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My First Experience With "Silent Hill"

Video games and movies are a major passion of mine, and I enjoy sharing my thoughts and feelings about titles I find moving.

my-first-experience-with-silent-hill

Technical

To follow up on my playthrough of Silent hill 2, I dug out my old ps3 and grabbed the original PS1 classic and after a few failed attempts I managed to finish my first playthrough of Silent Hill, and I can confidently say that only the sequel can scare me as effectively as this game did. As physical copies of the game are exceedingly pricey, starting at $200 in the best conditions, I chose to buy the PlayStation Network copy digitally, as its much more fairly priced. For the most part visually and technically, it seems to be a well enough way to play the game without original hardware. With the exceptions of a small number of audio bugs the game seems to run well and even displays at an upscaled 1080p, so in terms of convenience, the PS3 version is the way to go if you're looking for ease of access and clean visual performance, unfortunately the store front isn't in the most stable of conditions. The process of adding funds to your PlayStation account on the PS3 is a rather tedious affair, and the add to cart button was missing when I purchased the game. Sadly with the state of game preservation, this is still the most convenient and affordable way I could find to play this classic title.

Cold Open Perfection

In the introduction to the series, we play as Harry Mason on his way to vacation in the titular town of Silent Hill with his young daughter Cheryl, but after seeing the visage of a young girl in the road, Harry crashes trying to avoid her. This is where we’re immediately thrown into the game, waking up from the crash with Cheryl missing, and the town covered in an ominous fog with snow falling. Almost immediately the setting is extremely foreboding. With no signs of life, and the suffocating fog that feels almost like it wants to consume the player. Climbing out of the car, we follow who we believe to be Cheryl into an alleyway, greeted by a decapitated creatures head next to a basketball hoop (almost seemingly having been thrown into the net), we continue down the alley where the strange sweeping camera angles, and near complete silence turn into a hall of sorts covered in blood and rust, with beds strewn about. At the end we’re shown a body chained to a fence with barbed wire and before we can fully process what we’ve seen, we’re attacked by The Grey Children, only to wakeup at the dinner seemingly safe. This cold open may be something that’s been discussed again and again over the past 20 years, but that’s because its’s one of the best openings for a video game ever. The main conflict is established, while the setting and tone of the entire game are shown to the player within just the opening minutes.

my-first-experience-with-silent-hill

Story

The games story is the vital to the games success, yet like most great survival horror titles it takes a some effort on the player to piece together properly, and even then may not be entirely correct as the game doesn't have a specific "canon ending". While that may be the point, as the intention was to create an intriguing narrative, that allowed players to come to their own conclusions, this is my understanding of the story. Seven years before the game takes place, Silent Hill was home to a cult known only as "The Order", who's goal was to rebirth their god using the powers of Alessa Gillespie. Their leader being none other than her own mother, Dahlia Gillespie, would often abuse and neglect Alessa, for not wanting to believe in their god. From a young age Alessa, would start to show supernatural abilities, that caused her to be bullied in school, yet also used by her mother to rebirth their god. The pain and suffering from her traumas caused her powers to manifest themselves, by causing a malfunction in her homes boiler, setting the home ablaze and leaving Alessa covered in third degree burns, in a comatose state. In her anguish, Alessa's soul split itself in two, creating the child who would become Cheryl Mason, while she remained hidden by The Order in Silent Hill. In an effort to end her own suffering, she eventually calls her other half back to herself, which is what draws Harry and Cheryl Mason to Silent Hill. Upon his arrival, Harry's ignorance of the cult causes him to be easily deceived by Dahlia into believing Alessa is willingly spreading her darkness over the town and that she must be stopped before she can cause further damage. Through the course of his journey of the town, Harry must traverse many key locations that each tell a part of Alessa's traumas, and discover the truth behind what's happening in this town, with Midwhich Elementary and Alchemilla Hospital being both the most memorable, yet also the most important portions of the story. The few humans Harry meets from the town of Silent Hill, hospital nurse Lisa Garland, Dr. Kaufmann and Dahlia Gillespie, each played a role in Alessa's suffering with only Lisa Garland being the only truly innocent person involved(resulting in one of the games most heartbreaking scares.). As Harry encounters each of these characters, players are given small amounts of information about each of their involvement with Alessa. Dahlia is still trying to use her daughter as a vessel for their god, While Kaufman, is in secret forcing Lisa Garland to keep her alive while they prepare another ritual. Discovering the truth, Harry in the end must stop the rebirth of The Orders God, with his own fate depending on choices the player makes as they play. The game never outright says most of this, but instead trusts players to be able to put their own interpretation together from the pieces given by the obfuscated writing.

