Silent Hill: A Look Back on the Madness

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If you thing that finding  yourself mysteriously stranded in a fog and steam ghost town explicitly inhabited my Marilyn Manson stage props is your idea of a good time, I have the perfect game for you! The long running series places you in the most terrifying, heart racing and utterly nightmare educing town of Silent hill, (or in some cases, around the town.) spanning from 1999 to 2012, There have been some hit and misses, but when they hit, they made sure it was going to stick with you for a very, very long time. Talk is heating up about the latest Silent Hill title in development-Silent Hill: Downpour. Articles, screenshots, and music clips are leaking.

“Leaking”…”Downpour”. See what I did there? Terrible! Anyway, lets take a look back to where it all began, and explores the origins, impact and groundbreaking influence of Konami’s turn of the millennium masterpiece.

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In Danse Macabre, an excellent discussion of horror in literature, television and film, Stephen King raises the concept of ‘the Bad Place’ : a dreaded building or location inhabited by pure, unadulterated evil, where people fear to tread. The author points out that this archetype is to be found far and wide within folklore and works of entertainment, and has provided the foundation for a great many stories of terror and unease. Literature and cinema have given us Dracula’s Castle, Hill House and King’s own Overlook Hotel; by the turn of the millennium, video games also had their own established line of ‘Bad Places’, predominately taking the form of sinister, shadowy abodes such as Mr Barrows’ Clock Tower and the Umbrella Mansion. None of these, however, have become as synonymous with outright terror, or as enduring in legacy and infamy, as the town of Silent Hill.

 

In 1996, when Resident Evil was making waves and it became apparent that Western audiences had acquired a new-found taste for atmospheric, Japanese-developed horror games, the new owners of Tokyo company Konami decided to launch their own substantial American hit, and swiftly assembled a development team for this purpose.

Headed by project director and designer Keiichiro Toyama, this group of unconventional individuals, dubbed Team Silent, took an unusually leftfield and creative approach, spending a great deal of time experimenting with various concepts and ideas. Knowing that their aim was to capture a chilling experience that would play well in the West, they poured over the works of popular American writers, searching for inspiration in terms of setting and story.  Konami’s visionary team conceived a small, New England settlement that had become a deeply twisted, horrifying place; corrupted by a prevailing supernatural force and now alternating between two separate dimensions, one of which was only marginally less nightmarish than the other.

This creation was a vision of suburban familiarity plunged into a deep and illogical hell. Streets shrouded in thick fog hid prowling, winged beasts; a cryptic message in a blood-soaked dog kennel directing you to ‘go to school’. To follow this instruction invited a whole new realm of chaos; the school’s environment visibly transformed into a rotting, mocking husk as it shifted to the dark Otherworld, which brought creeping, deformed Halflings lurching out of the shadows.

If previous survival-horror games had tended to rely on tactics such as suspense, panic and the general threat of attacks to evoke unease in the player, Silent Hill ploughed far deeper into raw, psychological territory, making use of environments and events that were designed to toy with commonplace fears on an almost primeval level. Its primary concern was to find and exploit the most pervasive sources of unease: fear of the dark, fear of loneliness, fear of death, and perhaps most importantly, fear of the unknown.
sh1 Silent Hill (1999)

the internet was just shy of becoming the non-stop hype machine it is today. In marked contrast to the latest iteration, Downpour, the originalSilent Hill simply appeared on the scene from nowhere and quickly became a game changer in the world of survival horror. Whereas Resident Evil relied on jump scares and tried and true movie monsters such as zombies to frighten players, Silent Hill approached video game fear in an entirely different way. Atmosphere, limited visibility, sound design, where every camera angles was used to maximum effect in disconcerting players. Like no other game that came before it, Silent Hill got in your head. The team behind this game seemed to understand that horror is best when all of the audience’s senses are engaged. Okay, maybe not smell. Or touch, really. Or taste. But you get my point, which is that Silent Hill is a complex experience that envelops you and puts the player in the game.

