Ghastly Gaming: A SILENT HILL Retrospective (Part Two)
4. Silent Hill 3 (2003 – PS2)
We have now crossed into the games that truly exemplify how scary and creative this series can get. Silent Hill 3 was a title that had a lot to live up to, considering the immense critical and commercial success of its predecessor, Silent Hill 2. The game follows the story of Heather Mason, the baby that was presented to Harry Mason at the end of the original game, as a now grown 17 year old teenager. While hanging out and running an errand at the local mall, Heather ends up falling asleep and finds herself wandering a nightmarish amusement park being pursued by monsters. When she wakes up, however, the terror doesn’t end as she is pursued by a cult known as The Order, and various monsters and horrible creatures will stop at nothing in their pursuit of acquiring this special girl. This ended up being a more linear and focused game, at least gameplay wise, than the previous two titles. This does make it a less open world and more confined in what to explore, but what it lacks in that respect it makes up in spades with some pure terror moments. The amusement park works like gangbusters in delivering nightmarish imagery and a classic visual of a large pink bunny, blood running from its mouth, just hanging out on a bench. The graphics were top notch, the story was engaging and the combat was intense. SH3 was a great capper to the original trilogy of Silent Hill games.
Favorite Moment #3 . The Mirror Transformation Sequence – Silent Hill 3
This is not only one of the best moments of the entire series, but one of the most awesome scenes in all of horror gaming. Finding yourself in a room with a wall covering mirror, you start to notice that things seem to be changing in the background, floor and all around the environment within the mirror, but the room is unchanged in the real world. The slow deterioration of the room, which culminates with your character beginning to bleed and slowly regress into a hideous burned husk, is scary and sweat-inducing the entire time. This is a great example of taking the viewer on a quick, trippy rollercoaster ride. Truly top notch.
3 . Silent Hill: Downpour (2012 – PS3, XB360)
The placement of this entry on my list is bound to cause controversy from fans of the Silent Hill series. Downpour, the last mainline entry that Konami developed before they essentially swore off making any actual games anymore, was received with middling critical reviews and a general wave of indifference from the gaming community. This was mainly due to various bugs and graphical glitches that were still present in the game at release. However, I believe this is one of the more intense and constantly-on-edge entries in the series. The story involves Murphy Pendleton, a convict currently being transferred to a maximum security penitentiary. While driving on the outskirts of south eastern region of Silent Hill, the road is suddenly in ruins ahead of the bus, causing it to crash in the forest on the side of a hill. As Murphy attempts to escape the crashed bus, he eventually finds himself in the town of Silent Hill, where the demons and creatures we all know are ready to feed on him. Personally, I had a rather enjoyable time with Downpour, and enjoy it more than Silent Hill 3 mainly due to the upgraded visuals, which truly deliver some nightmare imagery and environments, and a collection of random sequences that could only have been provided by the now-fully realized power of the PS3/XB360 systems. Silent Hill: Downpour gets more hate than it deserves. This is one entry that all Silent Hill fans needs to revisit and appreciate for the various inventive ideas and gameplay sections that are presented.
Favorite Moment #2. The Hansel and Gretel Puzzle – Silent Hill: Downpour
This puzzle, which essentially involves locating various items to complete the machinery needed to run multiple effects and props that are needed for a stage play of the Hansel and Gretel story at the school location in the game, is the defining example of how one sequence can make a game awesome and great. The process of finding the items that you need, bringing them back to the loft at the back of the auditorium where all the machinery resides, is only the tip of the iceberg. When you find what you need, you have to activate the multiple special effects and stage props in the correct order. However, after you do that, it doesn’t end there. In the most awesome visual this series has ever done, once all the effects and props are doing their job, the room begins to flash with lightning and the world itself seems to be changing as well, culminating with a bright flash and cut to black. When we return, we find that the Hansel and Gretel scene on the stage has been fully realized and come to life, the auditorium now being the forest that surrounds the house at the middle of the play, and now we have to venture through this nightmare landscape and make our way to the center. You really have to experience it to fully realize why I am in love with this scene.
