SILENT HILL: YOU CAN CHECK OUT, BUT YOU CAN NEVER LEAVE

Our post today comes from our newest guest author, Ravi Hansda.  Ravi is an ex-Game Advisor and a current avid-gamer, with a penchant for game development.  He is trying out Unity’s free game development engine to “see what he makes of it”. 

Cleverly hidden bad graphics aside, you will be chillingly shocked at what the game throws at you. The darkness in the game is foreboding and comparisons with Resident Evil will seem unfair after just a single playthrough.

Capcom got the first salvo in the survival horror genre that we can all relate to with the popular Resident Evil games. True, you can say that they

Silent Hill takes you back to a simpler era when the survival horror genre was just seeing its light of day. Pic Courtesy: http://bit.ly/ImOTsr

invented the genre but do they own it? Yes and no. For starters when playing a Resident Evil game, it always felt like it was an action/platformer than a game that should scare you. Yes, you do get scared a bit when those zombie dogs attack you in the corridor but such instances are few and far between. Other monsters were entertaining to fight off but it didn’t evoke a scared reaction. The gauntlet has now passed to Konami who have come up with what I call ‘the definitive Survival-Horror game” from that time. It is so cool that even now, 13 years later, its pretty cool to play.

Konami developers, in an interview with Official Playstation Magazine (OPM), said that what they wanted to do was to frighten people on an instinctive level. This is done more convincingly then any other similar themed game from that time. Released back in Jan 31, 1999 in the US and Mar 4, 1999 in Japan it seems unbelievable that, although late to the party, Silent Hill may have just owned and shaped all future games and movies as far as survival-horror is concerned.

Picture this. You are Harry Mason, a regular American guy who is going someplace with his daughter in his car in a mid western locale in the US. He takes a wrong turn and crashes his car. When he comes to, he discovers that his daughter is gone and he is on the outskirts of a seemingly deserted town. So begins a journey into the unknown and that’s where the fun really begins.

The game is visualized brilliantly. The first of these that you will encounter is the all encompassing mist reminiscent of Stephen King’s “The Mist”. It carries a character all of its own. It engrosses you and but doesn’t let you on about the dangers hidden within it.  It spreads an almost deafening quietness which lulls you into a false sense of security.

Then there are the strategically mounted camera angles in the alleys of Silent Hill you see Harry traverse through. They give

Old school graphics don't hamper your experience in any way.

you a sense of how vulnerable Harry really is in this weird town. Another element which adds to this is the lighting which in majority of the game is produced by a flashlight leaving everything else in the dark. Its glare illuminates parts of the surrounding while hiding other things which bring a good (dark?) ambience to the horror. The visualization of a mid western US town is spot on with no buildings looking amiss at all. The decrepit hospital and bloody mess that it is or was comes straight out of a deranged fantasy.

The sound is another big draw in the game. From the scary background theme which makes you think of rattling chains in a dark dungeon whenever something horrible of note is about to happen to the weird noises the monsters in the game make, all set you on edge. There are instances in the game where you hear a snarl and you frantically search around with your flashlight to see where it came from. The flashlight’s light is your true best friend as it literally becomes too dark to see anything else. Weapon hits on monster also sound convincingly real enough for you to wince.

It’s the little things that make the game seem somewhat believable. Modern ghost hunters say that ghosts (if that is even possible) emit a strong disturbance in the electrical/magnetic field of an area. Parts of this are reflected in the game.  For instance, we have a radio in the game that doesn’t pick up a station but apparently picks up monsters in the vicinity.

Then there is Harry himself. He is your average Joe. If he runs too fast he will start to wheeze and will have to slow down even if he is being

followed. He can’t do kung fu but he knows how to handle a gun wherever there is one and he can whack a monster with a crowbar. He is animated well and his movements look believable.

The flashlight illuminates the eerie surroundings just right.

The gameplay is thankfully forgiving. When you have to aim your weapon, you just aim in the direction (using the direction keys) where you want to hit and hit the action button with the equipped weapon. Harry himself moves fairly quickly. The design of Silent Hill is made such that even though vast to cover on foot, its scaled so you don’t get lost. There are also a few puzzle solving bits in the game which do not take a long time to figure out and are embedded well into the storyline of the game.

However, there are some things that are amiss. The whole point of this little journey is to find Harry’s daughter but you get enveloped in the town so much you want to explore every part accessible to you. This makes you deviate from the plot a bit. It seems that the developers wanted to show the dynamics of a father–daughter relationship and the loss you feel when you lose someone very close to you. This doesn’t translate well into the game somehow. Also, the developers in order to hide any graphic glitches seem to have just hidden it by covering it full of shadows. The graphics look grainy and dated but they match the theme of the game so it shouldn’t bother the average gamer that much.

There are also important plot elements in the game which you may miss because you are running through the level to complete it so it would be well advised to play carefully to get all the plot twists dialed down. On that note there are side missions which you can access but only if you look for them.

Silent Hill makes for itself a place in the collections of all old and new generation of gamers who look for something more than the hype. Despite the age of the game, as soon as you enter the game there is creepiness, a chill in the air that just seems to get to you always. There is a constant fear that something is watching you constantly from the shadows, something you just can’t feel in Resident Evil. This game relies less on gore and more on psychological terror. There are multiple endings in the game shown through great looking FMV sequences as well as in various cutscenes throughout the game. It’s a game that won’t necessarily give you bad dreams but will definitely make you unsettled in the same sense as watching a Japanese horror film (I’m talking Ringu and Ju On: The Grudge).

All in all it’s a great start to a series. Oh and Cybil Bennet is one of the hottest animated biker cops ever in a game. Just so you know.

What golden oldie would you like us to play?  Is there a game you love going back to, years after release?  Let us know!

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