Harry Mason, knocked unconscious during a car crash, wakes to find his young daughter Cheryl missing from the car. Believing  he spots her running away, gives chase, only to find himself in the fog-enshrouded town of Silent Hill. Once inside, however, he discovers that it’s not simply a patch of bad weather, rather, there are evil forces at work. The town seems abandoned and strange, deformed creatures roam the streets. Roads give way, making Harry’s chance for escape, null.  The sirens blare, beckoning to the “bad place” to shroud the town, and Silent Hill becomes a twisted version of itself, dilapidated and drowned in complete darkness. As he wanders, He uncovers the terrible truth of the town: there’s a cult trying to resurrect an Old God, and Cheryl figures prominently into their plans

The plot may be a confusing for players, but there are several outcomes/resolutions, including the infamous, jokey “UFO” scenario. Multiple ending possibilities would become a series hallmark along with clunky

controls, awkward combat, and camera issues. Silent Hill may not a perfect gameplay experience, but that’s a small price to pay for such immersive atmosphere and aesthetics. As wonderful as the visuals are, the effectiveness owes as much- if not more- to the soundtrack work of Akira Yamaoka, whose name quickly became synonymous with the series. Whether its jarring, discordant noises that set your teeth on edge or melodies that lull you into a false sense of security, the sounds he’s given the town have given the town a new breath of life. With the new HD remakes coming from capcom, and the recent announcement of the Silent hill HD collection from Konami, featuring 2 and 3, It is disappointing to see that the first, The one to start it all, had not received the new aged face lift. Perhaps the minds at konami thought why change something that is already great?


sh2  Silent hill 2
(2001)

Widely touted as not only the best game in the series but one of the greatest horror survival games, Silent Hill 2 is absolutely a masterpiece, a remarkable experience from beginning to end.

James Sunderland receives a letter from Mary, his wife, his deceased wife.  asking him to meet her in Silent Hill, where the couple vacationed years prior. Much like Harry Mason, upon arrival James finds himself trapped within the town’s fog-laden streets. Battling demonic creatures, meets others trapped, wandering the streets, and finally comes across Maria, who bears a striking resemblance to Mary. As he tries to piece together this puzzle of the town, alarms blare and small town Silent Hill morphs into the “bad place,” James’ own version of hell.

In Silent Hill 2, the town is almost a living entity, beckoning people to itself and becoming a type of purgatory where people are judged for misdeeds. After finding, and talking with Eddie and Angela, two people equally as confused as James, it becomes evident that Silent Hill is malleable and provides people a custom-made experience, Based off of there deeds. For James, the town is rotting and full of horrifying creatures; for Angela, however, it’s on fire. Illness, sexuality, guilt, remorse, murder, suicide, abuse, desire, deprivation. Silent Hill 2 deals with some heavy, adult themes and definitely earns its “M” rating. There’s a sadness lingering over the whole affair, and it’s as depressing as it is unsettling.

 

The gameplay, while still frustrating at times, has vastly improved over the first game, and difficulty levels of combat and puzzles can be set differently depending on what type of experience the player wishes to have. The graphics, as you might expect, are also much better than its predecessor. Sound design in a video game has rarely been better, thanks once again to the work of Akira Yamaoka. The locales, from the hospital to the prison, are delightfully dark and ominous. Playing Silent Hill 2 is, more often than not, an absolutely terrifying experience. This is thanks, in no small part, to the presence of Pyramid Head. an imposing executioner who relentlessly stalks James throughout the entire game.

The Xbox release of Silent Hill 2 featured “Born from a Wish”, a scenario that puts players in the role of Maria before she meets James. This is one of the earliest examples of platform-exclusive content being released to other systems on the market, making fans of the series rush to get there hands on the freshly released version on the xbox.

Konami really did their homework in researching the most direct and ingenious methods of eliciting terror in their audience, and it more than paid off. Even today, the game stands out as a bold, defining masterpiece. Critically, it was met by mostly glowing reviews from journalists who seemed stunned by just how much more terrifying Silent Hill was than its first entry, but it also caught the imaginations of the gaming public as a whole.

