There’s a reason why Silent Hill is considered to be one of the big pioneers of the survival horror genre. Read more to find out why.
|Developer||Konami Computer Entertainment Tokyo|
|Purchase||Purchase from eBay.|
Silent Hill. One of horror gaming’s most iconic series alongside Resident Evil. Though at one point considered to be a clone of Resident Evil or Konami’s answer to Capcom’s rival series, there was no doubt that Silent Hill remained one of the most influential horror games of all time.
From its deranged monster designs to rusty, metallic hallways, no one can mistake the iconic look of the series. Compared to its more action-oriented cousin, Silent Hill focused more on atmosphere, thematic storytelling and disturbing imagery.
And today, we are going to look at the game that started it all: Silent Hill for the PlayStation.
The City of Fog and Darkness
The game opens up with our protagonist, a man who just survived a car crash. We learn that the man’s name is Harry Mason and that he is searching for his missing daughter, Cheryl. Harry finds himself in Silent Hill, a ghost town that is perpetually snowy and foggy. While there appear to be some people around the area, there are also hideous monsters that patrol the streets. Harry has only his wits and survival skills in order to find Cheryl and learn about the town’s nasty secrets.
While the premise is simple, it works well because it takes a seemingly mundane setting and gradually introduces the horror themes in less than five minutes. At the time, there weren’t many games like Silent Hill around. Many of the horror games came closer to being action games rather than horror. Take Konami’s other horror-themed series, Castlevania, for instance. Castlevania may have some horror references, but it doesn’t go out of its way to frighten you. It’s an action series with a gothic overtone.
Whereas, Silent Hill is a game that emphasizes exploration and inventory management over combat, much like Resident Evil. But instead of exploring a haunted mansion, you’re exploring a whole haunted town with some notable facilities.
The game utilizes tank controls, a type of control scheme prevalent in older 3D games. What this means is that that the up button moves the character forward and that the down button moves the character back, while the left and right buttons only rotate the character in place. This is not the kind of fluid control that is present in Super Mario 64. This control scheme is stiffer and harder to master. While I’m not a fan of tank controls, it’s not particular restrictive in Silent Hill.
The first hour of the game introduces a small series of puzzles to you. This requires you to utilize the town map in order to explore circled areas and alleys for important items, such as keys and weapons. Eventually, you will come across a simple puzzle where you must collect three keys to unlock a back door inside a house.
This is a well-designed portion of the game. It teaches you the basics without explaining anything to you and it sets your expectations on what the rest of the game will be like. This is how you can teach people on how to play your damn game without shoving a tutorial up their faces. Silent Hill is nearly 20 years old and it was able to pull that off just fine. Why is it that simple games today had to hold your hand without your consent? Whatever happened to just learning by playing the game itself!?
Um, ahem… rant aside, Silent Hill does an excellent job in helping you get adjusted to itself, even with its flaws in controls and combat.
Speaking of which, the combat is pretty hit-and-miss for me. In this case, literally more misses. The melee combat mechanics are functional. But without practice, melee is more likely to get you killed rather than helping you save ammo. This especially goes true for flying enemies, who can quickly swipe at you and interrupt your attacks. This is by far one of the most frustrating aspects of the game. When you’re low on ammo and want to save up, you either have to fight close-range or run away like a pussy.
While guns are the best way of eliminating enemies, it’s easy to run out of ammo if you decide to commit genocide on them. Thankfully, you can utilize the darkness itself as something of a weapon.
Who’s the REAL monster here?
Yes, the darkness. The odd thing about the monsters of Silent Hill is that they adjust poorly to the darkness. First, shut off your flashlight. Then you can either sneak up on the monsters and beat the shit out of them with a rusted pipe. Or you can sneak past them without alerting them of your presence. However you go about it, the darkness is your unlikely friend here.
I make it a habit to keep my flashlight off whenever I enter new rooms. That way, I can easily ambush monsters with melee weapons and save my ammo for moments that matter. I guess that makes me the real monster here.
A very cool feature of the game is the pocket radio. As soon as you acquire it, this radio generates static whenever monsters are nearby. This gives you the chance to prepare yourself: whether to beat their brains out or run from them like a teensy-weensy baby.
Occasionally, the game throws a tricky puzzle at you (often with a riddle). These are the kinds of puzzles that either require some attention to specific details of hints given to you. Or they’re the kind that require you to think outside of the box. For the most part, you do have to go through some collection quests before you can solve the puzzles. But these can be truly devilish moments that add another depth of challenge to the game.
