Ghastly Gaming: A Silent Hill Franchise Retrospective (Part One)
If you are a gamer and seriously into horror, chances are you have run across two of the most popular horror series that gaming has to offer. Those two would be the Resident Evil and Silent Hill franchises. While I am personally a more avid fan of Resident Evil, I simply can’t deny that Silent Hill is probably the more unsettling and creepy of the two horror heavyweights.
The Silent Hill franchise, developed and published by Konami, was first released on the PlayStation back in January of 1999. At first glance, critics and players wrote off the game as a Resident Evil rip off, with similar gameplay styles and general structure of the progenitor of the survival horror genre. However, as more people played through the game and its myriad of sequels, the series quickly established itself as a more cerebral form of horror, relying on psychological scares rather than the more in-your-face jump scares that Resident Evil provided. To celebrate the 20th anniversary of the original, I have thought long and hard on how I would order the Silent Hill games, from the worst of the bunch (which still means it’s not that bad) to the one that is the best amongst them all. In addition, as a little added bonus to show some of the great inventive scenes that this series can produce, I will let you know what where my top three moments across all eight mainline entries. Now, on to the countdown, starting with:
8. Silent Hill: Homecoming (2008 – PS3/XB360)
If there was one thing that was a constant thread through all the main playable characters that the player inhabited in the Silent Hill games, it would be that they were just regular people. Just clunky humans who barely know how to fight or shoot, and the combat portions of the Silent Hill games reflected that. In this entry, you played as Alex Shepherd, a military man who was recently discharged from service and returns home to find that his father and brother are now missing. Could the neighboring town of Silent Hill have anything to do with that? Besides the fact that the game is merely average with nothing being either incredibly well done or painfully disastrous, having the main protagonist be well versed in physical and weapon combat drains the game of the inherent fear of being someone who is not good at dealing with these monstrous creations. Homecoming is merely OK, and that doesn’t cut in the Silent Hill universe.
7. Silent Hill: Origins (2007 – PS2/PSP)
Silent Hill: Origins was already working at a disadvantage. The next generation of systems was already released in 2006, and on top of that, the shiny new current generation Silent Hill game, Homecoming, was scheduled for release the following year. Origins acts as a prequel to the original Silent Hill game, following Travis Grady, a trucker making his way to the town of Brahms and ends up passing on the outskirts of Silent Hill, eventually getting drawn into the infamous village. The game rehashes locations and assets from the original SH, with familiar locations (The infamous hospital) and characters (Michael Kaufmann and Lisa Garland) used to flesh out just how messed up this town was before Harry Mason strolled on in. The gameplay is the same tank control goodness that was used in the first three entries, and while it is a decent game, the story ends up being just serviceable. The graphics also ended up suffering greatly when compared to the images we were getting of the new Silent Hill on PS3. If this came out earlier, it might have been better received, but alas it was merely a space filler until the true sequel arrived the following September.
6. Silent Hill 4: The Room (2004 – PS2/XBOX)
This one is by far the weirdest and most bizarre entry in the Silent Hill canon, and that is saying a lot considering the crazy and hypnotic stories and images we were treated with up to this point. Conceived as a spin-off game called Room 302 that later had the Silent Hill name added to ensure connection to the franchise, the story follows Henry Townshend, a man living in apartment #302 within a town named Ashfield, which is in close proximity to the old evil ritual town of Silent Hill. One day he wakes up and finds himself completely trapped within his apartment and large hole that has manifested itself in his bathroom wall, leading to a nightmarish world of creatures and evil. The story is pretty vague and you can clearly see that this game was developed as something else entirely before the Silent Hill name was slapped on, with the game’s mythology massaged into the already existing plot. Despite this, the game does have quite a few genuine moments that produce shivers, and the trippy sequence of a giant disembodied head of a woman chasing you through the nightmare world is one that will be forgotten anytime soon. SH4: The Room is better than it has any right to be, considering the complete bonkers nature of the premise and situations that develop, but it ultimately doesn’t come together and work due to shortfalls in the story and overall thematic presence.
5. Silent Hill: Shattered Memories (2009 – Wii, PSP, PS2)
Billed by Konami as a reimagining of the original game, the story still follows Harry Mason and the search for his lost daughter Cheryl in the foggy and nightmare town of Silent Hill. The game was developed as a stand-alone title from the rest of the canon, allowing it to shake up and radically change the various characters, story arcs and even the city itself that we were familiar with in previous games. This allows the developer more freedom to go more intense and let loose with the events that unfold in the game with no repercussions. Silent Hill is now a town that seems to be eternally cold and frozen over in various locations, and the use of Harry’s cell phone is integral to many puzzles and story progression points throughout your journey. The coolest aspect, however, is the fact that there is NO combat in this game. Whenever you encounter enemies, the camera shifts to a front facing view and you are only left to run for your life, trying to successfully lose the creatures that are hunting you down. While that may initially sound awful, and some games have tried that before and failed miserably, Shattered Memories does an admirable job in these gameplay sequences, with competent controls and camera work, all while you truly feel like death is closing in on you. This was a creative take on how to remake or reimagine a game, and I believe it turned out rather well.
Check back tomorrow for Part Two of Eric’s Silent Hill Retrospective!