 

 

 

 

 


sh3 Silent Hill 3 (2003)Whereas Silent Hill 2 is a standalone entry in the series, Silent Hill 3 is a direct sequel to the first game, set 17 years later. Heather (the only female protagonist in the series) is raised by Harry Mason after she’s given to him as an infant in one of Silent Hill’s endings. Now nearly an adult, she’s drawn to the mysterious town and learn that it still has its dark plans for her. plans that feature birthing Gods and all the usual cult stuff. The “bad world” is still in full effect, and with the standard equipment, the flashlight and a radio she return to it. Gameplay is the mix of puzzles, combat, and exploration that players expect. It’s also as terrifying as you’d expect.Heather’s story begins with a nightmarish sequence in which she finds herself in the rusted ruins of the Lakeside Amusement Park. After killing some very strange monsters, she finds herself walking along the tracks of an old roller coaster, and is suddenly killed when the coaster unexpectedly roars out of the darkness. Of course this is all just a dream. Heather awakes inside a fast food restaurant in a shopping mall. After a brief phone call to her father, she runs across a detective named Douglas Cartland, who has some rather cryptic things to say about her birth. She ducks into a restroom to avoid him and discovers a vaguely familiar marking on a mirror, where her dream’s become an all to realistic nightmare.


sh4Silent Hill 4: The Room
(2004)
sh3_2Imagine waking up for a dream where a ghost is materializing through your living room wall, to find you’re chained into your apartment building. Henry Townsend, the main character in

While the story has some definite Silent Hill elements, Silent Hill plays quite differently from the other Silent Hill games. The first big change is the control scheme. Instead of using the awkward digital control, Konami takes advantage of the Playstation 2’s analog sticks. You can move Henry around with the left analog stick. Another change is that there is an instant inventory menu, where you can select your items on screen. This means there is no menus or disruptions to go through to select another weapon or item. Another change is Silent Hill 4 plays like a bunch of different stages. You’ll be entering different areas through portals in your apartment. Every time you complete an area you’ll go back to your apartment and then to the next portal. For better or worse this eliminates all of the running around and finding different areas like in previous Silent Hill games.Silent Hill 4, has such an experience. Soon after Henry finds himself trapped, he also finds a mysterious portal that leads him into an abandoned subway, where he is told that he is in someone else’s dream. Of course this sounds a little confusing, but it’s the standard Silent Hill surreal story. Silent Hill 4 deviated from the established formula in several ways- not the least of which is to take the game out of Silent Hill and stick it in the town of South Ashfield, specifically in the apartment of Henry Townsend. He wakes to find himself locked inside his small domicile, but soon discovers a hole in his bathroom wall that leads to a Silent Hill-like Otherworld. He becomes embroiled in the tale of Walter Sullivan, a deceased serial killer mentioned in a newspaper scrap players can find inSilent Hill 2. Henry, haunted by the ghosts of his victims, travels back and forth between his home and Otherworld locations in a quest to put the killer to rest once and for all and to escape the apartment.

Even with these changes Silent Hill 4 is still a Silent Hill game so you’ve got a lot of elements from the series. The monster design is as innovative and creepy as ever. The first monster you meet is a mutated dog that has a habit for biting whatever comes its way. Ghosts are in the game and they pull themselves out of walls. Unlike previous Silent Hill games, Henry doesn’t have a radio, but when a ghost is nearby it makes a screeching sound similar to the radio static. Some ghosts have a special attack where they will reach and grab Henry’s heart making him cringe. While the monsters have new attacks, Henry has something up his sleeve. Silent Hill 4 gives you the ability to “charge” your melee weapons by holding down the attack button. Henry can unleash a couple of different attacks depending on where you let

go. This means you can make your own custom combos and have control over how much damage you want to do.The series needed a breath of fresh air by the fourth entry, and Silent Hill 4 certainly provided one. While the notion of expanding upon a throwaway piece of SH trivia is noble and the game’s plot is fairly strong, ultimately it’s a case of “good ideas, poor execution”. Traveling back to your apartment- the only place providing a save spot in the game- gets tedious quickly. Puzzles, once a huge part of the experience, are sorely lacking, while combat is quite difficult. The ghosts that pursue you are irritating more than frightening: they chase you from area to area, and they can’t truly be defeated. It can be very frustrating.Is it the game, or is it me? Hard for me to say. I found it quite frustrating and, while it had a couple of shining moments, it’s sadly lacking in the scares department. For example, the nurses- terrifying in all previous installments- become…err, something quite different in Silent Hill 4.

