Review by Void of Genocide

Reviewed: 10/14/03

A long but very honest review.

In 1999 Konami gave birth to Silent Hill, back then a rather unknown horror game that followed (or “copied”, like some said) the game mechanics of the far more famous Resident Evil, Capcom’s foray in the world of horror gaming. The game received little to no attention by the press, and the few it received portrayed a fogy, cheap, Resident Evil clone, not something any gamer would like to get into during the period of flashy Playstation graphics.

My first encounter with Silent Hill was through an EGM preview article; it was a small space that presented a few screenshots and claimed the game to be heavily influenced by Stephen King, something that actually put me off. (How this hack’s work influenced a work of Barkeresque horror is beyond me) I didn’t pay much attention to the game, until the time when I bought Metal Gear Solid which, as some might remember, advertised Silent Hill on the back of the booklet. A big red and fat “Welcome to Hell” sign with Cybil Bennet standing there, arms crossed and smiling… it caught my attention.

But it was not until a few days after it’s release, under a cloud of obscurity, when I finally got the impulse of buying the game. It was late at night, around midnight, and I was listening to the radio. The show airing at that time was one of those lousy shows were people call in and tell the public about their (probably made up) paranormal encounters, something like Art Bell, except that hosted by a couple of young college girls; I’m not from the USA, so there’s no use in telling you anything further about this wreck of a show.

Anyway, next thing I know, one of the girls starts talking about how her brother (who happens to be a guy I knew back then) had bought this “horror game called Silent Hill”, and how the pesky little thing had given them the creeps. She praised it as something that every horror aficionado had to experience on the double. The next day I had the game in my hands...

The game was something rarely seen during the day. Games like the PSX’ edition of Clock Tower (and it’s puzzling sequel, “The Struggle Within”) had already suggested the use of more grizzly atmospheres for horror gaming instead of the sci-fi/action/horror mix of Capcom’s Resident Evil. But where Clock Tower just hinted at a disturbingly phantasmagoric setting, Silent Hill gave us the full view. Aided with obscure graphics, a seemingly incomplete story, and a soundtrack that sounds like something Roger Karmanik would cook in early Brighter Death Now, the game was the perfect jewel for horror fans. It’s sequel, the brilliant story of a lonely man in search of his wife, was the logical leap of the series, making use of a more obscure setting and adding an element of sadness that was implied in the first foray through the town, but was ultimately fully implemented in the sequel.

Now that the third game is out, one can’t help but feel unsettled, and I am not talking about fear. When Silent Hill 3 was first confirmed, I was one of the very few people who voiced his opinion about how this third installment should also be the last., opinion that resulted in some mild flame wars. You just can have enough of something before it turns stale, and this rule applies to everything, even video games, no matter how brilliant they are. There are some type of games you can have sequel after sequel and you wouldn’t notice a thing: The Castlevania series is a prime example.

But games like Silent Hill are different. We are not talking about some generic story about vampires and cursed families of wampiri hunters, that makes use of the same basic structure and can be endlessly projected due its delicious cheesiness; we are talking about some serious plot here, serious and involving atmospheres and game mechanics. Thomas Ligotti said it best in his short story The Medusa: “The only place where we can find refuge from horror, is in the heart of Horror”. And once you get used to a certain type of horror, (the heart of Horror) there is no human way to make you feel any more Horror out of it.

In other words, we have felt all we needed to feel in the previous two games. Silent Hill 3 was an obvious evolution that we all knew was going to happen, and I am fine with it, but it is no secret that the game felt short in comparison to the previous two. Tension builds up and there are a few instances of deliciously genuine fear, but the overall experience is not the coiled horror of the first two, but that of something that is headed,-or should be headed-, for closure… the game is old; a fourth experience would just prolong the activity of an already dead body.

What moves this game is the element of weirdness that was absent in the previous two games. Mind you, it is not present in the entirety of the game, but once it appears, you just know it to be something far more bizarre than disturbing, and that’s where the true Horror lays. The Horror here comes not from the fact of facing an impossible anatomy or a cenobite, but of knowing yourself to be face to face with something that is not gut-wrenching horrific, but still is not right. The diary entries of certain character from the game are a clear example of this type of bizarre/passive horror. Somebody at Konami must love the work of Thomas Ligotti!

The game is a masterwork in design. Many neat elements were added, such as moving, and even mutable textures. For instance, there are certain textures that move as in fire; other textures are a screen where objects move (drops of blood, for example). But the most amazing of this textures is late on the game: Imagine an L-shaped corridor made up of white painted concrete walls, its texture similar to a handkerchief; next thing you know small red patterns, like veins, start showing up and expanding through the walls, like a white handkerchief covering a bloody cut.

The monsters are a huge leap from the first game, although they follow a style very similar to the second sequel’s enemies. They come in different sizes and difficulties, and even though none of them violate the laws of sane anatomy they still manage to leave a nice impression in the mind’s eye. Very good job.

But the music is something to be desired. Silent Hill had a soundtrack reminiscent of early school Death Industrial, like Brighter Death Now’s “Necrose Evangelicum” or something by early Genocide Organ or Anenzephalia. (only less rough) The inclusion of non-ambient tracks was a nice move, and we were graced with some great tracks like “Silent Hill” and “…tears of”. Silent Hill 2’s soundtrack is equally good, although an evolution in sound is there; the slow Death Industrial was changed for something more ambient, and the result was nicely done. But not so with Silent Hill 3.

The Industrial/Ambient music is nothing too spectacular, (with one exception) but was left and it is played mainly during game time. But the other type of music, the one that is not ambient or industrial and we come to expect, following the tradition of Silent Hill 1, is not what I came to expect. Mind you, it is not terribly done, in fact some are nice pieces of music, but they just don’t go there. Music can be nice and all, but badly applied and it kills a moment’s novelty. For instance, half through the game we are given some important pieces from the plot, the moment is actually kind of emotional and we would expect the appropriate music for it, something preferably without vocals. What we are given instead is something that sounds like it was stolen from a Madonna album.

And there are more examples…

Was Silent Hill 3 actually needed? For Konami it was; a quick buck in their pockets and off they go. You can’t blame them, believe me. We all need money, after all. For the fans? Yes, it probably was, you need to please the auditorium…

Did we need it like this, like Silent Hill? No, we probably didn’t. Konami learned some nifty tricks with this kid, learned them before setting it loose. Why not experiment with a different Horror instead? The radio, the fog, the rusted hell, it all lost its meaning. At least I wasn’t that impressed by them. The fog in fact was overused; you can’t run a few meters before the game lags because the exaggerated volume of fog.

And the plot, although interesting, just gave too much, more that what it was needed. Part of Silent Hill’s success is the obscurity of the plot. Some blame it to heavy censoring, others to an intentional move from the developers. I think it was all the result of bad story telling, but that’s me. In any case, Silent Hill 3’s story feels less sincere, like reused material. I said it, it is a good story, but I can’t help it but feel that the developers read that pretentious “plot guide” and said “Hey, this is some good material. Let’s expand on it and call it Silent Hill 3!”

Do we need a Silent Hill 4? No, we don’t, but it’s already on its way. Do we need Silent Hill comic books? No, we don’t, but they are soon to come. Do we need a Silent Hill movie? No, we also don’t need it, but it is on the works too. Do we see the direction this game is taking? I don’t think so…

The fact that people who disagreed before SH3’s release are now agreeing with me is a good sign, though.

7 out of 10. A good game, but don’t expect the Second Coming.

Rating:   3.5 - Good

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