Konami’s psycho horror series Silent Hill used to be the best in the genre. Well-drawn characters, emotional subtext, classical suffering – it was far more subtle and affecting an endeavour than its contemporaries, with fear effortlessly seeping into the subconscious – whereas its biggest rival relied on dogs busting through windows for cheap scares. Sheesh.
Most fans agree the first three Silent Hill titles form the gold standard of Survival Horror. But, as well as the bloodcurdling apex of Pyramid Head’s entrance during Team Silent’s sophomore effort, the series also plays rotted host to some decidedly average numbers, Konami seemingly having abandoned it to decay over the decades.
Get your surgical gloves on – it’s time for a post-mortem…
In many ways, Vatra Games’ effort gets a lot right. Channelling the introspection of Silent Hill 2, it features convict, Murphy Pendleton, who flees to Silent Hill after escaping imprisonment. Thematically and literally waterlogged, there are moments of invention, especially in the more interesting side quests, but an oft-empty world makes for a tiresome plod, squandering the intriguing set-up of just how guilty Pendelton is – or isn’t. The combat is also particularly clunky, which only adds to the frustration.
Silent Hill: Downpour is also the first Silent Hill game to offer a 3D option, although the time spent on that might have been better expended fixing some of the technical issues like stuttering, pop-up and freezes that ruin the otherwise bleak atmosphere. Mind you, the camera has always been a bit skittish throughout the entire series, so none of this is that surprising.
Ultimately, Silent Hill: Downpour was a disappointing end point to a series that deserved so much more. Still, anybody who’d pined for the glory days was probably beyond caring by then.
This PS Vita exclusive is such a radical departure from what went before that many fans don't consider it to be a part of the mainline Silent Hill series. Developed by WayForward Technologies, Silent Hill: Book of Memories is best described as a dungeon-crawler with RPG elements.
The action is viewed from an overhead perspective, and while the visuals are impressive for a handheld title, the game doesn't gel as well as it really should. It doesn't 'feel' like a Silent Hill instalment, and it doesn't really succeed as a dungeon-crawler, either.
In the end, Book of Memories is little more than an interesting side-note to the main franchise, and one which is enjoyable in parts, but pretty forgettable.
For Silent Hill: Homecoming, development duties switched to the States and Double Helix Games. Scrutiny was intense for such a major console chapter in the beloved series, and despite all the ingredients being in place, it’s fair to say this is the point at which things had drifted the furthest from the classic formula.
Despite all the tropes – encroaching darkness, twisted monsters, psycho drama plot – plus a new lease-of-life on next-gen hardware, none of it truly resonated the way the archetype games did. In fact, the events don’t even take place in the titular town, instead playing out in Shepherd's Glen, with military man, Alex Shepherd, searching for his lost brother.
The cut scenes were a definite high point, as was series composer Akira Yamaoka returning to lay down his trademark sonic torture, but even this couldn’t rescue Silent Hill: Homecoming from the malaise of being a pale imitation of Team Silent’s peerless entries.
Interestingly, the Australian and German versions were subject to edits for violence – a first for the series.
The first effort after Team Silent relinquished the reigns, it took British studio Climax Action two attempts to carve this prequel for the PSP (later ported to PS2). In fact, it involved the closure of the Los Angeles office, shunting production to Portsmouth, where the original build was overhauled in order to ape the original outing’s atmosphere and gameplay.
Certainly, it’s a solid instalment – albeit an unremarkable one – with trucker Travis Grady on a mission to unearth the fate of a young girl caught in a house fire. There’s a lot of world-building, and characters from Silent Hill surface, including Alessa Gillespie, her mother, Dahlia, as well as Dr Michael Kaufman and Lisa Garland.
And that’s the crux of Silent Hill: Origins’ singular shortcoming: while it’s entirely successful in resurrecting the ghost of the series’ origins (no pun intended) you’ll spend much of the time questioning why you’re not playing the far-superior debut.
Yeah yeah, we know – P.T. is not technically a full game and Silent Hills – the title it was teasing – was never actually released, but this remains a significant instalment in the franchise, despite its brevity. Developed by Hideo Kojima in partnership with director Guillermo del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth, The Devil’s Backbone) it was one of the most terrifying experiences on a console, never mind the series.
Famous for a post-run reveal of Norman ‘Walking Dead’ Reedus as the protagonist, it hit the buffers when things turned sour between Kojima and Konami. The game was not only pulled from the PlayStation Store, but also from re-downloads. Your machine went pop? P.T. was gone for good. Various hacks emerged for retrieval, along with high prices for PS4s with intact downloads.
Clever bods remade it for PC, and there was even a Change.org petition begging Konami to breathe new life into the project. It didn’t work, which is a crying shame, because P.T. is properly terrifying.