The Room is the only Silent Hill game I’ve ever traded in, and it’s a decision I question. Again, is it me, or the game? Would I enjoy it more now that I know what to expect of it? If I find it on the cheap, I would gladly pick it up, and give you an all-new verdict. Or maybe a “Yeah, I was right the first time” verdict.


shO   Silent Hill: Origins
(2007)

Silent Hill: Origins is the first game brought to fruition by someone other than the original Japanese developers, Team Silent. After a few false starts, production shifted to the UK-based Climax Studios, who brought the gameplay style back to the familiar ground of the earliest games in the series. Origins, released initially on the PSP and later ported to PS2, is a prequel to the first game and tells the story of truck driver Travis Grady, who rescues a child from a fire and soon finds himself traveling to the nearest hospital in the small town of,  Silent Hill. The girl is Alessa Gillespie, who is not at all unfamiliar to players, she’s been at the center of the Silent Hill cult’s resurrection plans since Day One. Alessa disappears from the hospital where Travis brought her and as he tries to figure out how and why that happened, as his journey continues, he begins to remembers more and more of his past. It’s no surprise that his ties to Silent Hill run deeper than a simple drive-by.

An effort was made to hearken back to the old days of Silent Hill. Things were shaken up by tweaks to combat (including modified quick time events) and the main character’s interaction with Silent Hill’s infamous Otherworld. Before Origins, Otherworld would simply happen, heralded only by the blare of air sirens. Travis, however, has the ability to travel between worlds via mirrors, and his actions in one world affect things, objects, environments, etc. in the other. It’s a unique development, certainly, but it also takes away the minutest bit from the gameplay; not knowing when the darkness will strike and, once ensconced in it, not being able to leave it, can put the player in a bit of a panic.

Then, too, there’s just…something missing from Origins, though it’s difficult to pinpoint one thing, exactly. It could be that originally, Silent Hill was essentially a Japanese interpretation of western horror. Highly influenced by movies like Jacob’s Ladder and classics of genre literature, Silent Hill was of a certain sensibility thanks to the culture of its development team. When the series was put back in the hands of western developers, it became an interpretation of an interpretation, a third-generation copy that, for all its superficial successes, rings hollow. It’s enjoyable simply because it is Silent Hill, but it fails to leave a lasting impression or ever truly get under your skin the way the first three games did.

 



shH   Silent Hill: Homecoming
(2008)

The first Silent Hill game made for next-gen platforms Xbox 360 and PS3 came from another western developer, Double Helix. Alex is a combat veteran returning home to Shepherd’s Glen, a hamlet that borders on Toluca Lake with Silent Hill, only to find things are terribly amiss. His mom, who has somewhat changed since alex last seen her, learning that his family has gone missing, not knowing the whereabouts of his father and younger brother, He dives into the fray to get to the bottom of the chilling mystery.

Sound familiar? it should by this point, and that’s a shortcoming for Homecoming. To their credit, Double Helix made some changes that while seemingly minor, ultimately had a huge
shH_2impact. In previous games, combat was awkward and difficult in part because of wonky camera and controls, but also because it was endemic to the protagonists. A dad, a trucker, a 17-year-old girl…the main characters in all other installments are just regular people who simply wallop creatures as best they can- which often isn’t very well. Alex, however, is an ex-soldier and as such, he knows how to kick monster ass, wielding upgrade able weapons as he performs finishing moves and dodges attacks. In previous forays into Silent Hill, combat was to be avoided whenever possible; here, enemies pose little threat. As a result, Homecoming feels more like an action-based game than a psychological horror-based game as its first installments.

Still, Homecoming isn’t a bad game by any stretch- it’s just a bit stale and predictable. The plot, while only loosely tied to Silent Hill itself, is serviceable; the visuals, though often too dark, are generally terrific when you can see ’em, and Akira Yamaoka’s work is as good and atmospheric as ever. If this game were an original title and not tied to the Silent Hill series, it probably would have received higher marks across the board, but this is Silent Hill: Homecoming, and it’s missing that certain something that made earlier games in the series so special.just as I had said with resident evil 5 previously, it would be a good game, if it was not called resident evil, and in this case, Silent hill homecoming, follows suit.



shSMSilent Hill: Shattered Memories
(2009)

Climax Group, the team behind Origins, returned for Shattered Memories, a reboot/reimagining of the first game.
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This is not to say that Shattered Memories is as bad as all that; I sheepishly admit that I don’t really know. I played the first couple of hours on a friend’s Wii, the platform to which the game was exclusive at the time. I don’t own a Wii, so when that visit was over, so was my relationship with Shattered Memories. It has since ported to PS2, but…I wasn’t so impressed that I felt the need to go pick it up. Additionally, the gameplay was very much tailored to the Wii’s remote (which the player uses to aim the flashlight and utilize the cellphone), which may or may not translate well to the PS2’s dual-shock controller. Shattered Memories is the first Silent Hill game I didn’t rush out and buy on release day. I don’t know why, but I feel like mentioning that. Surely it says something about something or other.

