- Original Platform: Playstation
- Developer: Konami Computer Entertainment Tokyo
- Publisher: Konami
- Release: January 31, 1999 (North America)
You wake up in your crashed jeep with an obnoxious headache on the side of the road, instinctively you look over to the passenger side where your daughter had been moments ago and find her missing; you notice the car door opened, as if she had led herself out. You quickly stumble out and begin your search, only to find your surroundings unnaturally covered in a thick fog, with snow strangely falling out of season; as you venture forward you make out houses, sidewalks and trees. It’s a town. You remark how unnaturally quiet it is, then continue on, lead by what appears to be your daughter wandering ahead in the distance. She leads you to an alley where you find blood and entrails strewn all over the place; things unnaturally get dark; you light a match and continue further into this apparent labyrinth of conjoined alleys. You pass a wheel chair flipped on its side with its creaking wheel impossibly spinning endlessly, further down is a lumped stretcher stained with blood. The walls get narrower; blood covers the entire ground beneath your feet, then pieces of flesh, and then you stumble upon what was once a human body, completely mutilated, stripped of its flesh and insides. You turn around and see short humanoid-like creatures coming toward you, armed with knifes. They lunge at you with a shriek; you try to escape but one clings to your legs as the rest begin to slash wildly. You let out a groan as everything fades to black. Did you just die? No, worse. Welcome to hell; this is Silent Hill.
This is an adventure of unprecedented psychological horror; daunting, torturous, and absolutely sublime. How far into hell would you go for a loved one? That will be the question you’ll keep asking yourself as you guide Harry Mason through this initially isolated town, searching for his lost daughter as it transforms into a world conceivable only in nightmares. The biggest challenge in Silent Hill is not the enemies you face or its puzzles, but your mind itself as you will be constantly subjected to the disturbing and unnatural; and it will take a strong constitution to endure, otherwise its nightmarish world will consume you. Silent hill boats exceptional visual and sound design elements that will haunt you even long after you’ve stopped playing and turned back on the lights.
Unfortunately many gamers will be put off by its cumbersome controls (or use it as a convenient excuse) that plagued games of this genre during the time. Harry can be quite unwieldy at times, especially when trying to maneuver him through narrow spaces or past monsters. Moving and turning is done on the same analog stick (or d-pad) and forward is dictated by the ever-changing orientation of the camera. It may sound highly unintuitive, that’s because it is. It’s really stiff, and there will be occasions were you will unintentionally run into something, which can be a costly blunder. Attacking can be somewhat awkward as well, especially with melee weapons; the animations are too drawn out, enemies usually don’t get stunned, and you will find yourself constantly re-orienting yourself to line up a hit while you’re taking multiple ones in exchange, especially if you’re fighting more than one enemy. Range weapons are the ideal choice if forced to fight, otherwise its usually more efficient to just run, even if it means taking a hit or two in the process.
The game-play can still be extremely engaging however if you admire strong atmosphere and artistic direction. Few games successfully carry such an unsettling presence as you wander through the town into dilapidated schools, hospitals and churches, searching for clues for Harry’s missing daughter. Your sight is constantly obscured, whether by the unnatural fog or complete darkness, in which case you must rely on your ineffective flashlight that casts a very limited beam of visibility in front of you. The game might initially appear open-world but you will constantly find yourself running into dead-ends, forcing you to tiresomely backtrack here and there until you discover the right path or door. It purposely goes out of its way to make you feel as disoriented as possible, which further compounds the tension as you helplessly seek refuge from the horrors surrounding you.
Things only escalate once you are taken into the darker realm, the ‘Otherworld’. No other moment will induce a stronger feeling of dread than when everything around you dims to darkness, and you hear that faint distinct noise like a siren, audibly projecting your feeling of anxiety as reality becomes ever more twisted and incomprehensible. The dilapidated environments begin to appear as if they are decaying right before your eyes; walls, floors, and other various pieces of structure are corroded away, sometimes leaving only thin layers of grating for you to travel over. Blood is stained everywhere; unnatural human-like forms hang on walls, or suspended in floors and ceilings. Humanoid creatures hobble towards you and attack, groaning and shrieking in agony as if desiring for their suffered existence to be put to an end. It only gets worse and worse as you progress, as if some corrupting influence threatens to consume everything.
There are puzzles scattered through-out the game; some are straight forward like finding an item to place in a certain slot, and others are more involving, which usually require reading riddles that vaguely hint solutions; these in particular can require some thoughtful thinking to figure out, and are likely the more satisfying elements of game-play compared to the awkward combat.
Its musical soundtrack is probably one of its most unique and effective aspects, utilizing an industrial and experimental kind of style that resembles nothing like traditional music. The majority of it is ambient, usually consisting of bangs, creaks, thumps or hisses that irregularly fluctuate in rhythm and intensity; its unconventional but startlingly effective at complementing the game’s unsettling atmosphere. It influences your psyche at the utmost primal level, giving the illusion that its literally personifying your anguish and despair through noise.
The radio you obtain also effectively serves as both an atmospheric element and a strong game-play gimmick, as its used to warn you of nearby enemies by emitting white noise. The drawback – other than the fact it induces you with further panic – is that it can also lure the very same monsters you are trying to avoid.
Unfortunately the English voice acting is no where near the production values of the sound design. The actors carry limited emotional range and are prone to awkwardly pause between lines, as if they were just reading their dialogue on the spot. Although not as terrible as other games of its time, it still certainly leaves much to be desired.
The story of Silent Hill is very ambiguous, such an extent that you can beat the game without having gained much insight in the events that transpired. There are a few factors that can both influence your understanding and change how the story will unfold, such as actions you do or don’t do during specific portions of game-play, or discovering readable diaries, or picking up relevant subtext within character dialogue. Then there are elements that are literally left up to your own personal interpretation. Although it arguably may be a little convoluted, there are intriguing elements here and there that are ambitiously thought-provoking within the game’s multiple endings, but is certainly nothing groundbreaking.
The game is relatively short, capable of being completed within 8 hours or less on your first play-through. Once you know the puzzles and locations you can potentially speed through the game again within less than 3, which you might be enticed into doing to see the other endings you can potentially obtain, as well as the special reward items and weapons you can earn by fulfilling special requirements.
To this day the aged graphics have done little to diminish the game’s powerful atmosphere, forever invoking chilling sentiment in many veteran gamers that have braved through the experience. If you’re looking for a game that will test your resolve and possibly even your sanity then look no further. Step into the world of Silent Hill… If you dare.