Silent Hill Review – Abandon all hope, ye who enter here
That above quote, for the readers not familiar with it, is from the poem Dante’s Inferno, which is from the book the Divine Comedy. Why am I explaining this in a game review? Simple really, that quote sums up the experience of Silent Hill. So sit down, buckle up, and get ready for a trip through hell.
In the winter of year 1999 (yes, I know I’m old), Konami published a little game by the developer, Team Silent, for the PS1 (now on PSN). Little did they know, this game would go on to spawn eight sequels over the years, and a handful of games on handheld consoles. Silent Hill, like any great story, is about loss. Harry Mason, while driving with his young daughter Cheryl, accidently drives off a country road to avoid what looks like a person. When he wakes up, it is day, foggy and snowing; I must add that it isn’t winter. Harry has to search what – at first glance – looks like an abandoned town to find his daughter, while trying to survive demonic creatures and suspicious people. To explain any more of the story would just spoil it, and to be honest, I would just do it an injustice. So stop reading, and go play it, go ahead, I can wait.
Oh, you’re back already? Good game right, reader? So, was I right, or was I right? Since you played it – and why would you lie if you didn’t – you will notice one thing right away, the controls. It’s not a game breaker, but a reminder of how far games have come in the past 14 years. You see readers, back when survival horror started to find itself, developers – being the mad people that they are – thought it would be a good idea to have the player’s character move like a tank; I’m looking at you too, Resident Evil.
Back in 1999, when a lot of the games controlled like this, it seemed fine and easy to adjust to; however, in 2013 it’s painful, especially for the people who never experienced that generation of gaming. It won’t ruin your experience, but it may take a bit of time to get used to, and you may find it annoying at times, due to there being fixed camera angles at times. What’s that mean? Well, to put it simply, if you are holding up on the d-pad (or analog stick) and the camera cuts to a fixed angle, to go down you must keep pressing up, not down. You will get used to it, just be prepared.
Silent Hill takes the survival horror aspect and throws it on its head. How does it manage to do that? Simple, psychology. By adding this element, it makes the player subconsciously dwell on their own fears and insecurities.
Sure, there are monsters that you have to either attack or flee from, but the worst fear is derived from what you can’t see, and when you can’t see something, your brain goes into overdrive to make sense of it, making it a whole lot scarier.
The items, for the most part, are similar to any game of that nature. However, unlike the Resident Evil games, you don’t carry a machine gun and mow down countless enemies. No, you have a pistol, which doesn’t always hit its mark, so be careful when you aim. Bullets are few and far between, and trust me, fighting off a Grey Child or Mumbler is not fun with just a kitchen knife. You will cry, and people will point and laugh, wondering why you’re having a breakdown in Walmart, in your underwear… so I’ve heard.
The other items you receive are the flashlight and radio. The Radio becomes distorted, blaring static whenever an enemy is near, which makes the tension worse because a lot of the time you won’t see what’s setting it off. The flashlight is a life saver whenever you go to the Other World, and when you’re surrounded by darkness; basically, it allows you to see enemies – in the distance – a little easier.
As for the puzzles, I won’t lie, I’m horrible at puzzles but if you enjoy them, you will love this game. One of the first puzzles you encounter in Silent Hill is a clock tower at the school. There are 3 slots you have to fill with the only clues being a time, and riddle written for each slot in the admin office of the school. The slots are for medallions you find around the school by solving smaller puzzles. Once you have 3, you put them in the right spot, matching them up with the times. I’m biased when it comes to puzzles in the genre; the fact is that I hate them with a passion. I don’t hate puzzles in games in general, just the survival horror medium. Why? Because 95% of the time they make no sense to the plot and aren’t realistic. Yeah, I know complaining about lack of realism in a game with monsters and bad dialog, sue me.
Now, this is for the readers who grew up on the PS2, GameCube, and the Dreamcast (you are missed). Graphics in 1999 aren’t going to be nearly as good as today’s graphics, or even the PS2 or GameCube for that matter. For example, my wife who is not a gamer – aside from the iPad, which lets admit, doesn’t count – asked me why my character was blocky and pixelated. All I could do was look at her like she killed a bag of puppies with a chainsaw… ah, I take that back, but you get the point. But she was right, in today’s era of gaming, the graphics don’t hold up. Kind of like that bag of puppies afterwards… where was I? Right, they kind of suck now, but back in 1999 they blew my mind, back then that was considered lifelike; now, however, those blocky graphics scare that hamburger I had for supper right out of me.
How, you might ask, bewildered by that horrible image, were the graphics lifelike? Easy, it’s the atmosphere. Atmosphere is the key ingredient in survival horror. The fog in the game is a result of bad draw distance, due to the technology at the time. But does it add to the experience? When your radio squeals and you can’t see ahead of you? You’re damn right it does. Throw in “creeptastic” music by video game legend, Akira Yamaoka, and you got yourself a good excuse to buy new boxers. Especially when the day becomes the night of the Other World, where all you have is a flashlight and the distant noises of something horrifying to keep you company. Excuse me while I go turn my light back on.
5/5 D-Pads: Play this game, just do it. Silent Hill is the true beginning of survival horror in video games, containing substance over action. You come for the thrills and chills, but stay for the story. Silent Hill is a true horror experience and should not be missed by any fan of the genre, old or new.