Back in 1998, I made the life-changing decision to sell both my Nintendo and my SNES. Why would I do such a thing? I did it because, somewhere in Grand Rapids, there was a PlayStation with my name on it. Trekking up town, I made my purchases and quickly returned home, hooked up my new console, and inserted my first “next gen” game: Resident Evil 2. Needless to say, my 12-year-old mind was on sensory overload, and I loved every moment of it. From that point on, anything with the words “survival horror” attached was a must have.
This, of course, led me to a little game called Silent Hill. After playing that, there was no going back.
The original game was released back in 1999 on the original PlayStation. Although it had underwhelming graphics and VO, it was still a solid game. Focusing less on action and more on story and atmosphere, Silent Hill has been called the scariest game/series ever created. Sadly, the survival horror genre was all about Resident Evil; Silent Hill was, for the most part, overlooked. Still, it had its following and those who did discover it usually became die-hards.
In 2001, Konami brought us back to the creepy resort town with Silent Hill 2, this time for the PlayStation 2 (and later on the Xbox). With improved graphics, a new (for the most part) host of monsters, and an as-yet-unsurpassed plot, it is considered by many–myself included–to be the pinnacle of the series.
Silent Hill 3 came out in 2003 and, instead of being a stand-alone sequel like Silent Hill 2, is something of a continuation of the story started in the original game. Also on the PlayStation 2, SH3 has more of everything that is great about the first two.
The series was finally proven fallible with the release of Silent Hill 4: The Room in 2004. It wasn’t necessarily a bad game, it just didn’t follow the rhythm set by the previous three. Developed as a completely original game, the higher-ups at Konami didn’t think it would sell on its own merits. This caused the development team to revamp the game, changing some of the details and attaching the name of Silent Hill.
Developed for the PSP (2007) before being ported over to the PS2 (2008), Silent Hill: Origins is a prequel to the original title. Because of its PSP roots, Origins is considered something of an inferior game. Still, as a part of the Silent Hill series, it isn’t something to be passed up.
Then, in 2008, the first Silent Hill to be developed by an American team was released. Fifth in the series (if Origins is considered game zero), Silent Hill: Homecoming (Xbox 360 & PlayStation 3) was greeted with mixed reviews. Although it looked like Silent Hill, there was something off about it; this installment, although competent, felt like a carbon copy of everything that came before it–it felt lifeless.
January of 2009 brought Silent Hill: The Escape, an extremely lackluster iPhone game.
Next, in the Fall of 2009, a re-imagining of the original, Silent Hill: Shattered Memories, is to be released on the Wii, PlayStation 2, and PSP. Dropping combat entirely, the new game will focus soley on exploration (and, of course, the horror).
Beyond the games, Silent Hill has invaded both the graphic novel and the movie industries. IDW has published a series of graphic novels based in the Silent Hill universe and, in 2006, French director Christophe Gans (Brotherhood of the Wolf) stepped behind the camera to bring Silent Hill to the silver screen; a sequel is in talks.
Now that we have a history of Silent Hill the games, I want to delve into Silent Hill the town. Located in either New England or California–it’s never clarified in the games–Silent Hill is a town shrouded in mystery (and a perpetual blanket of fog). Bordering Toluca Lake, the town exists in different realities or dimensions. There is the normal, abandoned version; there’s a fog encased version that comes equipped with its very own creepy-crawlies; and there’s a Hellworld/Otherworld version, also equipped with creepy-crawlies and sporting a nice rusted-out industrial makeover. The town shifts from foggy to Otherworld as the evil takes hold; the transformation is preceded by a ultra-creepy air-raid siren.
The monsters in the Silent Hill series are unlike anything you’ve seen before. They are, for the most part, beyond my ability to [succinctly] describe. Suffice it to say that they truly are the stuff of nightmares. Grotesque and twisted things, they are abominations, mocking all that is natural. The creatures’ movements are twitchy and stunted, like an exaggeration of the claymation in an old Ray Harryhausen film. This jerkiness creates thrusting, gyrating forms that are intentionally sexual in nature, adding to the disturbing qualities.
Since the story relates heavily to the human condition, it deals with issues like sex, death, love, sin, sacrifice, and redemption. There is a depravity to some of the characters while others are the poster children of innocence. This implementation of very real human emotions into a Hellish environment is deeply unsettling. In fact, many of the characters encountered throughout Silent Hill are there to be judged and punished. This inevitably leads one to think that, perhaps, this town really is a manifestation of Hell on earth.
The sound design, headed by the amazing Akira Yamaoka, is some of the best I’ve ever experienced in a game. Because the game is either foggy, dark, or both, so much of the tension is derived from hearing something you can’t see. With an array of disturbing sound effects and some of the most enchanting, forlorn, and ominous melodies I’ve ever (and I stress ever) heard, Akira strives to create a hodgepodge of emotions and, thus, immerse the player completely in the world that is Silent Hill.
There really is so much to love about these games, about this town. If you’re a fan of horror, and if you’ve never experienced one before, pick up a Silent Hill game. The Silent Hill franchise has reminded its fans what it was like to be a child, afraid of what might be lurking in the Stygian darkness within your closet or under your bed. Truth be told, these are the games that separate the men from the boys when played alone, in the dark, at 3 o’clock in the morning. You’ve been warned.