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Silent Hill - A Review


JFo
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In early 1999, the survival horror genre belonged to Resident Evil. Its zombie-infested locales, B-movie voice acting, and the uncanny ability to surprise gamers with those infamous scare moments made it ? and its numerous sequels ? an instant hit. When Konami released its first foray into the world of survival horror that year with Silent Hill on the Playstation, gamers were treated to a different type of horror game ? one that relied less on quick and easy scares and focused more on unsettling the player at deeper psychological level. Whereas the terrors of Resident Evil were brought forth by an evil corporations misguided experiment, Silent Hill?s world defied explanation and only belong to the realm of nightmares. The result of these efforts not only laid the foundations for its more impressive sequels (now at a total of three) they also have held up rather well more than five years later.

 

The game begins with Harry Mason, who is traveling to the small resort town of Silent Hill with his daughter, Cheryl. Through a series of bizarre events, his car is forced off the road and into the ditch where later he awakens in the misty streets of that evil town, sans his little girl. So begins his journey into the ultimate nightmare. As one would expect from the series, the town of Silent Hill appears to be void of any human activity and the few ?normal? people he does run across offer little in the way of comfort or explanation for what?s happening. All I can tell you is that it has something to do with an evil cult, a girl named Alessa, and some illegal substances you run across.

 

As far as I?m concerned, the story itself comes across as disjointed and unfocused. It reminded me of talking to someone with a bad cell phone connection. You can make out a little bit here and there, and you get the impression that what the other person is trying to say is actually very interesting, but you can?t get into it because of what you don?t hear. The story unfolds through a few pre-rendered cut scenes (which are surprisingly short) and various conversations with the locals. Scattered notes fill in the rest of the story, but it never comes together in a satisfying way. Gamers will most likely be left shaking their heads in bewilderment after they finally reach the end; I know I was. It doesn?t help that the atrocious voice acting makes it all the more difficult to take the story seriously. Can a gamer really take people who talk like this seriously? Those willing to delve deeper into the story, or find some direction in what was going on may want to look into various plot analyses online.

 

The game itself adheres to many of the principles of the survival horror genre. You guide Harry through various locations, fighting (and running away from) monsters and solving puzzles to move on to the next area. Really, the game play mechanics are not all that different from Resident Evil. What is different is the way it is presented. Whereas Resident Evil used pre-rendered backdrops against real-time polygon characters, Silent Hill exists in a fully 3D world, allowing for dramatic camera movements as well as a limited amount of camera control (for those moments when you needed to see what exactly it is you?re fighting).

 

Additionally, the game used light in an extremely effective way. Rather than illuminate the various locales with light sources located in the environments, almost everywhere you go is shrouded in utter darkness. The only source of light available comes in the form of a small flashlight Harry carries in his shirt pocket. The effect creates an unsettling atmosphere in which you?re almost don?t want to investigate those strange sounds coming from the darkness.

 

Ultimately, the 3D world, along with the lighting effects, make it a very pretty game? for the Playstation. Obviously, it could have been done prettier on the Playstation 2 or the Xbox. The real-time characters models themselves haven?t held up well over the years; they look blocky and move with a robotic stiffness not seen in the sequels. I also get the feeling that the limitations on hardware hampered the design of the monsters somewhat. For whatever reason, they just don?t seem as grotesque or scary (with the exception of those little guys you meet at the elementary school) as in the later games. The environments, however, do still look great. The nightmare levels in particular are still rather stunning to behold because they retain the grittiness that makes them feel so real in the sequels. The rusted metal grates, the decaying walls, the blood-soaked floors come to life in vivid detail thanks to some outstanding texture work. And since Silent Hill is as much about the place as the people that was a very good thing to see.

 

One area where this game has held up well in the last five years is in the sound department. During my time with the game, I indulged myself and cranked up the sound on my home theater system and enjoyed an aural feast for my ears. The inexplicable moans of the monsters, the quiet ambient noises of the city streets, the sound of machinery during the nightmare levels, and the wonderful musical score came through with excellent clarity. A few moments even rattled the walls with some very deep bass notes (i.e. whenever the elevator door opened in the hospital).

 

The biggest strike against Silent Hill is in the controls. Expect the standard spin-in-place set up of the Resident Evil that you either hate or are willing to tolerate. Sadly, unlike in the second and third games, this one does not feature a 2D control option that allows players to move their character in relation to the camera rather than up-is-always-forward. At times, movie Harry around feels like trying to jump hurdles with an SVS on your back. The controls work well enough for those who are willing to deal with them, but they may be too frustrating for complete newbies to survival horror.

 

Despite it?s flaws, Silent Hill remains scary and fun, and I?m happy to say that I?ve played it. I?m even tempted to go back and play Silent Hill 3 to catch all the little references I missed from not having played the original first. At the very least I know where that Heather girl came from now. ;)

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As far as I?m concerned, the story itself comes across as disjointed and unfocused. It reminded me of talking to someone with a bad cell phone connection. You can make out a little bit here and there, and you get the impression that what the other person is trying to say is actually very interesting, but you can?t get into it because of what you don?t hear. The story unfolds through a few pre-rendered cut scenes (which are surprisingly short) and various conversations with the locals. Scattered notes fill in the rest of the story, but it never comes together in a satisfying way. Gamers will most likely be left shaking their heads in bewilderment after they finally reach the end; I know I was. It doesn?t help that the atrocious voice acting makes it all the more difficult to take the story seriously. Can a gamer really take people who talk like this seriously?

 

Agreed Jeff. If it's any consolation the story *is* understandable is you complete the games five endings. The pieces of the puzzle fall into place with each ending you get but thats a seriously steep mountain to tackle when the online plot analysis on GameFAQS does a wonderful job in breaking down what in the hell is going on!

 

I also agree about the voice acting. Revisiting the game for those that haven't played it in a few years will be a bit of a shock as the nostalgiac memories of the game will melt away revealing some RE level voice work at times.

 

Thanks for the review Jeff. I was looking forward to reading what you thought about the game having run through the subsequent sequels first.

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