Games of Our Lives: Silent Hill

There is a chill in the air, the moon hangs bright and heavy on the horizon, the dead leaves whisper as they are pulled by the wind, and sinister jack-o-lanterns haunt your path. And in New England, magical things are happening. There’s a fog coming in off the lake, snow is falling early, someone is crying in the distance, and a man with a doorstop for a face wants to kill you and molest your cold, lifeless body. It’s such a special place, isn’t it?

In all seriousness, Silent Hill is one of my favorite game series. I love nearly all of them. And, as the spookiest day of the year is just past, it seems appropriate that I share it with the poor souls who have no idea what I am talking about. Let’s start at the beginning.

Silent Hill (PlayStation 1)

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Silent Hill, the original, is one of the most influential and important games in the horror genre, alongside the original Resident Evil. When first released, this game was genuinely frightening. It’s not now, of course, simply because both games have aged so terribly that you can’t take most of it seriously. That said, this game has plenty that makes it worth looking at, aside from its importance as the first in the series.

You play as Harry Mason who, with his young daughter Cheryl, is taking a vacation one year to Silent Hill. On the way, he suddenly sees a girl standing in the road and swerves to avoid her, crashing their car in the process. Once he wakes up, he finds his daughter gone. Fog has rolled in and snow is falling out of season. Where has Cheryl gone?

From there, Harry finds himself in the most horrifying situations from the very start. He sees what he thinks is Cheryl and follows her down an alley, deeper and deeper. The walls turn increasingly rusted and bloody as a air raid siren calls out from somewhere in the distance as the world grows dark and dim. You then find a dead body seemingly crucified onto a chain-link wall and are then attacked and seemingly killed by monstrous babies, setting the tone for the rest of the game.

The intro of this game is truly brilliant, but the rest of the game is a bit of a let-down. If you know Silent Hill, you know that the combat for these games is pretty bad, or at least clunky, and this game is no exception. But that’s really not a problem – a majority of the people you play as in the series are not exactly combat professionals, so they naturally don’t know how to properly shoot a gun or wield a sword, even when they have access to those things.

A bigger problem for me was the story. It’s certainly not the worst story in a game, but it is very esoteric and obscure. You will spend some time wondering what is happening, and not in a good way. From what I have gleaned, there was a cult in Silent Hill years ago who sacrificed a young girl named Alessa to summon their god (who may or may not be the demon, Samael), but then Alessa and the god fused together, screwing over the town forever, and Cheryl was kidnapped because she somehow is also Alessa, and that’s where it gets hard. Why is this here? As I said, it’s not a truly bad story, and certainly has its moments, particularly when it comes to cop Cybil Bennett and poor nurse Lisa Garland. The latter’s story arc is frankly heartbreaking, in a way few games have made me feel.

So, overall, Silent Hill is a decent game, but not a great one. It has some excellent moments and environments, and for a PlayStation One game, the graphics are excellent. But then there was a sequel, and suddenly this one didn’t seem to matter so much any more.

Silent Hill 2 (PlayStation 2)

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Let’s start with the story. James Sunderland is a store clerk who receives a letter from his estranged wife, Mary. She tells him she is in Silent Hill, where they spent their honeymoon, and she wants to see him. Here’s the thing: they have been estranged on account of her dying from an unknown disease three years ago. And from there, you experience a frankly awe-inspiring story of guilt, redemption, fear, love, and death. It’s too easy to spoil this game – it simply must be experienced, by playing it, if possible.

You meet a variety of characters, each with deep and powerful backstories, fight many frankly horrifying and disgusting monsters, and yes, die a lot because the combat has not been improved. But it makes sense in context, and never gets so frustrating that you want to leave. You’ll want to run from the monsters, but still soldier on through the horrors.

To be honest, no, Silent Hill 2 is not all that scary, especially now. The original game and Silent Hill 3 are honestly far more scary than this one. But they lack the depth and morbid, disgusting fascination that this game possesses.

Silent Hill 3 (PlayStation 2)

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Silent Hill 3 is a pretty good game, let’s acknowledge that from the start. Is it as good as its immediate predecessor? No.

Silent Hill 3 has the distinction of being the only direct sequel in Silent Hill’s history, specifically to the original game. Every other game is totally self-contained, apart from the setting and some call-backs later games bring in periodically. Whether this improves or detracts from it is up to individual interpretation, but I didn’t mind it, though I hadn’t played or seen the original game before this one.

Here, you play as Heather Morris, who is just hanging out in the local mall before being approached by a strange man named Douglas, a detective who wants to talk to her about the circumstances of her birth. She, naturally, brushes him off and escapes his determined approach by crawling out through the bathroom window. Straight into Hell.