2 . Silent Hill (1999 – Playstation)
The game where this all started. As stated before, the original Silent Hill from ’99 revolves around Harry Mason, a grieving widow who is taking his daughter Cheryl on a relaxing road trip vacation. However, things don’t go as planned, as they are driven off the road by something that hopped in front of their car on the road, crashing and getting knocked unconscious. As he awakens, he realizes that Cheryl is gone, and ends up tracing her steps to the sleepy, fog heavy town of Silent Hill. While it seems like just another survival horror game that was riding the Resident Evil gravy train on the surface, people soon realized as they played through Harry’s mindfuck of a journey that there was definitely something more substantial and cerebral under the surface, going for pure psychological scares over more pulse raising jump scares. I had never experienced a game that dealt with the themes that Silent Hill presented previously, and the accompanying visuals that tell the story are incredibly effective. I will never forget the truly disturbing sequence within the elementary school, as I was forced to defend myself against enemies that only can be described as mutant children, or the hospital with its warped sensibility of medical care and treatment, showing you sights that are better meant for the depths of hell. Silent Hill left a lasting impression on me, and it will be seared into my memory forever.
Favorite Moment #1. Opening Nightmare Alley Transformation – Silent Hill
This is the moment that I knew that Silent Hill was going to be a game unlike any other. The picture above is the beginning of the most memorable part of all the Silent Hill games. What starts off in a snowy, foggy world with what appears to be skinned dog meat laying on the floor quickly deteriorates into a descent into complete madness. This is the first time that you hear the infamous Silent Hill foghorn, which is an indicator that the real world you know will soon be transformed into your worst nightmare. Everything works in conjunction to create maximum vibes of an unsettling nature, whether it be the visuals or the music, to punctuate the quick changeover from daytime to night as the world shifts into a metal mess of death and blood. There is also one particular camera angle that was one of the first times that games seemed to become cinematic in their presentation, presenting a single shot of Harry walking down the alley from his front, the camera swings up and around as he turns a corner, and settles in behind him as you continue down the walkway. It’s a great sequence that literally starts off serene and calm and ends with a mangled corpse strung up on a chain link fence, with monsters all around. Without a doubt, this is the best moment from the Silent Hill series.
1. Silent Hill 2 (2001 – PS2)
Unfortunately, my favorite Silent Hill game shouldn’t be a surprise to most of you. This iteration seems to be at the top of everyone’s ranking of the Silent Hill franchise, whether it’s from a seasoned game journalist or a casual gamer. Silent Hill 2 is the best game in this series. The story revolves around James Sunderland, a widow who suddenly receives a letter from Mary, his wife who has been deceased for over three years. She instructs him to meet her at their special place, which just happens to be the lovely lakeside town of Silent Hill. This entry is simply one of the best adult video game stories ever told. The character development of James, the interactions he has with various characters (Angela, a woman seeking out her missing mother, or Maria, a slinky woman who bears a striking resemblance to James’ late wife), and the plot reveals that start to unravel towards the end are simply a master class in telling a sophisticated story that rivals serious Oscar-caliber movies. This was also the game that introduced us to the most memorable monster in the series, the imposing and frightening Pyramid Head. The combat and controls are still the clunky, RE-style method that the series was known for, and the requisite creepy locations are still effective, such as a derelict apartment building, the Alchemilla Hospital, and the serene and creepy Lakeview Hotel. All of these sections hold up as effective examples of tension and fear, and stand with the best the series has offered, but the story written here is simply above and beyond anything that Silent Hill, or anything else, has ever presented. It will make you question everything you have thought was fact throughout the game and ends on such a profound note it has stuck with me to this day. A horror game classic that stands tall with the best of the genre.
SPECIAL MENTION – I must bring up one person who is integral in shaping the look and feel of Silent Hill franchise as a whole. Akira Yamaoka, the music composer for the entire Silent Hill franchise up to the final one, Downpour (which was done by Daniel Licht), should get a lifetime achievement award for the impressive work he did. The Silent Hill main theme still gets under my skin every time I boot up the original game, and almost every piece of music he created for the games properly conveys the feelings and unease you needed to experience while traversing their environments. He is a true craftsman.