Nostalgia Lane: Silent Hill

I have loved precisely three consoles in my life: the Atari 2600, the SNES and the original PlayStation.  I got the PS back in 1997 right when Final Fantasy VII came out, a game that made owning the console absolutely necessary.  That PS kept me company through the last couple years of college, and I devoured quite a few of those pixelated grainy masterpieces.  Other than FF7 on the platform, only one other game had such a huge impact on my life.  A little title called Silent Hill.

I first heard about Silent Hill when reading a games magazine and they were raving about its unique (for the time) features — the directional sound coming from wherever the enemies were, for instance, and the fog.  Of course, as we all know, the “fog” and dark of the game came about because of the PlayStation’s limited draw distance, and it became an elegant solution, turning a limitation into one of Silent Hill’s greatest assets: atmosphere.

I’d played a few titles in this infant “survival horror” genre before, such as Alone in the Dark and Resident Evil 2, and like many gamers, found myself simultaneously compelled to play them even though I was freaked out every time I picked them up.  Silent Hill blew those two games out of the water by ratcheting the creepy factor up to a level that would make most horror movies cry in sheer self-loathing.  (Ironically, the Silent Hill movie fell short of the game experience as well.)

It was a pretty bizarre and cool setup: your character, a dad, gets into an accident on a highway because he sees what he thinks is a girl on the road.  When the dad wakes up, his daughter is gone, and he hoofs it into Helltown USA, population 4 humans and 269 monsters.  One of the very first things he experiences is being cornered by demonic children and being hacked to death.

Yup, this was a game that killed you off in the first few minutes, then brought you back for no apparent reason right after.

Even though your character kept bumping into other humans, everyone was completely *off*, as was the setting of the town.  Silent Hill nailed every scary small town vista, with an eerie quiet, ever-present fog, and light snowfall.  You could be attacked at any moment as you searched for clues and gradually started to understand that this town was one seriously messed-up place.

Then, the second masterstroke of genius — as you went to the town’s elementary school, a noise sounded and the world shifted into a terrifying night mode, where everything was rusted, bloody and corrupted.  It made you honestly long for the day mode the longer you were in it, as the developers and artists crafted a world that felt more horrifying than most of my nightmares.  It wasn’t one of those places where Freddy kept chasing you or Jason kept popping out of closets, but where kids voices would float across cut telephone lines and you’d have to battle with things you couldn’t quite see in the shadows.

Nevertheless to say, I became a nervous wreck trying to get through Silent Hill, to the point where I’d have to invite friends over to be in the same room just so that I could get enough courage to play it.  But I couldn’t quit either, and beating that title felt like clawing my way out of video game hell.

I never could get the nerve to play any of the sequels after that, or even anything else in the survival horror genre.  Well, that’s not true, I did Eternal Darkness, but that’s a tale for another day.

10 thoughts on “Nostalgia Lane: Silent Hill

  1. I had avoided Silent Hill for years because, well, it was survival horror. I knew what survival horror meant, which was that zombies jump through the windows and you have to kill twelve of them with six bullets.

    When my fiancee finally convinced me to play through the second game in the series, I was very happy to eat crow. There’s a bit of the six-bullets thing, but by and large the games are psychological, atmospheric, and work as games precisely because they instill in the player a sense of large things happening outside of your control. The combat and camera remain almost impenetrable, but that doesn’t matter, because the amount of work done in creating a subtle sense of horror and insanity is overwhelming.

    It’s a shame you missed 2, which I think is the best installment of the series, mostly because it eschews any sort of overarching explanation for what’s going on in the town and instead focuses on a single character’s descent.

  2. I never really got into that series. I tried 2 and SH: the room, but the weirdness didn’t take. Kind of like Condemned 2-rather than be psyched out by all the oily black goo on the environments or be frightened by lack of vision, it was more like “WTF I cant see anything.”

    I actually have the original ps one silent hill, but my ps2 is broken. been meaning to give it a try sometime.

  3. The first thing we bough, when we moved in together was a PS3, simply because we felt that “nostalgia” you explained.
    My girlfriend had gone through your Silent Hill experience, while I still got shocked when the Dogs break through the window in Resident Evil.

    With that said, we were very disappointed with Resident Evil 5 (although it has Co-Op) and Silent Hill: Homecoming. Both feeling more like Shooter, with well-trained Soldiers, rather than Average Joe fighting for his life ähm soul.

    But if you want to experience a bit of that nostalgia again, I would strongly advice you to look at Deadspace.

  4. Dead Space was a pretty good game but I felt like I was being pulled annoyingly along like a marionette by chapter 8 and eventually put the title down.

    It didn’t help that I got a numb headache every time I tried to play it. I think it had something to do with the dizzying FPS controls and the darkness that made you really strain your eyeballs to see anything.

    The game literally made me jump out of my chair several times though. 🙂 I nearly sprained a thumb once as I was loosely gripping the controller and then got jolted by a scare, lol.

  5. Only played Silent Hill 2, and that was freaking scary…

    Pyramid heads… I still have nightmares about those things.

    The 3rd one I never really got into. I think it was trying too hard to be gory without actually being scary, so I got bored.

  6. SH:2 was the first ‘survival horror’ game I played start to finish. Like you said, even though it was terrifying, claustrophobic and confronted you with…things, you never could have conceived in your nightmares – you just had to get through it. Finishing that game was akin to knowing there was something under your bed at night, and finally after hours of chewing on your duvet you finally leap across the room, flick the switch and lift up your mattress.

    I too, used to recruit my little brother (who was maybe 12-13 at the time) to sit with me. He hated it, which made me feel better.

    I was so disappointed with the movie. Every scene and concept missed the mark which turned it into an exercise in frustration.

    You totally missed out on Pyramid Head…

  7. There were three of us that played SH:2 and SH:3 together – they were like interactive horror movies and we loved every minute of it.

    I never have played the original Silent Hill come to think of it.

  8. Silent Hill 1 is still the best one in the whole series in my books. SH2 comes closest to it but it has very different, more “calm” atmosphere and style in it, making the player feel more confused and disturbed (in a good way) than just scared.

    The sequel is still one helluva piece of art when it comes to games and their storylines.

    The third game on the other hand is the most “aggressive” in the whole series, but that’s just a design style. Think SH1 on steroids. Its storyline is directly related to SH1’s plot, so it’s very much recommended to play the first game beforehand. Not only will you avoid spoiling some stuff of the first game, you’ll also understand and appreciate some events more while playing SH3.

    Fourth game had nice ideas, but kinda odd or lacking implementations. The first half of the game was great, but towards the end it started literally repeating itself. Kinda pitty, but it’s still better than most of the games later released in the series.

  9. yahh have you tried playing silent hill on mobile you will discover what happend before silent hill on ps1 hehe

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