Review – Silent Hill

I think this was, like, my third attempt to complete Silent Hill. I was, for a time, a giant wuss when it came to horror games, but a few years ago, something clicked and now I find that games can’t frighten me. I’ve had a sudden craving to play old horror games, so I thought it would be a good time to make another attempt at travelling Silent Hill’s foggy streets.

Silent Hill is something of a representation of Konami’s descent from a creative force to a profit-driven machine. The second game is celebrated, but after that, the series’ quality dropped precipitously. More games in the series would be cranked out regularly, few of them actually worthwhile. The series has fallen by the wayside, as of late, presumably because Konami is still thinking up a new way to tell fans how much it hates them.

Anyway, let’s put that aside and travel back to 1999 and the streets of Silent Hill.

The forecast said nothing about this. (Image source: mobygames.com)

THE STREETS OF SILENT HILL

Single parent Harry Mason is traveling with his daughter, Cheryl, to the town of Silent Hill when Harry loses control of his car and crashes. He awakens to find that Cheryl has disappeared, and that the town has been covered in a thick fog and deserted. Furthermore, areas of the town seem to lapse into strange, nightmarish versions of themselves. From there, things only get more confusing, as none of the people Harry meets are very clear on what’s going on.

The town’s streets are open for you to explore, but many of them are torn completely open, forcing you down certain routes to your next destination. Both the fog and the dark environments cut down on visibility, to the point where it can become confusing to navigate the more open areas. Strange monsters roam everywhere, but you’re alerted to their presence by strange noises on the radio. It’s the fear of the unknown that is what keeps Silent Hill so compelling, whether you’re afraid of it or not. It buries its intention so all you can do is hunt for it in the fog.

FEAR OF THE UNKNOWN

It’s a different direction than most games at the time were taking. The survival horror genre was just finding its identity, and while Silent Hill certainly takes inspiration from conventions like limited ammunition and health, it’s a lot less action oriented than, say, Resident Evil, which wasn’t all that action-oriented to begin with.

Silent Hill prefers to just put you under a heavy atmosphere and lets your mind make up all the scary things that lurk within its dark corners. You’re unlikely to come under duress from more than two enemies at a time, and there are entire sections of gameplay where there’s nothing at all that can harm you. That’s probably a good thing, if only because the combat system sucks out loud. The melee weapon controls feel slow and sticky, and you can rarely tell what you’re aiming at with firearms. Combat doesn’t have a strong focus in Silent Hill, but there’s enough of it that it begins to feel like a chore by the end.

The camera is entirely uncooperative, which is strangely a blessing at some points, wherein others, it’s your worst enemy. On one hand, its sometimes sickly and awkward movements enhance the game’s unsettling atmosphere, while on the other, you’ll often find yourself accosted by an enemy that you can’t hit because it always evades the horrible camera. I’m pretty sure we could have found some middle ground there.

I feel like I need to wash my hands. (Image source: mobygames.com)

MIDDLE GROUND

Its Silent Hill’s plot that leaves me the most conflicted. On one hand, the mystery of the town’s deserted state is tantalizing, and the game often goes back to asking questions about it. On the other hand, the reason is well established by the end of the game, it’s absolutely ridiculous, and all the characters are as daft as sea sponges.

Many of the characters you encounter will simply tell you that they don’t know what’s going on with the town and relate to you all the weird stuff that’s happening to them. The only really enlightening character is Dhalia Gillespie, and she kind of just talks to you like an old gypsy lady you found in the back of a fairground. She always warns about the darkness and throws around a lot of references to angry gods. That personality at least leaves you questioning the truthfulness of what she says, but she’s also the only character who at least acknowledges the crazy stuff going on. Cybil Bennett, a police officer you meet, doesn’t seem to really have a problem with all the strange stuff you see, while a nurse you encounter has amnesia and doesn’t know what’s going on either. Harry? Harry’s just an idiot.

The voice acting is pretty awful as well, which isn’t exactly surprising given the era in which it was released. Everyone talks in a dry monotone, rarely putting any sort of emotion into their acting. Considering the dialogue itself is so poor, the awful delivery of it just underlines just how limp the writing is.

FOG WARNING

You still have to admire the approach to the atmosphere they took. Everything seems set up to make you feel uncomfortable at all times, from the limited visibility of normal Silent Hill to the grimy and rusty appearance of the dark world. The gameplay itself borrows heavily from the Resident Evil series, right down to its health status system and key puzzles, but its approach to keeping you engaged makes it feel distinct.

I also appreciate the world design, which gives a sense of openness and invites exploration on a level that you don’t get with something like Resident Evil’s mansion. There’s a sense that the town is a real place, which helps heighten the immersion.

At the end of the day, though, I liked Silent Hill but didn’t love it. I feel a lot of that is due to how the game aged. Its story and voicework may have been passable in the era it was released, but now it undermines a lot of the mystery. I’ve heard a lot of excuses for its combat, but the end result is that it’s not very dependable or interesting. Some of the game’s environments also drag on for way too long, so even for a game of such short runtime, it can feel a bit like a slog.

Yet, you can’t ignore all the things that are unique to Silent Hill. It feels almost like required playing, and one that deserves its prominent place in the Playstation’s tapestry. It’s easy to recommend, if only because it’s something you really should play.

6/10

This review was conducted on a Playstation 3 using a digital copy of the game. You should have seen this one glitch we ran into. It was purchased by the author.

About Adzuken 145 Articles
Adzuken has been gaming for as far back as they can remember. Their eclectic tastes have led them across a vast assortment of consoles and both the best and worst games they have to offer.

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