The game was admittedly fairly interesting. The story of Harry Mason and his daughter Cheryl, once again lost in Silent Hill, is intercut with scenes of Harry at a psychiatrist’s office. Harry dutifully answers the doctor’s questions, and those answers color the gameplay back in Silent Hill, from the puzzles he must solve to other characters he encounters. This allows for enough variety in the experience to warrant a few playthroughs.

 

 

The biggest changes, however, occur when Silent Hill enters the familiar Otherworld- inShattered Memories, it ain’t familiar at all. Rather than changing to a world of rust, decay, cages, and rotten flesh, it changes to a world of ice. There are also marked changes to combat in this installment: there is no combat. When the world turns blue and cold, Harry can only run away from the fleshy little creatures who chase after him. While this can be an exhilarating experience, it can also be one hell of a frustrating one as you try to navigate tricky environments and find a way out. Obviously, these enemy encounters are vastly different than any in the previous games; it certainly takes away that trademark feeling of dread when you know the only time you’ll be attacked is in Otherworld, and encounters only entail relentless pursuit.

I don’t know how far Shattered Memories deviates from the original game in terms of story because I haven’t read plot spoilers; I figure someday I’ll get me a Wii and then I’ll see the game through to its completion simply because I am a nerd for all things Silent Hill. From where I’m standing now, it seems as if this could be another case of “If it wasn’t a Silent Hilltitle, it’d be pretty good…”, especially considering its home platform, which is sorely lacking in the horror games department. I’ll eventually find out.


shD_2 Silent Hill: Downpour (2012)The forthcoming eighth game in the series, Downpour, is currently on its way by the hands of Vatra Games, a Czech-based studio. Since the game’s announcement at E3 almost 2 years ago,info and screenshots are becomeing more frequent- including a sizeable feature in the most recent gaming magazines. I’d say things look promising, but then everything always looks promising when you’re looking at pretty pictures and reading the promises of producers. Still…promising!

The protagonist is a prisoner named Murphy. The transport bus he’s riding in crashes in a thick fog outside of Silent Hill. Murphy escapes the bus, heads into town, unknowing of the imminent danger that lies ahead.

What’s got Silent Hill fans in an tizzy over Downpour is that it will be the first game in the series that won’t feature the work of composer Akira Yamaoka. In his stead is Daniel Licht, the man behind the music of Dexter. Though Yamaoka’s incredibly haunting work is as much a part of Silent Hill as is…well, the name Silent Hill, it’s far too early to pass judgment on the effectiveness of Licht’s work. Some of the music was posted recently on Kotaku and though it’s got an undeniably (and expectedly) different feel than what’s come before.

shD_3Design director Brian Gomez claims that Murphy’s story will be his own, not having ties to Alessa, the town’s history, the cult, or any of the previous games’ plot lines. He simply stumbles into a bad situation, or does he? Vatra intends to make the town of Silent Hill a true “character” again, the way it was originally intended. If that’s true, then Murphy’s arrival is unlikely to be a coincidence; more likely, he was beckoned there (if only by fate) as penance for his criminal past. Sounds a bit Silent Hill 2-ish in storyline approach, but then it’s too early to even speculate and besides, I don’t want to get my hopes up.

Okay, yes I do! I do want to get my hopes up because I still fucking love the first three games in the series and call me lame, I want a new story set in that horrible, terrifying town that will share the essence of those early entries. I want to be scared so badly by the goings-on that I won’t play it in the dark- hell, that I have to stop playing it altogether. I know it’s ridiculous to want to simply recapture an experience, but when it’s this good, why not? I’d rather keep believing that the next trip to Silent Hill will be the best one yet than think the series is all dried up and new voices won’t have anything worthwhile to offer. What’s the fun in that?

 

I do know better, however, than to hope for another cracked out dog ending.

http://youtu.be/GUDcSeUvkOw

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