So it’s pretty clear that Silent Hill in general is an unforgiving game, both in the survival and puzzle-solving aspects. This is certainly not the kind of game for players seeking an easy time, but for the patient and persistent players. But that is also what makes it such a memorable game.
The difficulty stems from the player’s wits and ability to react to dire situations. In the case of dealing with monsters, it’s not necessarily about how many you kill. It’s more about how you deal with them. Any tiny mistake can kill you off and make you start over from the last save point. So even if you kill some monsters off with a shotgun, chances are that you may have needed those shotgun shells for more challenging situations (like a boss).
The Rusty Corridors
Visually, Silent Hill has a striking appearance. While the character models and environments are passable for the era, the art direction is what truly shines here. People might say the low-resolution textures help add to the dark, gritty atmosphere of the game. Every building has a dusty or grimy appearance inside. And the dull, washed out colors help add to the lifelessness of the town of Silent Hill. And as you cross into alternate areas of the town, you will be walking across metallic hallways with mesh-chain floors and rusty hallways with the colors of dried blood.
The CG cutscenes also looked really good for the system, noticeably making the human characters look more realistic. For a game right in the middle of the PlayStation’s life cycle, these cutscenes really looked like they were pushing the limits of the system.
And no excellent horror game can’t be done justice without excellent audio.
And let’s not forget the beloved “My Heaven.”
It’s like a symphony of dying cats in G-major.
Good lord, Akira Yamaoka really nailed the composition of this game. This soundtrack is pure industrial nightmare. Metallic clanging, shrill strings, the distorted sounds of operated machinery. This whole series of nightmares is like one big, old factory with machinery outliving their use. They’re still operating, but break apart while doing so.
However, the voice acting is something to be desired. You can kinda tell the voice actors are reading off of their scripts, but they try to change their inflections to suit one line of dialogue. While definitely not as incredibly cheesy and overdone as the original Resident Evil’s, Silent Hill’s voice acting is supposed to fall into a game that has a more serious context to it.
I don’t think this is particularly the fault of the voice actors, but rather the voice actors lack proper direction and context for what they’re recording their voices for. I could be wrong about this, but that’s just how I feel anyway. I mean, the voice acting here is definitely not the worst I’ve heard and I can tell the actors are trying to sound convincing. Some line reads did work. Others seem dull and tired.
The main culprit here is Michael G.’s performance as Harry Mason, who can sound too subdued during tense moments of the game. Which is pretty funny, considering he’s known for his overacting as Count Dracula in Castlevania: Symphony of the Night.
WHAT is a MAN? A MISERABLE pile of secrets!
As for the storytelling aspect, I must say it’s… quite commendable for a game of this era. It plays around with more complex ideas, such as how one’s inner fears can manifest as nightmarish entities in a dream. The story for the most part is slowly paced, especially with the first few hours. We don’t learn much about Harry Mason beyond his introduction. He’s an average father character who just so happened to jump into a supernatural circumstance. Hell, we don’t even learn that much about his daughter Cheryl aside from a couple of plot points.
The other characters aren’t super interesting interesting either. We have Cybil Bennett (a tough policewoman), Dahlia Gillespie (a crazy nun), Lisa Garland (a frightened nurse), and Michael Kaufmann (a suspicious doctor). While they lack depth, they do play their parts in the story.
But at the same time, I don’t think all these characters need that much depth to them. They’re intentionally minimalist to allow the gameplay itself to shine through. The general tone and atmosphere of Silent Hill immediately remind me of some of David Lynch’s films, which have little dialogue in them and rely on the viewer’s interpretation to help understand the stories.
While Silent Hill is not quite as subtle as David Lynch—in fact, Harry Mason outright tells us the important parts of the story, which I feel is unnecessary—, it does rely on some subtext to understand what’s going on. Some of the plot points in this game are noticeably similar to that of a 1990 movie called Jacob’s Ladder, including hospital imagery, nightmarish creatures in a modern setting, and that the events of the story could’ve been just one long dream signifying the last minutes of a person’s life.
The ideas and symbolism of Silent Hill are fascinating to say the least. They serve to build the backstory to one of the characters—in this case, one Alessa Gillespie. This can be anything from what her hobbies were and how she was treated at home.
With all that said, there are a total of five endings in Silent Hill, four of which are obtainable from the first playthrough. There are two bad endings, two good ones, and a weird one. And I’m not gonna lie. Some of the requirements here are very easy to miss, so it’s likely your first playthrough will have a sucky ending.
