System: PlayStation | Publisher: Konami
Developer: KCET (Team Silent) | Reviewed On: PlayStation 3 (PS1 port)
Happy Halloween Everyone! For those embracing the most spooktastic time of the year, we hope you are taking full advantage of all the wonderful horror gems in the entertainment back catalogue. Whilst this year may be a bit different for those who are used to visiting fright nights or going trick-or-treating with the kids, it's still an ample opportunity to dive into a classic horror gem that you hold in high regard. And in my personal opinion, the subject of today's review certainly holds one of these spots.
In September 1996, six months after Capcom's release of Resident Evil by, a game that would later be cited for defining the survival genre in video games, Konami would begin the ground work in crafting a horror experience of their own. Rather than selecting an established in-house team, the job was given to a new team (later known in Team Silent) comprised of Konami employees who were unsuccessful in their previous projects & on the verge of departing from the company, primarily due to their disgruntlement of being unable to bring their own ideas to live.
Following a period of uncertainly, Team Silent decided to throw out the rule book opposed by personnel & create a game that focused on several elements; an emphasis of story-over-action, incorporating a psychological atmosphere & elements aimed at meddling with the anxieties of players, presented in a movie-style format that would also appeal to Western audiences. The game would feature a dark-yet-simple storyline with dark themes, presented through the eyes of an everyday character & set in an enigmatic town; full of mystery, uncovered truths, disturbing sights & haunting entities.
As voted for by our fellow supporters on social media, we will be looking into the inaugural entry of one of Konami's most beloved series in the horror genre; Silent Hill.
We begin the story with our protagonist, Harry Mason, who is about to embark on a vacation with his adopted daughter, Cheryl. En route to their destination of the quiet town of Silent Hill, a figure appears in the middle of the road & Harry swerves the car to avoid hitting them, but this results in him crashing. Once he regains consciousness, he discovers that Cheryl is missing & proceeds to explore the nearby town, in order to find her. As he widens his search, something doesn't seem quite right to him. Despite the foggy setting, there is no-one in sight.
With the snow lightly falling as he explores this abandoned town, he catches a glimpse of a figure he believes to be Cheryl & follows her down a dark alley. As air-raid sirens bellow in the distance, daylight begins to diminish & the alley's metal fences are washed with patches of blood. He discovers a dismembered, corpse-like figure hanging from a wall of barbed wire & entities of an inhuman nature try to stab him. Overwhelmed & defenceless, he loses consciousness & wakes up later in a café, coming to the realisation that he is still present in this desolate town. Was it all a dream or an hallucination?
As the story progresses, Harry comes to the realisation that he must endure the unpredictable nature of the darkness which engulfs this town & learn of the unsettling truths behind its demise, in order to have any chance in finding his daughter. He must remain empowered in his search without falling victim to the town's inexplicable forces.
Throughout the game & its story, the town switches between two divergent environments that change at the tone of the town's siren. You could be walking around a desolate corridor that can then transform into an industrial & stained hallway. Walking the foggy streets of Silent Hill can be washed in a sea of darkness at a moment's notice. Whilst these changes are scripted, it's always a daunting time when you transition into this darker world as the enemies are more fruitful & the danger is evermore present. Whilst these demonic beings will keep you on your toes, the game implements combat as a form of self-defence; offering you the ability to use guns, as well as blunt & bladed weapons, in order to fend off and defeat these inhuman creatures.
In its calmer moments, you'll encounter a number of supporting characters that whilst don't directly aid you in your journey, they help to move the plot forward. Police Officer Cybil Bennett acts as an ally aiding Harry in his search for his daughter & for the truth. Dahlia appears as a person of faith, more acquainted with the town & provides Harry with useful insight into the source of the town's mystery. My personal favourite was a nurse by the name of Lisa Garland. Suffering from amnesia, she enters the game at a time when my anxiety was high, progressing through a specific zone. Her purpose is a minor one, but her story left a lasting impression on me.
There are a number of dark themes present surrounding elements of religion, cults, demons & spirituality, but I found its core is one simply driven by love. My overall impression was that it does start off a little slow, relying on its mystery alone to spur your interest but as you dive further into its events & learn more about the history behind the town's nature, it'll peak your interest throughout. Avoiding spoilers, I found one particular discovery to be heart-breaking & felt torn if I was in support or against this prospect. There is also a level of ambiguity present in its themes, which does make it open to deeper analysis & whilst it's very bold in its content, I found it to be an intriguing journey of pain & love.
Silent Hill is played out in a third-person 3D perspective, of which the town is crafted as a sandbox with buildings & rooms you can explore at particular moments in the game's plot. I often found that the indoor environments were more detailed compared to those outside, but the latter does make the effective use of thick fog to amplify the atmosphere & acts almost as a metaphor; in terms of you not knowing what you will expect ahead of you. I did initially think that the fog's density was a negative, but it grew on me over time from a suspenseful perspective.
Like most 3D games from the late 90s, the infamous tank controls are present. Now to avoid a potential revival at all costs, I've never been a fan of this control style and there were moments in my playthrough where it was awkward to manoeuvre, so I'm not praising this by any means. However, I will make it known that the game's use of a free camera view made it more bearable than I anticipated, but this was mainly in the game's more open environments. Controls also allow the standard options of running, stepping back and strafing sideways, although when performing the last two with the run button held down, I found the animations to be unintentionally funny.
