Once upon a time, we were all content getting spooked with Atari’s Haunted House VCS cart...Had we known what was to come, our britches would very much have been at their fullest in no time! Y’see, the Survival Horror subgenre of video games came a long way fast, providing umpteen amount of hearty scares along the way. But it wasn’t truly until the 1990’s that the said subgenre started to reach its zenith, from Clock Tower on the Super Famicom through Resident Evil 2 in all its thrilling three-dimensional glory. Although it was that final year of the decade, when we were all partying like prince that Konami decided to drop a proverbial nuke amid what by comparison seemed like a mere knife fight. Haunted House, this was not…
Our Game Of The Month for November 2017 and the focus of this here article is, of course: Silent Hill! Oh yes, the spooky season may end after October wraps up for some, but what’s the early nights for if not for a little added fright?
Before its 1999 release, Silent Hill had its start in production back in ’96, which as many of you may know was the year that the first Resident Evil hit the shelves with its shocking, visceral approach shaking up an entire generation of gamers. RE being a massive Capcom success, no doubt prompted SH as a response from fellow Japanese icons Konami. It’s not as if Konami was new to this whole horror thing any how – after all, this was the company behind the hugely successful CastleVania franchise. But Silent Hill was an entirely different approach all together. While Dracula’s Castle had become a staple of the CastleVania series, the mysterious town of Silent Hill took the idea to the next level, practically crafting the town as its very own mysterious, monstrous and strangely magical character. In terms of the RE/SH comparison, it’s almost as uncanny as the titular location itself. While it is undeniably similar and thus familiar, Silent Hill is very much its own beast and something entirely different.
In the game, you take control of protagonist Harry Mason and right from the off, you know something’s not quite yet. In the opening, Harry is driving on the edge of town with his daughter before eventually swerving to avoid hitting what appears to be a young girl. Needless to say, the car crashes, time elapses and Harry come to with no Cheryl (daughter) in sight. Basically, any parent’s nightmare. Sure, this is all probably reading a bit tropey to kick things off, but ohh boy – when Harry regains consciousness in that otherworldly, fog-laden street? Fear starts tingling your spine in no time…
Silent Hill immediately creates a fantastic sense of tension from the moment you as a player take control. It’s so good, that I would happily argue it has stood the test of time and is still as scary a game in 2017 as it was all those great many years ago. Much like the aforementioned Clock Tower fills you with dread through its intense presentation, Silent Hill does the exact same; one perfected it in 2D, with Silent Hill doing so in the all-important third dimension.
I would flesh out more here with further plot details, but I’m choosing not to. Not just to save on typing (honestly), rather because I feel this is a game that desperately needs to be played, nay: experienced. Meeting the unusual inhabitants, stressing over the puzzles, frantically having your mind play tricks on you as you shine your little flashlight about…It’s genuinely one of the greatest experiences you can have anywhere.
For that reason, it was a game I was hugely jealous of when I was young (this is Olly023 writing, folks). I didn’t own a PlayStation back in the day. My dad did (when he was out in Italy working), but I went from N64 and transitioned immediately to Dreamcast. However, the joy of everyone else in what felt like the universe having a PS1 at hand, it gave me an opportunity to borrow a console and rent this game for my own pleasure. By pleasure, I mean pant-wetting terror. There’s very, very few games that come along that are almost worth the price of admission alone, ie: a genuine killer app. For me, personally: Silent Hill was just that when it came to Sony’s little grey box. Nothing else on the console (aside from maybe Tony Hawks Skateboarding) had absolutely hooked me like this did.
While having spent time mentioning how Silent Hill certainly put the horror into survival horror – it kind of does the game a disservice. It’s not just scary, it’s also very, very bemusing and amusing, albeit in an ultimately twisted manner. The game is legendary for its multiple endings that are decided by what route you take within the game itself that doesn’t feel all that logical, which pretty much adds to the unsettling nature (whether laughing or crying). The Lynchian influence is strong in this one, folks. But that’s just the psychological flare the developers at Team Silent sought to achieve. I, for one, can say mission accomplished!
Time for a quick credit run down for those brilliantly creative folk behind the scenes. Silent Hill was written and directed by Keiichiro Toyama, who had previously worked as a graphic designer on the excellent Snatcher (possibly Kojima’s finest hour) and has since gone on to write-direct the [Forbidden] Siren trilogy (which also sit in the survival horror subgenre, while saddling stealth). The legendary Akira Yamaoka (a man with too many credits to mention) provides the magnificent, tense and quite frankly genius score that so perfectly encapsulates all that is right with the game, he also returned for the immediate sequels in the original Silent Hill trilogy. Rounding out the devs from Team Silent (but not exclusively the only fellow talent who poured their hearts and souls into the project) include credits by Gozo Kitao (producer) and Akihiro Imamura (programmer). To these fine individuals, I can do nothing but applaud thee!
Whenever you have an outstanding game such as Silent Hill, it’s always bound to create a franchise in its wake. Of course, that happened. The series went on to achieve a mixture of critical acclaim, backlash, hype and ultimately a string of underperforming (in at least the sales department) string of sequels, a prequel and a reimagining. Most recently a demo called PT was released to much jump-scare fanfare on the PlayStation 4, which was meant to tease an upcoming reboot of the series co-created by Hideo Kojima (there’s that Snatcher guy again) and fantastical film supremo Guillermo Del Toro: to the annoyance of many, Silent Hills (as it was to be named) was cancelled. Outside of the gaming world, Silent Hill has been adapted to other media including a moderately (both critically and commercially) successful film (which is of course far superior to Resident Evil’s outing(s)) and a less-so sequel of its own. There’s even been a visual novel version of Silent Hill, one that some clever whiz-kid demade into a MegaDrive game!
For what could have just easily been a bog-standard Resi-rip-off, Silent Hill was a game that stood on its own, tall enough to tower over its competition. So intricately designed that the systems weaknesses were played to the games strengths in a way that South Park on the N64 could only dream (FOG EVERYWHERE). With an epic legacy and such a close to perfect leaping pad for what could and arguably should be with the genre, this is Silent Hill. Perhaps Konami’s finest hour when it comes to the 32-Bit era and quite frankly..? One of the greatest (if not the greatest) game the original PlayStation ever knew.
So, spooky season may indeed be unofficially officially over (yeah, that made sense in my head). But do not let that be the reason for true heralded survival horror masterpieces slip from your retrogaming grasp. Never played it before? What better time to get on the Silent Hill hype train. Just thinking about revisiting that uncanny town of madness? What better time is there but now?!
Someone’s gotta find Cheryl, after all…