31 Days of Gaming Terror – Day 18: A Stroll Through Silent Hill

Alex Lucard: I can’t really say anything positive about Silent Hill as I’ve never been a fan. I Hated the first game due to bad graphics and controls. I thought the second was a huge step up, and then was let down by the third. I liked the fourth, mainly because of the outside the box idea for the game and the fact it played nothing like the previous entries. Origins was mediocre in every way possible (at best) and I hope never to play it again. And the movie? Wow, was that a stinker. Yet, something about Silent Hill compels me to constantly return to its fog-enshrouded midst. So instead of spending a page or two bitching about the controls and how games like Clock Tower or DarkFall were overlooked in favor of this mass-marketed franchise, I’ll let my staff share their more positive and enjoyable memories.

Mark B: Silent Hill, as a franchise, pretty much hit its peak with the third game. Now, a lot of people will say, and they’re entirely within their rights to do so, that the second game was the best in the series, and hey, they’re entirely correct, but the third game pretty much is where the franchise hit the proverbial wall. It was still entertaining, sure, and it nicely resolved the story of the Mason family that was initiated in the very first game. After that though, there really wasn’t anywhere else to take the franchise. You can tell the stories of random people all you want, and to a point, you might even be able to pull it off, but at that point, the Steven King and Jacob’s Ladder inspired concepts had pretty much been mined as much as they could be, and there was nowhere else for the series to go but down.

Now, that’s not to say that good or even great games couldn’t come from the franchise, even as it is. Despite the fact that the games generally play like crap, I’m significantly more willing to forgive the franchise for this problem than Mr. Lucard, largely because, hey, Jacob’s Ladder is one of my favorite movies, and frankly, anything that uses the movie as a starting point is pretty much going to find me as a customer for a good long while. The first game was a surprisingly interesting experience, largely because it felt like something of a cross-breed between the action-oriented survival horror games console fans had come to love and the more adventure-oriented atmospheric horror games PC fans enjoyed, and it managed to be playable enough to be enjoyable. The second game is, of course, arguably the best in the series, and is the game that fans will readily hold up as a prime example of games as art. The third game brought the story of the first game to its logical conclusion, and was pretty entertaining on its own, to boot. Hell, even the movie had its enjoyable moments if you didn’t think about them too much, and the franchise has created one of the most memorable and awesome villains in gaming history, Pyramid Head.

That said, the three most recent games haven’t been particularly stellar. The Room was a neat concept, but is a Silent Hill game in name only (literally; it was developed as an entirely different game, and had the franchise name slapped onto it to move more copies), and as such, doesn’t feel quite right. Origins is a horrendous, horrible game that somehow plays worse than the previous four games, made by a developer, Climax, whose game of significance is Sudeki, an utterly mediocre RPG (and FYI, Climax is not to be confused with the Japanese company Climax Entertainment, who gave us Shining in the Darkness, the first two Shining Force games, and Landstalker, so that the placement of blame is clear). Homecoming, yet another Silent Hill Konami had no interest in developing, is better than Origins but completely misses the point of Silent Hill games by focusing the game on combat instead of the atmosphere, placing the game in a town that ISN’T Silent Hill, and providing us with yet another crazy main character (another hideous idea brought to us by Origins).

Look. Silent Hill is not about crazy protagonists, or towns that are not Silent Hill, or fighting monsters. It’s about a foggy town in the middle of nowhere, where people suffer because they must, because the entire town is a cursed hellhole. The franchise is, and has ALWAYS been, about the atmosphere, the ambiance, and the experience. It’s about a tiny town that turns into hell itself, it’s about human suffering, it’s about surreal and bizarre imagery and freakish landscapes mixing with any other normal town in the middle of nowhere. You cannot improve it by making the characters mentally unbalanced, or by making us fight giant monsters we cannot avoid constantly, or by making the combat MORE difficult; you can only improve it if you keep the core concept intact. To do anything else is to ruin Silent Hill. This is why James Sunderland and Harry Mason are memorable characters, while Travis Grady and Alex Shepherd are odd footnotes in the history of the franchise.

Oh, and also: just because the franchise takes a lot of its cues from Jacob’s Ladder doesn’t mean you should actively rip off the hospital scene. There’s a difference between a ripoff and an homage, folks. Just a thought.

Aaron Sirois: I may not be the consummate Silent Hill fan, but I’ve dabbled in the series a bit and while the game play isn’t for me, I absolutely love the atmosphere it sets.

First off, the fog is great. As movies like The Mist have shown us, nothing is creepier than a fog that settles over everything. You don’t know what horrors lurk in the depths of it until it is too late. I can’t believe it took until the first SH game until someone utilized this. To this day, there isn’t a big fog that goes by where I don’t remember the beginning of Silent Hill. You know, when you hear the noise and move towards the door only to have the giant winged thing of doom come from RIGHT ABOVE YOU THROUGH THE GLASS WINDOW!

Also, I absolutely love the radio in these games. By itself, the static is nothing. What it signifies, on the other hand, is possible death. I’ve never been in a real life or death situation, but I can’t imagine what would be more terrifying than hearing that static and knowing it meant something was coming to take me. You search around, hoping to catch a glimpse of your death before it can get to you, but there’s that damn fog again!

I even love the score for this game. The creepy industrial music fits all too well with what’s going on. Kinda like how NIN fits any grotesque horror scene you can think of. The theme for SH still gives me chills.

I may not be a big survival horror fan, and I may hate the poor controls that Silent Hill is known for, but the atmosphere of the series has always been stellar and in my opinion, the reason for its success.

Chris Pankonin: The Silent Hill franchise has always had a special place in my heart, mostly because they were the first “survivor horror” games I was actually able to complete in a matter of days. While I didn’t think the series was scary, the story was intriguing enough along the way to keep me going. Beating Silent Hill 1 was the springboard to get me to try out other survival horror games, it gave me the itch to give classics such as Resident Evil and Resident Evil 2 a legitimate effort, where I realized I really enjoyed the genre.

Silent Hill 2 was one of the first game I owned for Playstation 2, and I was able to complete the game in two days. It was a long time ago, but if I remember right, the total completion time was something like 4 hours – way too short, but I get a sense of satisfaction any time I’m able to complete a game, and this was no exception.

The series has taken a downturn in recent versions, and I haven’t tried the latest release Silent Hill: Homecoming yet, but I do plan on giving it a rent sometime soon. In my opinion, the Silent Hill franchise is arguably the 2nd or 3rd most popular series in the genre in the United States – love it or hate it, its had longevity, but is it a classic? Not so much.

Aileen Coe: Ah, Silent Hill. The place that forces those it beckons to its grounds to confront the things they least want to face and screws with their minds. The plots tend to be on the….intricate side (some might call them convoluted. To-may-to, to-mah-to). Every character had their own issues to deal with, even the side characters, which gave them some definition and made me want to keep playing to find out what their deal was and how their stories would end. I’d play through the games multiple times to unlock every ending.

With the exception of Silent Hill: Homecoming, all your player characters had little combat experience and limited stamina, which made battles a bit annoying to deal with. At the same time, it put a different level of scary in the game than say, Resident Evil, wherein you’re almost always controlling someone who’s combat ready and can blast through the zombies without blinking, provided they had ammo.

Though trying to figure out what various monsters symbolize for the character you’re playing as is an…interesting form of psychoanalysis, to say the least.

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