Top 100 PS1 Review: #12 – Silent HIll (1999)

I Only Thought I Was Going Crazy Twice.

A game that features way too much time running past things in the dark is still very good.

Ape’s Ranking: #12/100
My Rating: StarStarStarStar

I have an admission everyone! I thought Silent Hill and Resident Evil were the same thing. Oooops.

My inner dialogue went like this: with all the hype around Resident Evil Village, I decided to start at the very beginning of the franchise with Silent Hill. At some point, I realized that’s not exactly how it works. Putting my confusion aside, there used to be a fanboy battle royal between the two horror franchises but with no new material from Silent Hill since 2012, things have cooled off.

I can see why there was something to fight about, though.

Silent Hill is one of those pinnacle games that everyone should play. It has a little bit of everything — horror, problem solving, convoluted story, secrets, multiple endings, quirky humour. It does a lot of things well, and it is fun to see them do it with playstation 1 graphics.

Where things go wrong for me is some of the boring/frustrating gameplay. Not only is the camera worse than Super Mario 64, you run into a wall of monsters in open areas. The solution? Run past them in the dark. Seriously.

The Trigger Warning should have told you about the lack of ammo…and DON’T tell me there was plenty to go around!

Fresh Beginnings.

I’m always up for a little avant garde storytelling.

Silent Hill doesn’t wait for you to start the game to begin telling the narrative. It opens right away with a cinematic sequence before the title screen (hope you weren’t in a rush). Usually reserved for highlights of non-spoiler scenes, the intro FMV for Silent Hill contains a bunch of plot points that not forthright revealed in game. This makes the opening intro actually the perfect coda as it only makes sense AFTER you beat the game…but not really.

Avant Garde stories don’t come with straightforward plots.

This is the kind of game where you go to google to type “plot of Silent Hill explained” but it auto populates because thousands of searches percede yours. You know those old school text file game guides that start with ASCII art? There is where I tried to figure out what the hell was going on.

Rest in Peace Web 1.0

What did I find out after going down a big rabbit hole of Silent Hill fandom? Some clarifying points and that I shouldn’t trust the Twin Perfect interpretation of events.

All over a 22 year old game 😎

The core of the story is simple: Harry is driving his daughter Cheryl to Silent Hill, a resort town in Maine, for a vacation. On the winding mountain roads, he sees something that looks like an ephemeral girl in the road and swerves to avoid hitting her. He awakens to find Cheryl gone. He walks into town but it is abandoned with heavy fog and snow in the summertime.

This is about where the story stops making sense. There are bits and pieces found in the game, but these are mere morsels that rely on a lot of speculation. Another thing that absolutely boils my blood is that when reading other plot explanations, they clearly had access to materials not within game. So, how much could I really have figured out if I had tried?

Silent Hill felt very much like Chrono Cross to me: everything was epic; it was dramatic; you were emotionally invested; and you rarely knew what was happening.

Setting the Mood.

Where this game is good, I mean REALLY GOOD, is how great of a horror game it is.

I had just started playing after a hiatus when a low buzzing entered my consciousness. “What is that,” I yelled to my BF. “I don’t hear anything,” he replies.

It gets louder, but I still can’t locate it.

“What is that noise!?”

“I’m not sure what to tell you!”

I then have one of those low grade panic attacks. I shake my head, fuss my hands around. I finally realize that the GD game is making the noise. It was a subliminal buzz that they slowly cranked in volume over a couple minutes.

This game will freak you out someway, somehow.

There are plenty of scary places to visit in Silent Hill, and you will be forced to visit them in the worst of conditions. Everything is covered with distance fog obscuring your view. The game will shift to a dark world requiring a flashlight to see things that are right in front of your face. You are alerted to enemies by static on your handheld radio, and as it slowly builds in intensity you panic more and more, swiveling around looking for something to shoot.

For a game that is so creative, the monsters lack…imagination.

Which leads me to my biggest problem of the game: combat.

Let’s Fight.

This was my first horror game.

While I knew ammo was sparse, I didn’t realize how empty your inventory could get in a game like this. I easily took down grisled dogs and winged anthropomorphic bats with my pistol. The possessed nurses were tanks requiring four or five bullets to down. Before I knew it, I had nothing other than a lead pipe.

I became quite skillful at fending off most creatures with it, but could never quite time it well enough with flying enemies. I found an axe which made me think that things were about to improve but learned the short hitbox range and increased difficulty of monsters were no match for my melee skills.

I entered an unexpected boss fight with only my axe and burned through every healing item in my possession as I awkwardly hacked a moth defeating it after 20 or so (!) successful swings. It was completely ridiculous.

I got to a point where I didn’t really know what to do, so I caved and went to internet guides.

Scariest part of Silent HIll – how cheap gas used to be!

The solution to my ills: you just need to run away in the dark.

Half of the game happens outdoors where enemies respawn and are littered everywhere. Instead of engaging any of them, you run by them and keep sprinting until you reach your destination. If it is dark, you do this without your flashlight and just bump into things until you find a door.

It is surprisingly effective but extremely repetitive. By the time I reached the last area, I was over it, and it is only a 7 to 10 hour game. Making things worse — the games controls are horrid. It uses “tank style” controls which means that pressing up moves Harry forward depending on which way he is facing. It is very disorienting and pairing it with an impossible to predict camera makes everything a crapshoot.

Running away from monsters in the dark with clunky controls and unpredictable camera angles is as much fun as it sounds.

Plenty of horror tropes included within, even a scary VHS tape!

Time to Get Weird.

The main villain? She wears a tie too big for her with a big ol’ Windsor knot.

Suspect Sartorial Selection.

The ending, which leaves you completely confused, decides to do a send off with a “blooper” reel where an FMV shows awkwardly animated bits with the characters.

There are multiple endings in the game with only the “good” endings being canonical. I did read about a secret ending however where UFOs just pick up Harry before the story is even done.

[CONCLUSION]

It has something for everyone, particularly those who like playing hide and seek at night!

Other People’s Takes:

  • Sight In Games:Now, after immersing myself in the foggy city streets of Silent Hill, I’m starting to realize how much of a weird and fascinating world I’ve been missing out on.
  • Cola Powered Gamer: “I recommend this game to anyone who is in the mood for some old school survival horror or if you want to see how the modern survival horror games started. Play the preferably on the PS1, and in the dark. You won’t be disappointed.
  • PekoeBlaze: “Yes, modern gamers may find the camera/controls to be awkward and the graphics to be antiquated, but don’t let this put you off. It’s a classic for a very good reason!”

3 comments

  1. Ah, such a great game! Another one that the younger brother played. And I can totally see why you would think Resident Evil and Silent Hill were the same thing! They were both really popular around the same time.

    Liked by 1 person

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