Silent Hill review
Just another cold Winter's night...
While Resident Evil let us have fun within a horror setting, Silent Hill always felt like the real deal - like as if Konami looked at its biggest rival, Capcom, and said to them "oh yeah, well, we can make a much better horror game than you guys". Thus came Silent Hill, which tweaked the Resident Evil formula a bit and did the one thing Resident Evil didn't, which was tell a great story. with a hell of an atmosphere.
It begins with Harry and his daughter, Cheryl, driving towards their favorite vacation spot: the resort town known as Silent Hill (keep in mind that this is the first game in the series so it won't seem like a crazy idea that Silent Hill is considered a holiday getaway). But while swerving to avoid hitting a figure on the road, he crashes. When he comes to, he notices his daughter is missing, so he heads to Silent Hill on foot to search for her. However, all is not as it seems - it starts off seeming a bit too quiet, but all of a sudden, here come some monsters, and with that comes some screwed up changes to the town that serve to mess with Harry (and vicariously, the player), testing his will to continue on despite that constant wet feeling in his pants and the feeling of fear.
As you go through the game, you'll learn more about Silent Hill and about the outbreak of monsters. However, you should expect some dark twists and turns that'll give you a lot to ponder... and ponder you will as you try to piece the story together. It's not given to you in maddening detail, but it gives you what you need, and in the end, you'll get yourself a fairly complex story that'll keep you on the edge of your seat as you try to figure out what's going on while this other world engulfs our world. You even start to wonder if it's real or just an acid trip, because Harry is as in the dark about it as we are as the game goes on - what we learn is what he learns. It's hard to really describe how the story works as well as it does without getting into spoilers - well, besides the fact that you can get 1 of 5 endings, depending on what you did during key moments, which certainly inspires you to replay it just to get the other endings, especially since it is a very good game that's well worth replaying regardless.
You don't want to know, buddy.
Silent Hill isn't quite as accessible as Resident Evil in terms of survival horror. It has the fundamentals like puzzles and tank controls, but the way Harry operates is a bit different from how Chris operates. While Chris can aim like a pro and run a marathon and a half while bench pressing a million on one pinky (erm, at least I think he can do the latter), Harry has a bit of trouble aiming his gun from long distances which can result in inaccurate shots, gets tired after running for a period of time and even trips at (thankfully appropriate) times. But don't confuse this for poor design, because it's not - it's deliberate, as in, he's meant to operate this way, having more to do with his character than anything else... Harry isn't trained in the art of combat, after all. This can lead to some frustrations, but after a while, you'll get the hang of it and you'll start to see why this works... plus it's pretty cool that Harry can use melee weapons like hatchets and pipes, unlike Chris who could only use a knife. Not to mention that you can perform a quick 180 degree turn, in case you need to run back - beats holding left/right until your slow self faces the right direction. Plus he can move while shooting with the pistol and (surprisingly) the shotgun, unlike Chris who has to stand still...
...basically speaking, combat in Silent Hill feels a bit better. Most of the melee weapons require you to get the feel as they require a fair amount of time to swing, and if you don't time each swing right, the enemy can attack and kill you. Not to mention the limited range, but you'll find that it's worth it once you get a few kills that you may not have gotten as easily from afar with Harry's poor aiming. Because of this, fighting enemies is hardly an inconvenience... more of an obstacle you'll have to overcome that you won't feel much for, but it's better than cruddy combat. Best of all, boss fights won't be an unneccesary irritation: they'll actually be fairly fun to fight. I mean, they're pretty simple fights in that you need to dodge a couple of attacks and shoot back, but thanks to some above average controls and a basic but well rounded arsenal of weapons as well as some interesting boss designs, it's quite hard to hate the bosses.
Survival is also a bit different. Harry has bottomless pockets, meaning that item management is non existent. For that to be in a survival horror game, it's a bit perplexing as that was half of what survival is about - managing one's resources, but at least they can fall back in limiting how often items are found, right? Kinda. Some weapons have a scarce amount of ammo while some have a fairly decent supply. You still have to conserve your ammo, but not to the point where you're afraid of engaging in combat. So how does this get considered a survival horror game? Harry's vitality, or practically lack thereof. He can't take any more than a few hits before he has to guest star as a generic zombie in Resident Evil. But healing items aren't exactly scarce, so... yeah, survival isn't nearly as emphasized as it ought to be, but it's still there, I guess.
But combat isn't the only thing you have to worry about. You'll often find yourself needing to solve some puzzles. On top of some basic "pull this" and "put this object there" puzzles, you'll also get to engage in reading between the lines of files and clues so that you can have an easier time solving puzzles. It forces you to really think about each puzzle - the solution isn't always as obvious as you'd think it is. Some of them wouldn't be too far out of place in a point and click game! Sadly, there aren't enough puzzles, which actually infuriates me... how come games like God Of War have many horrible puzzles, yet Silent Hill's only allowed a few, all of which are actually good!?
He won't be making babies anymore.
The low point of Silent Hill is the graphics. To put it simply, it was a very ambitious project on the aging PS1, with all the models in 3D (including the environments - none of that pre-rendered nonsense like Resident Evil or Final Fantasy 7). This leads to a lot of things that may look nice from afar but then end up looking very pixellated up close, and also leads to the game often slowing down to a crawl when there's a fair amount going on... oh man, it shows that the PS1 has reached its limits. Because of that, they had to generate a fog effect, which either used fog or darkness... and while it does seem like a technical blemish, it actually works very well as far as an atmosphere is concerned. It's like you never know what's going to come until you're a bit too close, and that tension is what really keeps you on edge. While I'm talking about atmosphere, there are many dark and dull colors to give off the impression that we're going through quite a dark tale, and the designs will show you how demented it can get. From blood stained walls and rusty equipment, to religious symbolism, each room can leave a lasting impression due to how quick they are to mess with your mind, and let's not forget the demented monsters we'll be fighting... monstrous and very deceiving nurses, skinned dogs, pteradactyls and - the worst of them all - demonic children... I sure haven't. Why? Simple - it's nightmare fuel. Basically speaking, the graphics are great in an atmospheric sense, but fairly average by a technical standard.
The sound design is top notch. The music in this game consists mostly of ambient sounds that build up a lot of suspense, as if there could be something at the end of the hall or around the corner. Not only that, but it does everything in its power to mess with you - from building up to nothing, to keeping quiet before blasting out a loud sound effect, among other things that'll keep you on edge. An item you get early on allows you to track monsters down, as it gets louder the closer you get to one, which could potentially lower the tension levels, but actually increases it as it's just a sound that you'll dread hearing if you don't feel like fighting, or if you find that static hurts your ears. Sure, the graphics and symbolism can make a tense atmosphere ready to give your mind a beating, but the sound design sells it. Had it not been for that, it just wouldn't be nearly as effective. When there is music, it's at appropriate times, and... wow, it's just fantastic... It's something you really ought to experience for yourself. The voice acting is passable and it does carry a certain amount of emotion throughout, but don't expect much out of it...
Silent Hill gets a 9/10. It's one of the few survival horror games where you don't dread combat, even if there is a control quirk that can be seen as a bit frustrating. It's got a strong story that grabs your attention and keeps it as you try to get all of the endings, all the while dealing with an imagery and ambiance that'll send chills down your spine. Really, all that's wrong with Silent Hill is that the graphics themselves look pretty "eh" with laggy moments and really haven't aged well.
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