An ode to survival horror

Looking back at my top ten games from the past decade, I thought I’d dedicate my posts this week to a genre that was mentioned a few times: survival horror. The two most popular series belonging to this genre are of course Silent Hill and Resident Evil. I’ll start out with Silent Hill; I’ll say what I like and what I dislike about the series. Next time I’ll discuss Resident Evil, and at the end I’ll reveal which series I prefer.

The original Silent Hill game was released for the PlayStation more than ten years ago now, in 1999. The graphics are way outdated today, and I can’t lie, they look pretty terrible. That only adds to how impressive the fear aspect is in this game. To this day, playing the original SH still gives me a strong sensation of uneasiness as I advance, and oftentimes I find myself hesitating to go through the next door, or around the next corner.

That’s because Silent Hill has never been known for relying on the sort of “things jumping out at you” approach to horror. This series forces players to think, and you’ll do plenty of that, and when you’re done you still won’t be able to understand absolutely everything. Konami knows how to create chilling stories that really grip you. This series plays on your imagination, and you almost always have an extremely limited field of vision, with only a flashlight to illuminate the darkness.

The original game focuses on the story of protagonist Harry Mason, a widower, who is searching for his lost adopted daughter, Cheryl. Harry awakens after crashing his car in Silent Hill. During his journey through the demented town, Harry learns of a dark secret about Cheryl, whom he and his wife found on the side of the rode. Though there are monsters (which are really personifications of Harry’s own fear, you’ll later learn) to fight, the real monsters of the game are members of the terrifying cult The Order. The story of The Order unfolds throughout the game, and later on in other games in the series. The character development in this series is one of its strongest qualities.

Silent Hill is also famous for its puzzles, which at times can be frustratingly difficult. Often times, frivolous item collecting is also necessary to complete these puzzles. Solving one puzzle can require several trips back and forth between different rooms. The puzzles can certainly be tedious, and the reward often feels not worth all of the effort.

The earlier games in the series have hair-pullingly awful control schemes. This aspect of the gameplay much outweighs the graphical limitations when considering elements that may defer players from giving the originals a chance these days. Understandably, though, this aspect also adds to the terror experienced while navigating Silent Hill. The thought of not being able to maneuver the character sufficiently when faced with danger is a brilliant tool to instill fear in the player (though probably unintentional at the time). The controls do become easier to deal with after the first couple of hours, though, and it’s worth gritting your teeth for a while to continue the game, because the stories are so well done.

This series is also known for its wonderful soundtracks. The voice acting in the first and second games is pretty god awful, but the music of this series has always been genius.

As far as recommending individual games, I would definitely suggest beginning with the original, to get the feel for the series from its start, and also to learn the story. I would then recommend going on to play Silent Hill 3, which is my personal favorite game of the series. This game also continues the story line of the first game (Silent Hill 2 is a completely separate story). After that I would recommend the new Silent Hill: Shattered Memories for the Wii. This game is meant to be taken as a completely separate entry from the rest of the series, but it is still very much a SH title, and definitely worth playing and replaying. Homecoming for the PS3/XBOX 360 is also a good game, and it really goes in depth with the story of The Order. I would recommend Silent Hill 2 for people who are already fans of the series, because I honestly feel it’s one of the weaker entries (even though other fans will argue endlessly with me on this). In SH2 you are introduced to Pyramid Head, the series’ most famous antagonist. I would not recommend playing Silent Hill 4, but rather reading the story somewhere or watching a playthrough online. The gameplay is really just a pain and poorly developed, but the story is really interesting. I’d also recommend playing Origins last; the gameplay’s not so great, but it does provide a great background story and is worth one playthrough.

All in all, any fan of survival horror needs to check this series out. Just keep in mind that Silent Hill has its strong points and also some really weak points.

I would suggest checking out IGN’s review of the original Silent Hill for more information about the series’ starting point.

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