This fourth instalment was Team Silent’s last involvement with Silent Hill, and a departure from form. Set in a different locale (the city of Ashfield), it focuses on Henry Townshend’s exploration of alternative, nightmare worlds through a hole that appears in his flat. Plagued by recurrent nightmares, he is unable to leave the building, his room both a nexus and safe space.
For the first time, the developers employed a first-person view while in the room in order to elicit a more claustrophobic, oppressive atmosphere. Things revert to the usual third-person perspective once Henry travels to the nightmare realms, where he teams up with his neighbour while facing off against the ghost of a serial killer, Walter Sullivan.
And it’s here that the recipe starts to lose its flavour, as puzzles are dumbed right down in favour of more combat-heavy gameplay. Item storage is also very limited storage, and with no way to dump redundant gear, Henry has to return to his room to manage resources. Annoyingly, this is the only way to heal or save, meaning frequent re-treads in order to ensure progress isn’t lost.
Silent Hill 4: The Room certainly had a great concept, but the world outside doesn’t quite live up to the promise, especially given the clout of the first three games.
Following its work on Silent Hill: Origins, Climax Action returned to the series in 2009 with a new title sporting three major plus points: first, it was for Wii, bringing the series to the Nintendo crowd. Next, it starred OG Silent Hill hero, Harry Mason, a welcome move aimed squarely at old-school fans. But last, and most important, it was a decent game.
The approach was a bold move, splitting the gameplay into two distinct scenarios; initially a first-person psychological test with Dr Michael Kaufmann, then a third-person exploration of the town itself. The former setting directly affects the latter, and the Wii remote is put to elegant use controlling Harry’s torch and mobile phone.
The real trick, though, was the clever choice to remove all combat from the game, instead relying on evasion, hiding and escape to engender player fear. And, goodnes, does it work. With no gun, lead pipe, or plank of wood to batter monsters with, the desperate chase sequences are supremely tense, amplified by a neat ‘look-back’ function.
A welcome return to form, there’s no doubt that Silent Hill: Shattered Memories is one of the most compelling and novel approaches to the series, and well worth braving. It was also released on PSP and PS2, minus any motion-sensing controls.
After the pinnacle that was Silent Hill 2, it was always going to be a tough task for the follow-up to even equal, never mind surpass it. That’s not to say Silent Hill 3 is a bad game – far from it. On its own merit, it’s a great-looking, scary-as-hell Survival Horror outing that stamps all over much of the competition. But it’s also more of the same, without much in the way of evolution or development.
Set some 17 years after the original Silent Hill, main character Heather searches for her father’s killers after a grisly vision of her death in an otherworldly amusement park. Everything you’d expect is present and correct, from the radio and torch, and the varied arsenal, to the rusted, chainmail constructs of the nightmare world.
It’s absolutely one to play, but it’s not as strong plot-wise, never quite reaching the poetic, supernatural hell of its two predecessors. Even so, it stands head and shoulders above many of the other games in the franchise.
This is where it all began. Where Capcom had coined the term ‘Survival Horror’ three years earlier with Resident Evil, Konami instead took a more cerebral approach, choosing to tell an occult tale that fostered a creeping dread through fear of the unknown, rather than the gore and jump scares. The entire opening sequence is worth the price of admission alone.
Starring ‘everyman’ Harry Mason, the hunt for his missing daughter was smartly simple and doubly effective once the crumbling, nightmare world made its horrifying appearance. Trawling everyday locations like holiday homes and schools – now replete with disturbing monsters – made a huge change from the overused ‘haunted house’ setting.
Elsewhere, the idea to mask the draw-distance shortcomings of the PlayStation with fog was pure genius. It not only played to the game’s strengths, but enhanced the sense of claustrophobia and tension, eventually giving way to outright terror, during the supernatural, conspiratorial climax.
There’s no doubt Silent Hill was the start of one of the greatest horror video game series ever, but the best was yet to come.
It says something when a game that’s over two decades old still has the power to genuinely scare. Having refined the blueprint in the original Silent Hill, Konami used the PlayStation 2’s advanced power to deliver hugely improved visuals in Silent Hill 2, allowing for a greater depth of character emotion and more detailed, decayed staging.
But it was the story that really hits home, where James Sunderland returns to Silent Hill after receiving a letter from his dead wife. As he explores, he meets lost souls struggling with their own demons, and the game delves deeper into James’ psyche, his vulnerable, sympathetic demeanour peeling away. It’s fair to say the denouement is utterly heartbreaking.
While the human element is the true achievement, the environments and set pieces underpin the story brilliantly, supported by a suite of vile, twisted creatures born from James own guilt. Indeed, Pyramid Head (AKA ‘Red Pyramid Thing’) has become a classic depiction of punishment, and the de facto antagonist.
Make no mistake: Silent Hill 2 is both the series’ zenith, and one of the greatest video games ever, horror or otherwise.
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