Ahhhh...blessed, peaceful silence.
Well, at least you'll get some peace and quiet after you turn that damned radio off. My advice to anyone who buys Silent Hill (and many of you should because it's a good game) is to turn off the radio! Better yet, don't even pick it up. The sound and music are good, and they will set you on edge if you can actually hear over the awful hissing, suspense-spoiling radio. Is it off now? Good. We may begin.
The world of computer gaming got its first real taste of horror from Alone In The Dark, a terrific, terrifying and revolutionary title. Then the Resident Evil series reared its gruesome head on the PlayStation, a captivating bit of 'survival horror' that combined special forces teams, bad acting, and brain-eating zombies. Now the next level is here in Silent Hill, which is both better and worse, more disturbing and yet somehow less jump-out-of-your-seat scary than its predecessors.
Every time I think that game programmers have reached the limits of the PSX hardware, I am proven wrong. Silent Hill breaks that envelope because the whole world is truly 3D. No more fixed camera angles. No more pre-rendered sets and constant blips of CD access. Instead, you get full freedom of movement, incredible graphical detail and very cool lighting effects. This is partly accomplished through an almost constant fog affect, which only allows you to see a short distance in any direction at any time. While this is normally a bummer, it actually works in Silent Hill by heightening the suspense.
Of course, the key to having fun in 3D worlds is the camera. Put a stupid camera in a game, and objects will block the view and interrupt gameplay, spoiling otherwise decent games like Akuji The Heartless. Silent Hill, on the other hand, has the best camera I have ever seen. Not only does it provide fast and clear views, but it also manages to have a distinct editing style: eerie and spooky with lots of interesting angles. It really feels like playing through a horror movie.
And what a sick horror movie it is. Silent Hill moves us away from the campy, Roger Corman style horror of Resident Evil, and into the truly disturbed worlds of H.P. Lovecraft and Clive Barker. You play Harry Mason, a simple guy. You're not a cop, or an FBI agent, or anything vaguely heroic. You swerve and crash your jeep just outside the mountain town of Silent Hill. When you come to, your daughter is missing. You think you spot her running off in the distance, and you follow...
Every part of the town of Silent Hill seems to have two sides. There's the regular-world part, which is pretty bad and full of vicious hell dogs and flying demon things; and an other-worldly nightmarish mirror that is much worse and will simply make your skin crawl. You will have to explore large parts of both worlds to solve the puzzle of Silent Hill and find your daughter.
Speaking of puzzles, they are almost exactly the same as in Resident Evil. Find the Silver and Gold disks, then put them in the right place. Gotta locate that next key, because you certainly shouldn't kick open any doors in a depopulated town full of demons. These puzzles do make a bit more sense in Silent Hill's nightmarish setting, rather than having them all confined to psuedo-rational explanations in a zombie-infested police station as in Resident Evil 2.
That's another great thing about Silent Hill: the freedom of movement. You can go all over the town and into many of the buildings. The maps and floorplans actually make sense, unlike the random, unlikely corridors of Resident Evil.
But Resident Evil did some things better. The enemies in Silent Hill are all sort of pinkish and don't move very well. The settings and the mood are actually scarier than the creatures themselves. To make it worse, the combat is pretty bad. While the controls are almost exactly the same as Resident Evil, combat is much more sluggish, less fun, and less interesting. It just feels like you have very little control during a fight.
And so far, Silent Hill hasn't made me fall out of my seat in terror like a couple of the inspired moments from Resident Evil.
But even if your heart doesn't skip a beat because something really startled you, your pulse rate will be throbbing thanks to the ghoulish settings, the confusing horror, and the perfect set-your-nerves-on-edge music (which you can hear because your turned off that crackling radio, remember?). It's just too bad the voice acting continues to be terrible in these games. With bizarre pauses in the dialogue, it spoils the otherwise perfect mood.
I only complain so much about the flaws in Silent Hill because I really like the game. The little problems are thrown into sharp contrast by the brilliant vision of horror. And with multiple endings, you may not even discover the true evil that stalks the town your first time through.
Silent Hill is definitely the scariest monster in town until we see what Resident Evil 3 for the Dreamcast looks like. It also brings video game horror into the 3rd dimension. Add to that a more intelligent, more disturbing plot than its B-movie predecessors, and this is definitely not a game for little kids. So if you don't fall into that category, go buy Silent Hill, pour yourself a strong drink, turn out all the lights, and immerse yourself in the sickness. It's a hell of a lot better than going to see the latest Wes Craven movie.