In terms of pure scares, Silent Hill 3 is by far the most frightening. The monsters are horrifying and revolting, far more so than Silent Hill 2‘s demonic beings. The Closer, especially, I found utterly terrifying. Its a dirty humanoid with round, engorged hands and an elongated face that ends in the most disgusting and surprisingly vaginal mouth I have ever seen. It’s delightful.

The side characters as well are excellent, with the exception of Douglas, who I do not care for. Claudia and Vincent are two people from Silent Hill who are watching Heather and greatly dislike each other – What they want with her, what their connection to her, you’ll have to find out through play.

Silent Hill 4: The Room (PlayStation 2)

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This game is easily the black sheep of the games made by the original developers of Silent Hill and is rather disliked by fans of the series. While the concept is fascinating, I have rather mixed feeling towards it.

You play Henry Townsend, a reclusive young man who practically never leaves his apartment. One day, he wakes up and finds that he has been locked in, from the inside no less, with a message begging him to not leave. Not that he has much of a choice. After several days spent trapped (none of his attempts to communicate have succeeded), he finds a hole in his bathroom. Desperate, he crawls through and find himself in Silent Hill.  The mystery inherent here is something special, with a fair amount of potential.

Sadly, though, this game is a step back from its predecessors. It’s not that it’s a bad game, but it isn’t as scary or fascinating as the others. The monsters have a few good designs among them, particularly the conjoined twin monster, but it’s not that frightening, and a lot of the problem comes from how generic and underdeveloped Henry is. He’s not as easily sympathized with as the other three, who feel very human, and the story doesn’t build up to too much or have the intrigue of Silent Hill 2.

Silent Hill: Homecoming (PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PC)

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I have little to say about this. About a month ago, I wrote an article of Survival Horror, and discussed this particular creature heavily, and I have few things to add to that.

This is a complete mess of a game. It’s playable, certainly, but it easily ranks with Sonic ’06 and Resident Evil 6 in terms of quality and damage done to a well loved series. This game is neither scary nor interesting, and has so little to offer its players.

It adds very little to Silent Hill’s overall mythos, and worse, it spits on the games that came before with half-assed references and callbacks. The worst of these is easily the return of Pyramid Head from Silent Hill 2. Pyramid Head is one of the most recognizable mascots in horror, and here he is absolutely wasted. Not only does it blatantly ignore his original symbolism, but he isn’t even used more than two or three times in the entire game, each appearance less than a minute long.

This is easily the worst Silent Hill game around, bar none.

Silent Hill: Downpour (PlayStation 3, Xbox 360)

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I admit, this is a bit of a guilty pleasure. Maybe because Homecoming was the last Silent Hill before it, but this one feels polished. It feels like some genuine effort was put into it. No, it is nowhere close to being as good as the originals, but it is acceptable, let’s say that.

You play as Murphy Pendleton (easily the worst name in the series, by the way), a convict who was in the middle of being transferred to another prison when the bus crashes and he is suddenly free. Not that that matters in a place like Silent Hill.

The side characters and side-quests are easily the best part of this. There’s Anne, a cop who was helping transport Murphy and hates him with a deep passion for unknown reasons; DJ Bobby Ricks, who has been trapped in the town for a long time and sends messages over the radio, hoping for someone to help him; and my personal favorite, the unnamed nun. I could not tell you what about her fascinated me, but I found myself wanting to know so much more about her. Is she a ghost? Is she trapped here too? Well, that can’t be it, since the monsters ignore her. Is she a manifestation created by the town, like the monsters? Well, maybe, but she doesn’t seem to quite belong in the town. For whatever reason, I love her.

And yes, there are side-quests in this game. They don’t add anything to the story, but they do a great job of showing just how messed up Silent Hill is, even without the monsters.

Everything else about the game is alright. It’s not that special, at least not for a Silent Hill game. The environments are fairly interesting, the monsters are fine, it’s all just okay. Check this one out.

P.T./Silent Hills

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P.T. is one of the most frightening games – or snippets of games – ever made. It is a perfect mixture of hidden storytelling and frights. The imagery is great and disgusting, and everything just fits, even as the puzzles make you want to rip your hair out and scream at the developer. After years of silence following Downpour, finding this was an absolute dream come true. It marked the return to proper horror, to proper Silent Hill, and I thought it would more than make up for Homecoming.

But, as is far too common, that dream will never be realized. The project has been scrapped, and P.T. is no longer available for download, leaving YouTube walkthroughs as the only remnant.

In a way, that’s fine. Like the best Silent Hill games, it made us think, it made us frightened, and it made us talk. Silent Hills is a masterpiece that will never be, but what we got made the series much stronger, whether we see new Silent Hill games or not. We’ll always have these games, and that’s what matters.

Silent Hill seems like the sort of place to host epic Halloween parties. If you too are a Silent Hill fan, or a fan of horror in general, leave a comment below! Tell us about your own thoughts and opinions, your own interpretations, whatever you wish. We’d love to hear from you.

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