- Bad Ending – This is by far the worst ending and the easiest to get. And probably the one you will get during your first playthrough. Just play through the game normally, but do not complete the Kaufmann quest after the first Sewer area. Then kill Cybil Bennett during her boss battle. You will fight the Incubator as the final boss.
- Bad+ Ending – Same as the Bad Ending, but save Cybil instead. To do this, you need to perform a specific, easily missed task.
You need to enter Alchemilla Hospital for the first time. Collect a Plastic Bottle from the kitchen, then go to the director’s office where you will find a puddle of red liquid. Use the bottle on the liquid to collect it. Then when you get to the Cybil boss battle, use the liquid on her. You will still fight the Incubator as the final boss.
- Good Ending – You must complete the Kaufmann sidequest, but kill Cybil Bennett. To do this, you must go to the Resort area through the first Sewer map. Then you need to visit Annie’s Bar, where a cutscene involving Dr. Kaufmann will play.
Using the Kaufmann Key and Receipt, investigate the Indian Runner. You should find a Safe Key, which opens a safe revealing drugs. Look for a piece of white paper next to the safe, which will give you a code to a motel room. Use the Kaufmann Key and the code to investigate the motel. Eventually, you will find a Magnet, which will help you get a Motorcycle Key that was out of reach. Use the Motorcycle Key on the motorcycle hidden in the motel, and it will trigger another cutscene. This cutscene signifies the end of the Kaufmann sidequest. When you do all this correctly, you will fight the Incubus as the final boss instead.
- Good+ Ending – Save Cybil Bennett and complete the Kaufmann sidequest. You will then fight the Incubus as the final boss.
- UFO Ending – This is a secret ending only available after completing the game with the Good+ Ending and playing a new game on the “New Fear” setting. You must first collect the Channeling Stone at Convenience Store 8. Then you must use the stone at five specific locations to trigger a cutscene for each:
- Otherworld Midwich Elementary School roof
- Otherworld Alchemilla Hospital gates (before the moth boss)
- Norman’s Motel parking lot in Resort
- Boat (before the lighthouse)
- Lighthouse roof
The UFO Ending is fucking great, by the way. It’s so unexpected and hilarious that it’s well worth the second playthrough.
This is annoying because one of the requirements is a complete shot in the dark, with no hint that you could actually do it. Even a random note giving a vague hint would be enough, but this didn’t happen.
The other requirement is quite specific, which you will need to collect several otherwise useless items for one cutscene to play. This one is also a real shot in the dark if you didn’t bother exploring a specific part of Silent Hill.
Keep in mind that this game was released during a time when the Internet wasn’t as big as today. Because of the cryptic requirements of the alternate endings (which amount to deus ex machinas, in accordance to Silent Hill’s narrative), you would most likely have to consult a gaming magazine at the time to learn about those endings. So it’s likely that you will complete the game with a rather unsatisfying ending and get pissed that it ended that way, making you hesitant in going through future playthroughs.
Annoying flaws aside, Silent Hill is a PS1 classic. While the graphics haven’t aged well and the gameplay is nothing special today, it was one of the biggest pioneers of modern survival horror titles. It shares this honor with Sweet Home, Alone in the Dark, and Resident Evil. But with Silent Hill though, it is probably the scariest of the bunch.
Even by today’s standards, the game’s atmosphere still holds up. The absolute silence in certain areas, the pitch-black darkness, the pulsing soundtrack, the rusted (yet bloody-looking) corridors that look like they come straight out of a snuff film…
It wasn’t often that you get to see an emotionally driven narrative horror game done well, especially during the ’90s. That’s why Silent Hill was such a big deal. It’s an important piece of history, but still a competent game today. If you’re feeling a little nostalgic, pick up this game and experience the terror that started it all.
Silent HillPrice Varies
- The thematic storytelling and lore were particularly strong for a game from the '90s.
- The introductory portion of the game does well in teaching you the game mechanics without explaining anything to you.
- The exploration and puzzle-solving are satisfying. The survival aspect teaches you how to be smart with your inventory and attack strategies.
- The art direction is one of the major driving forces of the Silent Hill series' iconic look.
- The CG cutscenes are pretty good for the PS1.
- Excellent audio all around.
- The tank controls may take some getting used to.
- The melee combat is clunky and unresponsive at times.
- Graphics are okay, but can come across as ugly.
- Voice acting is hit-and-miss.
- The requirements to getting the better endings are a total shot in the dark and most likely require a walkthrough to complete.