It was 1999, the PlayStation was riding very high as one of the bestselling consoles on the market with games like Resident Evil, Crash Bandicoot and Metal Gear Solid. Those that purchased Metal Gear on PS1 were treated to a demo of a rather suspicious title called Silent Hill. This was my very first experience playing this game and after trying to travel through a dark corridor in a school with scary monsters and ghost children I was so terrified and never again revisited the series until early last year, yep it took over ten years but like we question why the blonde girl runs into the dark forest alone I could not resist the call of that eerie town.
Silent Hill is the story of Harry Mason who is harmlessly driving his car with his daughter Cheryl in the back down a foggy road, he then see's an object, maybe a person? And has to swerve the car quickly crashing only to wake up and find his daughter is missing but leaving a trail into a little town called Silent Hill. Just from looking at the town you can tell there is something not right about this place at all, but Harry Mason loves his daughter and as a good parent you would venture everywhere and anywhere for your child and he pretty much does that. I won't spoil the plot at all in this review as the story is one of the games strong points and really worth experiencing over and over again, especially as it contains about five alternative endings including one which is just crazy. Hint: It may or may not involve a UFO.
The games setting is one of the most memorable horror trips you may experience. Every environment in this will mess with your head making you fear what may be around the next corridor from the dark corridors of a school and hospital to walking around the foggy town itself, let’s just say when the siren goes off things are about to get crazy. Harry is equipped with a handy radio which will make static noise every time enemies are close but since the game is so dark it is not always easy to see where they are and so therefore leaves you quaking in your boots. Silent Hill pulls off the impressive feat of making every enemy threatening and something you don't want to fight unless you really have to like the small monster with knife hands or skinless dogs and pterodactyl looking creatures.
Silent Hill very cleverly utilises its technical limitations to be gameplay strengths, an example of this is how your character comes across as quite clunky at combat with melee weapons. He will not always hit the enemy dead on making you question should you even try entering into conflict in the first place. Running is more encouraged than fighting and like a good survival horror game ammo for guns and health items are appropriately restricted. Harry feels a lot more human than the average character in a survival horror title who seems well versed in the use of weapons despite probably never using them.
Another fantastic addition to the gamplay is when you get hold of a map. If Harry comes across a door that won't open or sees a place of interest it will be marked on your handy map. This practically removes any frustration with finding where you’re supposed to go in a game without holding your hand and is a feature even modern developers should utilise today. The game also has a moderate amount of brutally difficult puzzles, though I find them a welcome challenge some gamers may find them pretty over the top and may need a guide to get through them, internet for the win.
Sound in the game is handled very effectively. The sound effects alone are handled with real precision, sometimes you will question did you actually hear that child laugh in the background in the game or is it in your head? There is a heavy emphasis of messing with you which only adds to the horror, there is not a lot of music in the game but when it does hit it is either to cause tension or possibly for a touching moment but either way the melodies used are memorable and appropriate for each scene also the intro tune alone will leave a lasting impression. An old Japanese made game would not be complete without terrible voice acting, though not as bad as other games Silent Hill certainly has its fair share of one liners that just make you giggle a little.
Graphics are full 3D in this game which is quite impressive for the old PS1, unlike older games like Final Fantasy 7 and Resident Evil good old Silent Hill does not rely heavily on pre rendered backgrounds, in fact the scope of some levels is pretty damn incredible; almost making this game feel somewhat sand box as there is a lot of exploration through the town. In game graphics are blocky but detailed, better than the average PS1 game and stand out as some of the most impressive on the system. The graphics may look dated today but the enemies and environments still stand out and look just as creepy and disturbing as they did in 1999. CGI cut scenes were amazing back when this game was released and they still hold up today and really are a welcome treat when they do appear, which is very rarely.
You will probably quickly realise Harry Mason looks rather dull and boring as a character sprite. Well this design choice was no accident as the creators of the game ‘Team Silent,’ wanted the main protagonist to come across rather plain so players could project themselves into the role of the character. The problem with this is ‘Team Silent,’ didn’t consider how popular this game series would be with the female audience once again showing the nineties was a rather male centric era for gaming, although the media narrative is that girls didn't play games to the same extent back then so programmers had no real idea to include a female lead role alternative, it's possible to way over analyse this kind of stuff so I won't.
Silent Hill's most effective use of horror is that the level design makes you fear the unknown, so the thing that could jump out rather than relying on actual jump scares to cheaply remind you it's a horror game, this title burrows into your nervous system leaving a lasting memorable impression making you question pretty much everything in the game from each story twist to your own mental stability deciding if you should continue to see how terrifying this experience gets. Though it is scary even today especially with the lights off you can't help but continue playing to get to the bottom of what’s going on, the first time you play this however is the best and will be the most memorable.
Running around Silent Hill will keep you busy for a good long weekend on a first playthrough as the game can be saved at notepads scattered around the town which are frequent and easy to find. The game also has a few side missions which are essential to unlock the good ending and even unlockable weapons on finishing the game. If you love your time in that creepy town it’s very likely you will find yourself returning to it every now and then for a play through.
Verdict:- In case you could not tell this game is absolutely fantastic if you like horror. If you don't like horror I suggest you avoid this game like my dog avoids baths. For those like me that were scared at first but intrigued, I highly recommend you give this a shot; you will be in for a nice surprise.
A masterpiece in survival horror there are the odd bad points like cheap enemy deaths but that is overshadowed by what is one great gaming experience one all horror fans should be pleased with.
Second Opinion:- Transbot has thought about this one long and hard (ooer) and has decided that he will not be as mean to it as he was to Resident Evil.
Whilst it now looks quite poor, much like a lot of PS1 3D games the fog effect used to hide the lack of draw distance covers this up well, the sound however is still as chilling as it ever was and the start of the game, especially the alleyway scene, scares my nuts and bolts off to this day.
While Resident Evil games were always cheesy, the Silent Hill franchise really did live up to it's horror billing and so therefore gets the thumbs up from this robot!
Transbot Scores:- 7 out of 10