As noted, the game features combat through guns & weapons but this was a mixed bag. The game features auto-aim, but I found gun shots were inconsistent sometimes in terms of accuracy & often found I needed some level of precision to gun down an enemy, but sometimes a awkward camera angle can make this more of a challenge. However, I did like the variety of the weapons, ranging from pipes & knives to axes & katanas. Each have their own pros & cons and after time, I felt I got to grips with which ones were more effective to swing at particular enemies, especially when gun ammo is quite scarce.
The game's user interface is minimal with an inventory management system stored away in a separate section you can access by the tap of a button. I am assuming is to enhance its film-like presentation but despite its simple accessibility, I felt it broke numerous moments when involved in tense situations. It would've been nicer to have some customisation of the buttons, possibly to allow Harry to reload or use an item, but this wasn't as common on console games at the time so I guess this was the compromise.
There are some notable minor inclusions such as the interactive map you can use to navigate the environments, which updates if you encounter a dead end, a locked door or clues. This can easily accessed by a single button press. You can save your game when you reach an environment featuring a clipboard, which is highly recommended given the game's near 7 hour campaign. Finally, there are a variety of minor & major puzzles you must solve in order to progress further, find items or unlock new areas; ranging from solving riddles to sequential conundrums. Living in an age of the internet, their solutions can easily be found online but to those who can resist these temptations, they may find satisfaction in their completion.
Following in Resident Evil's shadow, the game features five possible endings; four of which are dependent on two particular events during the game. By doing as little as possible, you risk obtaining a bad ending. Again, the Internet is a place to reveal these requirements but the logical nature of the branching events & going forth without such help will make for a more satisfying conclusion in both good & bad circumstances. There is also a joke ending, which can be obtained when playing the game's New Game Plus mode called "Next Fear”. Without a guide, it's near impossible to figure out but worth obtaining if you are a completionist.
Despite flaws in its gameplay, where the game shines is its presentation. However, from a visual quality perspective, admittedly the game hasn't aged well in some areas but still hold up in others; a common trend for PlayStation One games. As previously noted, indoor rooms and sections were well detailed for their time. Outdoor areas are OK with houses being nicely composed, but the game naturally shines brighter in an enclosed setting. The two different contrasts of the transitioning environments were a personal favourite. The calmer environment utilise dull colour palettes with its outside sections falling with snow that settles briefly on the ground. This is a paradigm shift for when the light escapes this town as outside, the thick fog turns into thick darkness requiring a flashlight to somewhat navigate the town. Indoor environments resemble stained industrial environments with splatterings of flesh and blood. The perception I got was that I didn't feel welcome in the town and most definitely didn't feel welcome in the dark & nasty settings, which I felt resembled a rundown slaughterhouse.
The crème de la crème of this production is Akira Yamaoka's soundtrack. Featuring a blend of clashing styles, it is the highlight of this game by far. The numerous melodic tracks predominantly feature the presence of acoustic and/or electric guitars in a standard rock or acoustic setting, some with a slight Spanish influence. Whilst these are wonderfully crafted, this is nothing compared to the malign & aggressive nature of its backing tracks. Using the industrial genre as a canvas, the compositions range from ambient bass modulations to the use of eerie synthesisers & piercing drums that will spike your anxiety, especially when combined with the tense situations you will encounter in this game. Never have I experienced a soundtrack in a horror film, let alone a horror game, that tries so hard to make me feel uncomfortable & it works successfully. One final note: the ukulele-led intro of its title track never gets old. Simply put, it's an outstanding array of compositions in my eyes.
However, the only thing disappointment involving the game audio are the voice works of its cast. Let's be frank; voice acting in the 90s was unmethodical & here is no exception. I analysed the way the characters would speak & found that some lines I could easily interpret as genuine human responses, whilst others felt out of place. What makes it more awkward is that there is a big pause between each line of dialogue, which disrupts the flow of conversation. I'm not sure if this was a limitation back in the day, but I think a little more attention should've been given here. It wasn't game breaking, but it does ever so slightly knock my overall praise for the game's exceptional use of sound.
Silent Hill is a tense & unnerving horror experience, which unfortunately is held back slightly from a gameplay perspective. Whilst I found the game started off a little slow, it progresses into a journey with ample tension that will keep you on edge, even in its most quiet of moments & without the common reliance of jump scares. Its changing environments never made me feel comfortable for too long, its soundtrack was delightfully eerie and haunting, all wrapped up in a story that is both deep, fierce & will have you experiencing a spectrum of emotions.
From an atmospheric perspective, there have only been a few titles that have matched up to its level in this genre, which is a testament to its integrity. This entry would become the template Team Silent would utilise for its more critically acclaimed sequels in the following years. For a team that was on the brink of leaving the company, it just goes to show what a little bit of creative freedom can generate.
The first Silent Hill game was re-made back in 2010 for the Wii, PlayStation 2 and PSP; entitled Silent Hill: Shattered Memories. Unfortunately, this is more of a reimagination than a remaster & whilst seen favourably by critics, it will likely be unable to hold a candle to the original.
If you are a collector or prefer physical copies, pre-owned prices have returned to retail value over the last 12 months, but platinum versions often go for a little less. As of writing this review, there have been no official ports to any modern systems; with the exception of the PS3/PSP/PS Vita port, which you can purchase for around £6 (RRP) on the PlayStation Store. I used this version when compiling my review & found no major issues of note. I personally would recommend this as the best value version, if you have a compatible system.