As most of you know, yesterday a big announcement was made for the scariest game franchise of all time: Hideo Kojima and Guillermo Del Toro are teaming up to make a new Silent Hill game, called Silent Hills. The project stars Norman Reedus as what seems to be the games protagonist. The project re-teams Del Toro and Reedus who previously worked together on the kick-ass Blade 2. We can probably bet that Reedus is the star of the game, but Silent Hill by it’s very nature is designed to mind-screw with people and is now being supervised by the evil genius Hideo Kojma (who has his own history of subverting players expectations), he could turn into Tom Cruise…..or Clint Howard, midway through the game for no real reason.
But I’m going to back up a bit before I get more involved in talking about Silent Hills.
Way back in Spring Break in my junior year of high school (1999) quite a few of my classmates went to the beach, or on vacation, or somewhere fun. I was in a pretty terrible depression at the time for various reasons, and just wanted to be left alone. I took the week off work, planning to sleep and watch re-runs of Dark Shadows on Sci-Fi. However, a trip to the mom and pop video store led me to rent a video game that changed the way I saw the medium. I took a vacation all my own.
I went to Silent Hill.
I spent the week playing that game, using a walk through from some PlayStation magazine I was subscribed to at the time. Thank God for it too, in order to get the “Good” ending you had to go around your asshole to get to your elbow. However, from the outset, I really loved this game. In the seemingly abandoned town, you play a father named Harry who has lost his daughter Cheryl in the foggy resort town after a car crash. The family was on a vacation to get over the death of his late wife. For reasons that are explained as you play the game, Harry is drawn to the town, much like myself. For me, as a horror fan, this was a dream come true. A horror game set in a small town, where all the roads are named after horror writers?
I’m not going to go into the plot; if you want that, go to WikiPedia page. My thoughts and feelings on the game are what I wish to discuss. The game is brilliantly designed to expressly torment the player. This isn’t just cheap jump scares, or blow up the monsters type game play like some other big game horror franchise that you also may have heard of. This is a game that becomes a splinter in your mind, deliberately toying with you. There is a sense of pervading malevolence that permeates the atmosphere of this game. You are in a hopeless situation in a nightmare world that seems to be the love child of Lucio Fulci and David Lynch. There is a sense that you are being watched as you traverse the roadways. The feeling of dread that the player feels as they approach the first street that is broken off from the world, and looking down a cliff that leads to nowhere is one of the most surreal moments in gaming ever. This isn’t like that other horror franchise where you’re a trained solider. No, you’re just some regular guy that can trip on the edge of a porch, armed with a piece of plywood and a barely functional flashlight and a radio that goes crazy every so often to warn you of incoming threats. The radios use of foreshadowing these encounters enhances the dread because combat is clumsy and you’re most likely going to die. There is no life meter. You gauge how much damage you’ve taken by how badly you’re limping around.
The game throws down the gauntlet shortly after you arrive in Silent Hill to show you it means serious horror business by tricking you into a very messed up situation. Harry hears Cheryl calling to him down an alleyway. Going down the alleyway leads you to being stabbed to death by burned up, dead children.
One of the biggest parts of what makes the game so scary is that turns locations we are familiar with into twisted parodies of themselves. An abandoned school and hospital are scary enough on their own, but then the game ups the ante by introducing the shadow world of Silent Hill’s reality. An emergency horn BLARES at the player. The lights go out. Then you find yourself in the same building, but it’s a burned up, hollowed out version, filled with monsters like nurses with melted faces and stitched together mannequins. Inadvertently signalling the other-world horn like opening up the Hellraiser puzzle box; it takes you to a place you’d rather not go. It was one of the most unnerving experiences I’ve ever had with a video game.
This is a surreal game about finding your way out of darkness. It reminded me quite a bit of 70’s horror fare, especially one of my personal favorites, Phantasm, but with a slightly more comprehensible story-line. There is a rhyme and a reason to why these things happen; but it’s not spelled out for the player. Paying attention is critical in these games, which helps put the player in the characters shoes. I’ve played very few games where so much deliberation is put into making the player feel the things the character feels. It’s almost Satanic the way the game is designed to force you to identify with their predicament.
Like any good horror movie, one of the biggest parts of what makes this thing work is the soundtrack. Akira Yakamoka does a spectacular job with it, using a variety of different instruments to bring forth a beautiful and haunting soundtrack that evoke feelings of horror, sadness, and dread at the most appropriate times. The series soundtrack has never failed to impress, even though newer installments have had their share of detractors.
It was my intent with this article to go into my feelings/experiences with Silent Hill 2, but I’ve got to get ready to go to work.
I will update with a second coffee fueled rant tomorrow.