Silent Hill is an atmospheric and bizarre survival horror game unlike anything you’ve played before.
Whenever we think about survival horror games from the PlayStation era, the first title that comes to mind is Resident Evil which was definitely a huge success back in its heyday. But if we if we think a bit harder, Konami’s Silent Hill will come to mind, a game that while not as popular as Resident Evil, it still had a tremendous impact on anyone who had a chance to play it.
The game’s set in the desolate town of Silent Hill, a place where Harry Mason and his adopted daughter are hoping to spend their vacations. But there’s an accident late at night and when Harry regains consciousness, his daughter Cheryl is no where to be found. From this moment on, Harry needs to explore the city of Silent Hill to try and find the little girl, but soon enough, he’ll realize that a cult is conducting rituals to summon the deity they worship. The religious ceremony has also released monsters that have invaded the area and to combat said monsters, you have different items and weapons at your disposal.
The most important items are those that replenish your health, a radio that alerts you of nearby enemies with its static noises and a flashlight that even though it attracts monsters, it lets you look at your map. There are weapons in the form of firearms, but since bullets are so scarce, you’ll need to rely on melee weapons such as knives or pipes to defend yourself from the horrible creatures around.
One of the most iconic elements about Silent Hill is the fog and darkness. Although this was used to mitigate the hardware limitations, it quickly became one of the scariest parts about the game, since you never know what’s laying in front of you. Basically, the PlayStation couldn’t render the large and detailed environments, so the developers decided to add the fog and this contributed to the game’s sense of dread and isolation.
Silent Hill stands out when it comes to atmosphere, bizarre elements, eerie sound design, clever brainteasers that punctuate the adventure and little details, such as the fact that the radio starts making static noises whenever enemies approach you or how your character catches his breath after running for long periods of time. The game is full of small details that set it apart from its peers: the camera occasionally rotates to different angles to create more dramatic effects, the game has no heads-up display, so the DualShock is used to emulate the main character’s heart beat and so on.
But for every elements that feels solid, there’s something that has aged poorly. For starters, the three-dimensional visuals don’t look that good, specially by today’s standards. The tank controls are outdated and cumbersome, so when you find yourself in smaller areas, maneuvering becomes an exercise of frustration. Combat is slow in general and you should avoid it at all costs, but this aspect in particular makes a lot of sense, since the main character is portrayed as an “everyman,” so it’s natural that he has minimal experience with firearms and that he constantly gets tired of running. Also, there are some technical issues here and there in the form of hiccups and the fact that there’s a loading time every single time you enter a room. Take into account that most enemies can kill you in just a few hits and unfortunately, this means that you will refrain from exploring the environments, since exploring means running into more enemies.
Apart from the more technical aspects, there’s something to be said about the way in which this game conveys the story it’s trying to tell. Silent Hill uses a lot of unconventional elements to tell the story and the most memorable one is probably the contrast between reality and fiction that happens almost seamlessly. Whenever you enter this “alternate world,” the game makes use of dream-like qualities that evoke the works of surrealist directors like David Lynch (particularly Twin Peaks.) This makes Silent Hill memorable and unique, setting it apart from other survival horror games from its time, such as Resident Evil or Alone in the Dark: The New Nightmare.
Silent Hill is a bizarre game and personally, I’m surprised the developers got away with some of the things they included in the game. There are obscure references to Twin Peaks, there’s tango music, B movie elements and so on. Although these aren’t elements you usually associate with survival horror games, I’m glad the team behind this game took some creative liberties with the story.
Regarding the final moments of the story, there are several endings that depend on the side-quests you’ve completed. I unlocked what’s known as the bad ending which is unsatisfying and doesn’t really solves anything. If you, on the other hand, would like to unlock the good ending, you need to use a guide or play the game more than once, which seems like an awfully time-consuming thing to do if you want to have some sort of closure.
It’s easy to look at Silent Hill and think that it’s similar to Resident Evil, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. Silent Hill is an atmospheric and bizarre survival horror game unlike anything you’ve played before. It might have some problems and some aspects in particular might have aged worse than others, but if you want to play a horror game that has B-movie qualities, an emphasis on psychological horror and some disturbing moments, Silent Hill is your game.