Horror - Playstation
Memory Card: Multiple Saves
Aside from the terrible Resident Evil series, the Japanese really have a knack for horror. Creepy lingering imagery and minimalistic sound are their specialty. Silent Hill is no exception. Sometimes cited as the scariest video game around, I vowed to play through it one day. Does it live up to the hype? Mostly.
The story begins with Harry Mason vacationing in a resort town of Silent Hill with his daughter Cheryl. Right off the bat, creepiness shines through. You start the game following a car accident, stranded and lost. Cheryl is missing, and the town seems deserted, contributing to an unnerving feeling of solitude. If that wasn't bad enough, the heat is really turned up only moments later. Pools of blood and body parts lay strewn throughout the world. I had no idea that Silent Hill would be this gory, but the opening scenes set the stage for the rest of the game. This is unsettling stuff. But Harry's search for his daughter must go on.
The crux of the game involves navigating through this nightmare town for any signs of Cheryl. The town is quite massive, and really gives you a sense of scale about how insignificant your character is. It would be easy to get lost walking around town, except the game keeps the scope relatively simple by blocking off certain pathways. As you traverse different areas, you'll encounter survivors, old newspaper clippings, and other miscellaneous clues to help you figure out your daughter's location and the reason for the town's descent to madness.
Like other games of this genre, you'll be fetch-questing, backtracking, puzzle solving and surviving your way through the game. The survival aspects are somewhat similar to Resident Evil - the limited ammunition, awful un-involving combat and minimal save points are staples here too. But Silent Hill is much more streamlined. For instance, the combat really isn't any fun at all, but I believe the developers realized that, and made it so you can simply run away from most encounters in the game. There isn't much in the way of enemy variety. It's much less of an action game than RE is, and is much better for that. The puzzles, on the other hand, are a mixed bag. The good ones are among the best in this genre, with some clever word puzzles to decipher. But the bad ones can be way too cryptic or have hints that lead you to over-think what the solutions should be. Overall though, the decision to emphasize more puzzle / less "action" is a positive.
The audio and visual direction are to be commended for helping to bring out the horror elements. The game has a generally gritty look to it, especially some of the nightmarish interiors. Grates are broken, glass cabinets are shattered, metal is rusted, and blood is splattered. These are all reminders that something is very wrong. Then there's the music. The soundtrack is very sparse. Sometimes it's an eerie ringing. Other times it's a raging pulsing drum. The music convincingly conveys the mood at every point in the game. It is dreadful. It is ominous. It is terrifying.
But for all Silent Hill's successes at creating and sustaining a mood, its story-telling is its weakest link. Maybe it's because I saw the movie first, and maybe because Silent Hill's story is only subtly hinted at here and expanded upon in other games... but I just felt like the connections were too loose, and the details too fleeting for a lot of the subplots. In the end, it was this aspect that was the least satisfying.
As far as horror games go, Silent Hill does the job adequately. I still have to give the nod to the Fatal Frame series, not only because it's the only series that's actually entertaining to play, but to me, it's scarier too. That's not to say that Silent Hill isn't scary. Silent Hill emphasizes its creepiness primarily through the environments themselves, whereas Fatal Frame has many carefully directed cut scenes. Two different ways of doing things, but both will make you uncomfortable and tense while playing. Silent Hill does come up a bit short in making the narrative fit together with all the eerie imagery. To that end, maybe it's not unlike a typical horror film after all.