It’s been nearly a decade since the first installment of Silent Hill first graced our Playstations. It looked great at the time, regardless of what SH-noobs say about the graphics now. For 1999, it was made of pure awesome. I was 18 and just about to graduate high school. The PSX was downstairs and my dad used it as much as I did. One day he picked up a used copy of Silent Hill, intrigued by the cover and the blurb on the back, which he found in a bin at the local video rental store. I was quite unaware of the game, or the fact that he had bought it, until he decided to give it to me, claiming it got too dark to see after you collect all the keys and go through the house on Levin St. I later called him a wuss for this, but he blames poor eyesight. In any case it was a game I would stay up all night playing while drinking Jolt soda (remember kids, those were days before the influx of real energy drinks), jumping out of my skin everytime a doctor monster appeared right after Harry opened a door in Alchemilla Hospital. I went on to get all five endings, repeatedly. Harry is still one of my favorite videogame characters ever, and really set the tone for the bumbling, middle-aged man trend that Silent Hill had going for a time, though, to his credit, Harry was less bumbling than James, though he had a bad habit of passing out all the time. And the visuals! My first time in alternate Midwich Elementary about made me crap my pants, with its rusty metal and dead bodies hanging everywhere. No other Silent Hill game has come close to matching the atmosphere of this, though they’ve tried. The use of light and shadow and sound effects was masterful. Who cares if the voiceovers were a bit cheesy? The dead bodies, weird occult symbols, metal grating and copious amounts of hellfire in the ending made up for it ten thousandfold.
Fast-forward a few years, when I was working at a crappy gas station, barely able to make the rent each month, but still saved up a few hundred dollars to get a Playstation 2, a copy of Silent Hill 2, and a memory card. SH2 is the reason I got a PS2. I didn’t even own a DVD player. Essentially, you could say I paid $300 to play Silent Hill 2. And it was worth every penny. Again, SH-noobs and youngsters complain about the graphics of the second installment, muchto my chagrin. In 2002, Silent Hill 2 looked awesome. Even the opening bit with James coming out of the public bathroom and running through the fog utterly blew me away. James, on the other hand, seemed a bit dopey, but like the other characters, he grew on me once I realized the amount of attention that the designers put into the characters and story. SH2 felt a bit more restrained and the horror was more just a feeling of dread and sadness that pervaded the whole game. Even Pyramid mostly just added a few “holy shit!” moments instead of being reduced to just a boss fight, and remains the series’ most recognizable character. Silent Hill 2 was all sex and death. That’s why it’s everyone’s favorite. (SH1, on the other hand, was more death and evil, making it my favorite.)
At some point I ended up with copies of Silent Hill 3 and Silent Hill 4, which I enjoyed for different reasons but they never really felt as amazing as the first two. Years passed. Rumours of a prequel that would answer all our questions relating to the story arc of part 1 and 3 circulated around the internet. >Silent Hill Play Novel ROMs circulated around the internet, which raised more questions than answers. There was an arcade game and a mobile phone game, which are best ignored.
True to form, when Silent Hill: 0rigins came out, I bought a PSP just to play it (later I bought a second PSP just because I love the PSP and use it as an mp3 player). And again, it was well worth it, though reviews of the game were mixed. It was the first game since the original that I lost sleep over. For one thing, I appreciated that after Heather, a teenage mallrat; and Henry, a dude with no personality who never left his room, apparently, even before he was locked in it; we had another bumbling dude as our hero. Travis was a trucker who dressed like a trucker and liked to break stuff. Even if some of the monsters were taken directly from Silent Hill 2, the joy of seeing the familiar faces of Alessa, Lisa, Dahlia, and Kaufmann and revisiting certain areas like Alchemilla Hospital made it all worthwhile. The story was all right, but it really didn’t answer too many questions about the first and third games.
When Silent Hill 5 was announced, the main feelings around the internet seemed to revolve around bitching that Team Silent wasn’t working on it and bitching that Americans were making it (becuase the most popular sport on the internets is, of course, making vast, uninformed generalizations about large groups of people). The fact that the main character was a soldier didn’t help matters. Harry Mason could barely hit something 2 feet away with a shotgun, and that added to his Everyman appeal. The designers say they don’t specify what war he was in (assuming it would be one from the real world anyway) or where he was because they don’t want to get political. It seems like a plot device to make him good with weapons, though, and to have a reason to have been away from home to begin with, as he apparently starts off after having been injured and in the hospital. He returns home and his father and brother are gone, he mom acts weird, and there are no photos of him in the house anymore. Apparently the monsters are smarter and faster to make up for the fact that Alex is better with weapons.
One of my biggest qualms is actually the idea of an overly SH film-inspired transition to the otherworld, where walls dynamically melt away. Sure, it sounds cool, and I thought the movie was okay, but anything that reminds me too much of the movie makes me a bit uneasy. This is another reason I don’t like the busty nurses: too film-inspired on one hand, and on the other, too SH2-inspired. James had the faceless nurses; Alex should have something else. He does have other monsters, and hopefully they are worked in well, because I’m not so sure about them after seeing certain magazine articles. For whatever reason, he leaves Shepherd’s Glen and ends up in Silent Hill, apparently in Alchemilla Hospital, one of my all-time favorite locations, in search of his brother. There he meets a few other characters, a woman named Elle, a judge, and a trucker, among others. It also uses quick-time events, which is the sort of button-mashing you had to do when a monster grabbed you in Silent Hill: 0rigins. I hate button-mashing.
Regardless of all that, I have to say that even the preview images and videos certainly look good, and I can only hope that the story and gameplay measure up. I understand that they don’t want to use the exact same formula as the previous games, but I hate the idea of button-mashing and I’m not impressed with the photos of monsters I’ve seen. I don’t know enough about the story to have much of an opinion about it and the characters. Part of the reason some installments have had mixed responses, I think, is due to the fact that we have a different main character every time. Akira Yamaoka has returned to do the soundtrack and oversee the development, which can’t be a bad thing. The storylines of Silent Hill, Silent Hill 3, and Silent Hill: 0rigins were all related in a more or less direct way, but I can understand why someone would dislike some of the main characters and gameplay. The one and only thing that really ties together the series as a whole is the atmosphere. I’m trying not to set my expectations too high, but in any case, I’m happy for the chance to return to Alchemilla Hospital.