contradictory than playing a game that features 3-D exploration but doesn’t allow you to freely explore. In all their mind-numbing inanity, Capcom did not allow the player the freedom to save without penalty in any of their survival horror titles. Gladly, Konami has.
What this means is that the difficulty of the game is genuine. There is no cause for the pain that comes with dying with frustrating futility, miles and hours away from your next 'Ink Ribbon' or other such save key. You will make steady progress in Silent Hill, saving and moving; more careful players will be able to move slowly in the name of preventing needless repetition.
Master of the macabre Arthur Machen once asserted that there is nothing quite so scary as the commonplace, out of place. It seems that Konami was cognizant of this, and as such, they have managed to strike a chord with even the most jaded gamers. And when the control is perfect, (you have to actually aim to kill enemies) the pacing frantic and the replayability augmented by multiple endings with varying degrees of depth and discovery, this is an ideal adventure for those who can handle it.
Silent Hill resonates, and carries its bloody, corporeal strain through your controller wire, through you, marking you with its own haunting brand of inimitable, horrible, fun.
Staff review by Marc Golding (January 14, 2004)
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