As far as terror was concerned nothing had quite pushed the envelope as far as Silent Hill at the time.
For the review of Silent Hill: Origins click here
While the world was watching President Clinton being acquitted and Shania Twain dominate the charts, something much darker was devouring PlayStation consoles across the continent. Released in North America on February 23rd 1999 – the iconic series kicked off with a bang.
Still regarded as a defining moment for the survival horror genre, Silent Hill challenged its more popular rival, Resident Evil, in not only jump scares but the game also touched on a more psychological edge that made it feel much more adult than anything released before it.
Originally used to mitigate the PlayStation’s hardware shortcomings, the game’s now iconic snow and fog mixture create an anxious playthrough. Using a wind up radio your character finds early on, hearing the white noise of radio static begin to flare up indicates that enemies, although still unseen, are nearby. The presentation still makes for a white knuckle run-for-your-life experience.
The origins of Silent Hill goes as follows basically, Silent Hill, Maine is your typical quiet, rural town. Some businessmen come in and transform Silent Hill more into a tourist friendly resort town. Everything seemed fine until apparently, just fucking overnight, it’s clearly not. You play as single father, Harry Mason, who is raising his adopted daughter, Cheryl by himself following the death of his wife years before due to an unnamed illness.
Cheryl and Harry decide to get away from it all and visit the sleepy town to rest and restore from their grief not yet knowing it’s a complete psychotic shithole. While driving there, Harry spots a little girl in the middle of the road. Desperate to avoid hitting her he veers off the road. An undetermined time later he awakes to find himself on the outskirts of town and his daughter missing. A bad start to any vacation.
Anchored by a phenomenal soundtrack that sets the pace and tone throughout the game, the writers masterfully put together a story and gameplay that leaves you, at times, as disoriented as the main character.
For example, the game is specifically designed at points to let the player explore every option of an area and seem stuck. Only for you to return to an area you had already explored to find a completely new option. Bending the player’s logic gives a sense of the game toying with you. Like a devilish game of cat and mouse. The game even gave me a jump scare, one of the likes I haven’t had since I was a kid. It was awesome.
For a PS1 game the controls have aged pretty well. It’s not perfect, but still feel more intuitive and smoother than Resident Evil’s, “tank controls”.
But as enjoyable as the game is twenty years later, it’s still not without its comical flaws. Like, Harry Mason’s voice acting. I don’t know where they found the least convincing person on the planet but it’d be nice if Konami could unfind him in the unlikely event of a remake. I mean, you’re running around a strange town looking for your daughter, blasting skeleton dogs and ghost babies with butcher knives in the face with a shotgun. Feeding homicidal vines IV bags full of blood, getting vomited on by sand worms. I’m not asking for a hysterical man screaming and pulling his hair out for eight hours straight but a little agitation her and there wouldn’t have been too unreasonable. I’d like to think most parents searching for their child wouldn’t sound like they’re doing the voice over for an Ambien commercial.
However, to their credit, the actors that voice, Cybil, Dahlia and Lisa all do a good job. Saving the acting from completely derailing the immersion.
Some other laughable moments is at a point early on in the game your character meets, Cybil – a police officer from neighboring town, Brahms. Insanely within fourteen seconds of meeting you she gives you her gun. What kind of police training are they giving in Brahms?
Brahms Cop: I’ve been called here for a domestic dispute.
Caller: Ah, yes, thank God you’re here. My husband is just being un-
Cop: Enough said. Here’s my gun. Go sort out your own problems, lady.
Lastly, the writers just go balls to the wall nuts story wise (as Abraham Simpson would say) “Which was the style at the time”. They posit about sixteen different speculative causes for what’s going on in Silent Hill like:
~ Drug Trafficking
~ Societal Decay
~ Main character guesses he’s in a coma
~ Main character assumes he’s dead
~ Main character assumes he’s been drugged
~ Main character assumes he’s gone insane
~ Demons that look like little children
~ A portal into the Otherworld
~ An alternate dimension
~ All of the above
~ None of the above
~ Some of the above
It’s almost as if the writers themselves didn’t even know what they had created yet. Which is probably why the game had five different endings. Nevertheless, it may be considered a retro game nowadays but it is still very much a modern masterpiece. A pioneer at the very beginning of Survival Horror’s golden age.
A must play for game enthusiasts and a heavy hitter that decades later still lives up to its hype:
Overall: 89% (SILVER)
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