The Other World

The games most popular feature may just be The Other World mechanic. Several times throughout Harry's quest, the game world itself changes into a dark twisted version of our own. This "Other World" is built from Alessa's subconscious, which is why the levels, and monsters, all represent a part of her. The town feels like a surreal nightmare before the first scare even happens. It feels like someone recreating the image of a town through their dreams, rather than something purposely built to feel like a believable space. The entire game is built off that conceit of uncanniness, most of the in-game locations are boring spaces on paper, but in execution they become these warped dreamlike structures that feel unsettling in really indescribable ways. Everyone can picture a hospital or School, but the ones featured in Silent Hill, feel like something pulled out of a dream, with their strange layouts and the feeling that something just isn’t right with them. I personally believe this is because of the original development team, Team Silent being inspired to create a game for American audiences, while themselves being based in Japan. Inspiration came from a great number of sources but most importantly, is the weight Twin Peaks had on the games absurd style. There’s a certain disconnect when the studio tried to mimic American culture through a popular, yet absurd depiction of an idealized slice of life media like Twin Peaks. It makes the events of the story and the setting feel familiar enough to be understood and recognized, but still just odd enough to create a lasting sense of unease. That feeling of uneasiness permeates the entire series, but its impressive to see how well Team Silent managed to introduce audiences to their signature style on the relatively weak PlayStation 1. Using the consoles limitations, the Development team managed to have a compelling story based reason, as to why the town was always consumed by darkness and fog.

my-first-experience-with-silent-hill
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Creature Purpose

Where the art direction isn’t the strongest is in my opinion, the monster design of the games many enemies. None are outright bad or poorly conceived, I just think that enemy designs were so much improved in the latter two sequels that these original ones feel weakest as a result. But without comparing to those later entries, the monsters do serve a strong narrative purpose here and are still effectively scary. As later games would double down on, the enemies and environments are built from Alessa’s subconscious rather than the protagonist Harry, as the story is more about Harry experiencing her pain and torment rather, than facing his own horrors, as James Sunderland in Silent Hill 2 would go on to do. In a way this is more effective, as it adds a tragic layer of lost innocence to the games many environments. Where there once was a busy amusement park or a school full of life and safety, there’s now just an inescapable empty darkness covered once again in blood and rust. Exploring Midwhich Elementary, the deafening silence of the school, being pierced by the static cutting through the radio, and suddenly encountering the gray children for the second time, is one of the most spine chilling video game experiences, I have ever had. While other creatures found while exploring the town, are all rooted in the personal experiences of Alessa herself, as either twisted perversions of a creature from her favorite stories, or literal manifestations of her fears and traumas, none of them scare me quite as much as the Gray Children.

my-first-experience-with-silent-hill

Sound Design

If any aspect of the game is worthy of endless praise, it is without a doubt the music and sound design. In an effort to not repeat myself from previous writings, the work done by Akira Yamaoka is once again unrivaled. An even more impressive feat considering just how well it holds up even compared to the later sequels. Even when nothing may be happening the music or lack thereof, manages to create such a stressful atmosphere that I find myself only able to play short bursts at a time. The seemingly broken radio Harry picks up at The Diner in the games opening, is an essential piece of the sound design. The eerie static it plays in the presence of enemies is both an effective way of easily unnerving the player, but also a great tool to alert players to enemies that may be outside of the fixed camera angles. Using the radio is essential to survival as you progress. The use of sounds playing just outside of the players view, creates a palpable sense of dread, as your mind scrambles to fill in the blanks of what you're not seeing. The music found in the clip linked above, helps to create a truly heart wrenching scene that left me in tears the first time I saw it. The horror of seeing something so bad happen to such an innocent person, combined with the haunting score, creates a deeply melancholic yet horrific scene, that has a way of sticking around in my head long after experiencing the scene. This is such an important aspect of the Team Silent developed games in the series, that its almost required to mention when discussing the games but can start to sound repetitive as there’s not much else to say besides praising the sound designs excellence yet again. It’s something that is much better experienced than explained.

my-first-experience-with-silent-hill

Atmospshere and Gameplay

Horror is a genre that requires a compelling atmosphere, Team Silent managed to make the world of Silent Hill consuming, yet also enduring and striking all at once. This combination of elements helps a world that feels equally familiar yet alien, almost as if the game wants to pull you in, yet also keep you at a distance. There's a deeper story to find than what is presented on the surface, seemingly demanding multiple playthroughs to fully understand, but the games resistance to easily deliver the story only adds to the dream like nature of the overall project. The moment to moment gameplay can be challenging, but never impossible with combat never being outright unfair, and the players survival depending on their ability to manage a limited inventory of ammo and health items. Add to that, the games numerous puzzles that often left me scratching my head trying to solve them on my own, yet feeling very accomplished upon completion. The games locations combine these gameplay mechanics to become a series of dungeons in a sense, as they fall into a loop of, searching for items, solving puzzles, and fighting or avoiding enemies The unification of the games excellent atmosphere and gameplay, creates such a unique blend of melancholy, terror, confusion and unease, that's simply hard to put into words just how effectively scary it can be to play.

my-first-experience-with-silent-hill

Final Thoughts

Playing this game was an enjoyable challenge for myself. It took some time to adjust to the controls and learn the structure of the game. A few mishaps and restarts later (seriously hard mode is way tougher than I had anticipated.), I came away absolutely enthralled with the experience. Even compared to other titles in the series, each entry has their own unique feel that’s truly special, when compared to the others. While the structure of each game is similar, the experience of each entry is different enough to feel cohesive, while managing to avoid stagnation. Every time I finish a Team Silent developed Silent Hill, I come away with such strong admiration for their titles, that I can’t help but be inspired to talk about them, and even imagine my own art I would love to make, thanks to these games being genuine works of art from a studio who took a tremendous amount of pride in their work. This to me is the enduring legacy of the original Team Silent developed titles. While it may not always work, these games came together, from Konami allowing a team of impressive creatives to execute their vision in the way they saw fit. In turn creating titles that are truly important to not only just video games, but also the horror genre overall.

my-first-experience-with-silent-hill

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