Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Silent Hill, a game review

In light of the new Silent Hill film soon to come out, I figured I'd write about where the whole series began, a PS1 game released 13 years ago (funny how some things work out). After this post, I may do something I've been meaning for quite some time now, a post focusing on the first film.

Released for the original Playstation in 1999, the first Silent Hill game came during a time when Resident Evil was the dominating horror gaming franchise, and drew similarities from players due to the fact that both titles had a slower pace than most games at the time. Instead of toting around grenades, ray guns (sort of, more on that in a bit), missiles, and machine guns to make sure you're enemy is not only dead, but a puddle of soup and ash, this game requires to to pick your battles carefully, even running when things get a bit too much.

Caution: there will be spoilers following, I will try to not be too long, but this may be a lengthy plot summery

The game starts with a line of text stating "The fear of blood tends to create fear for the flesh" laying out the groundwork for not only the small movie sequence that follows, but the entire game. The story follows a young writer named Harry Mason, who after getting into a near fatal accident on a mountain road, awakens to find that his seven year old daughter, Cheryl, whom he had been traveling with has vanished from the vehicle, and he sets out to search for her.

As he searches for his daughter in the seemingly abandoned town, Harry keeps getting sucked into a warped nightmarish version of the town. The town becomes consumed by darkness, where the walls and floors look weathered and rusted, and everything seems damp. After persevering, he would be sent back to the "normal" version of the town, which still seemed to appear abandoned.

In his search, Harry not only comes across an older woman who appears to be hiding a darker past, but also a doctor who seems to be involved in drug trafficking, a cop who seems to be a bit too trusting (she boldly gives Harry a gun for self defense within minutes of meeting him for crying out loud), a nurse who never want to be alone, and a young woman who appears to vanish into thin air.

Upon first meeting of each of these people, it appears that they have nothing in common with one another and know nothing of the disappearance of Cheryl. However, appearances can be deceptive because aside from the cop, each of the characters have a deep rooted connection with Cheryl, even long before she was born.

You see, the older woman with a darker past I mentioned? Her name is Dahlia Gillespie. Seven years before meeting Harry, Dahlia realized her seven year old daughter Alessa had the powers of a God. Dahlia wanted Alessa to give birth to Sameal, a demon worshiped by Gillespie and a small band of cultists. When Alessa refused to have any part in this, Dahlia attempted to kill her in a house fire, but when Alessa survived, she was taken to the hospital, and kept on eye on by associates of Dahlia with the plan of having her give birth while in torment. There, she was under the care of Lisa, a young nurse who out of the sorrow she felt for the young girl,  refused to leave Alessa alone. However, Lisa was an employee of Dr. Kaufman, who not only had her addicted to drugs, but was a fellow cultist of Dahlia.


When the pain was too much to bare, Alessa split her personality into two physical forms, one representing her own innocence, and the other representing her growing hatred for her mother and her fellow cultists. The innocent persona was found in the form of a baby, adopted by Harry. The darker side stayed in Silent Hill in a veil of a dream, gaining power for when the day when she could finally be reunited with her physical form and prey on those who attempted to kill her.

End of Spoilers

As complex as it may sound, the story of this game was really intriguing, and actually not too hard to follow, once you get past some of the purposeful ambiguity. You feel a major father-daughter connection between Harry and Cheryl, despite the fact that neither shared all that much screen time with one another. Harry's determination shows how much he really loved his daughter, overcoming the nightmare of Alessa to find out what really happened to Cheryl.

The small cast of characters and the abandoned town really makes for a very isolated and lonely feeling. As you get deeper into the game, the more you really see how deserted the town is. In true form to a good horror story, you start to have feelings of dread and hopelessness, but at the same time, have the determination of pushing forward and demanding answers.

One thing I must touch on with this game is a little bit of negativity. The main being the controls. I'm not talking about the common complaint of Silent Hill's combat controls (many people hated the combat in the first four or five installments, the combat itself felt just fine to me), but rather the movement controls. The controls for general movement feels very stiff and a bit clunky. You you run down a hallway and try to turn towards a door you want to open, just to overshoot it and then find yourself standing still, wondering how you missed what you were going for, only to have to turn around, back track 6 steps, then turn around again to finally go through that door. Luckily, that is almost entirely isolated to this one game. There are times in the second installment where the controls felt like that, but no where near as bad as in this title.

Another slight negative is the graphics, but to be honest, given when it came out, it's kinda hard to knock it's visuals since it is in fact an older game. You couldn't expect the groundbreaking visuals that we have today to be present in the late 90's, only the best that technology had to offer at the time for home consoles.

On the positive side however, one thing that I must touch on is the great soundtrack this game has. Incorporating industrial sounds such as the sound of pips clanging, screeching as if to sound like failing machinery, along with a the sound of guitars and drums, as well as more traditional sounding horror music such as the slow melodic. The soundtrack fit the dank and metallic structure of the other-world with the slow crawling darkness of an early foggy morning. Just off the music alone, you could feel the overwhelming darkness and the slight depression of the characters.

Another thing that was rather unique about this title, at least for it's time, was the fact that it had multiple endings. Ranging from the depressing "Very-Bad" ending to the "Very Good" even to the comedic "UFO" ending, which actually builds up a tiny bit of suspense and a little bit of spookiness until the very end, where you're abducted then returned to the start of your journey wielding the Alien Blaster, good for monster hunting.

All in all, this is a great game full of atmosphere and good bit of darkness for those in love with the survival horror genre in terms of video games, or just into horror in general. It has a pretty good story, good music, and good atmosphere. Just be wary of the controls if you do in fact plan on getting if off of PSN or something (I don't believe it's available on X-Box Live as it was a Playstation title originally, but I could be wrong about the current digital availability. Sorry, no X-Box for this wolf).

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