GBAtemp Recommends: Silent Hill
Today, in the spirit of the season, we’re taking a look at a classic genre-defining horror title: Silent Hill. This game kept kids and adults awake at night since its 1999 release on the wildly popular PlayStation, and lesser-known to most later got a Visual Novel port on the Game Boy Advance in Japan.
Silent Hill: undoubtedly inspired by Capcom’s Resident Evil yet taken one step further with a fully modeled 3D world to explore, dynamic camera movements, and the most haunting soundtrack you’ll hear for a long while. A team of misfit developers at Konami were tasked with creating a 'Hollywood action experience' as a response to Resident Evil, but the end result wound up to be far from Hollywood, and more rooted in the darkest minds of the player. Nobody at Konami had any faith in this group of developers, a blessing in disguise since this allowed the team to create their vision with minimal involvement from outsiders.
When people think about the original Silent Hill game today, many think of the very atmospheric music. While the later games had downright beautiful tracks, and some of the very best game soundtracks out there—it all started with the oppressive atmosphere of Silent Hill. The music alone could make you break out in a sweat, have your heart pound out of your chest and force you to turn the console off and turn on every light in your room.
But how do you make people uncomfortable in the most effective way? Use their fears against them! Many people are afraid of going to the dentist, so why not take a dentist's drill and use it as an instrument? Even if you aren’t noticing it, subconsciously you'll find yourself getting a chill of discomfort running through your spine. Add some overly loud industrial percussion on top of it all, and the adrenaline is pumping thanks in no small part to the stress.
One part of the game that hasn’t aged as well is the graphics. For some, the typical PlayStation 3D graphics are fitting for the horror genre, letting your imagination work a little bit more, and having the slightly jerky movements just adds to the unnatural feeling of it all. That is of course down to personal preference, but in my opinion, the graphical fidelity is just perfect for the game. The developers managed to turn the limitations of the console to the game’s favor, and you only have to look at the fog, or darkness later in the game, to see this in action. A way to hide the low draw distance that turned into a very atmospheric and scary element of the game, bringing in the element of the unknown. What is hiding in the fog? What is there just out of sight?
The game’s protagonist Harry Mason is driving one night with his daughter in the passenger seat. Something appears in front of the car, making Harry dodge to the side and crash his car somewhere in Silent Hill. When he wakes up, his daughter is gone, and Harry is set out on a panicked mission to find her somewhere in the misty streets. It doesn’t take long before everything takes a turn for the worse, with the world-changing around him, rust and monsters lurking in the shadows. Defenseless, Harry is attacked and knocked unconscious by the monsters, only to wake up at a diner, apparently saved by a cop. She gives Harry a gun. While nice, this was perhaps not the greatest idea in terms of safety. From here on out, you are on your own to solve the mysteries surrounding the disappearance of Harry’s daughter, and all the absurd things happening in the town. You will run into a few other people, learn about the history of the town, about religions, cults and evil gods. And maybe, solve the entire mystery?
There is an elephant in the room: the tank controls. You’ll either love it, accept it, or hate it. Personally I never had an issue with tank controls. It feels intuitive for the genre, looking back at Alone in the Dark and Resident Evil for example. There are plenty of theories that it is intentional to simulate the clumsiness fear brings to people, but in reality, it was always just because it was how these kinds of games were controlled at the time. This will likely be one of the biggest hurdles this game has in this day though, trying to attract new players.
As I mentioned earlier there was a Visual Novel version of the game released for the Game Boy Advance, though only in Japan. Attempts to translate it has been made several times, and some more or less complete translations exist online through archived sites. Sadly they don’t exist as a patch, but as pure text or homemade flash games. Apart from that, the game has never been remade or ported to other consoles, not counting the re-release of the game on Sony’s digital platforms. Thanks to the aforementioned digital releases, the game is easy to find and play today!
Earlier this year, this game turned 20 years old. In two decades, the horror scene has evolved many times; getting darker, more intelligent, very puzzle-oriented, and with a growing focus of survival. While Resident Evil pushed the survival aspects forwards, Silent Hill pushed the boundaries for puzzles and psychological horror instead. Without these two games, horror games wouldn’t be what they are today. Sadly, we will likely never experience anything new from Silent Hill that isn’t a Pachinko machine.
So let’s go back and enjoy the first game in the series, and shiver with fear once again.
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Screenshot credits: MobyGames