maanantai 23. elokuuta 2010

REVIEW - Silent Hill (1999)

Genre(s): Action / Survival horror
Released: 1999
Available on: PS1, PSN
Developer(s): Konami, Team Silent
Publisher(s): Konami
Players: 1

Largely thanks to Infogrames’ Alone in the Dark and especially Capcom’s Resident Evil, survival horror was the hottest subgenre of action games in the late 90’s. Many tried to repeat Capcom’s great success in the field of horror games for consoles, but failed for the most part – Human Entertainment did Clock Tower, WARP did D, etc.. In 1999, Capcom’s long-time rival Konami finally released a game that managed to redefine the genre in set new standards, by focusing on character development, fear and anxiety instead of straight-ahead action. At first and before its sequels came along, Silent Hill didn’t sell quite as well as was predicted, but the game was a critical success and it became a cult classic due to its genuinely haunting audiovisual atmosphere, and its difficult, unparalleled puzzles.

The Griswold family vacations had nothing on Harry’s trip

Michael Gough [as Michael G] : Harry Mason
Susan Papa : Cybil Bennett
Liz Mamorsky : Dahlia Gillespie
Jarion Monroe : Dr. Michael Kaufmann
Sandra Wane : Cheryl Mason / Alessa Gillespie
Thessaly Lerner : Lisa Garland

Harry Mason, a young widowed writer, takes a road trip together with his daughter Cheryl. Her strange suggestion leads them to Silent Hill, a small resort town. Driving by night on the only road that leads to Silent Hill, Harry is distracted by the silhouette of a young girl on the road and crashes his car. When he regains consciousness, Cheryl is gone. Harry sets out to find his daughter in the seemingly abandoned town devoured by a thick mist, and filled with otherworldly abominations thirsting for Harry’s blood. The closer Harry gets to his daughter, the more he finds out of an ancient cult operating in Silent Hill and the nightmare that is turning into reality.

The game isn’t the prettiest around. It’s a bit glitchy, and there’s hardly speech during cutscenes. It makes them more mechanical-looking than they already are. However, there’s a fair amount of detail, the “Otherworld effect” is smooth, and being the first fully three-dimensional survival horror experience, Silent Hill survives the graphical trial as a winner – the town itself is quite a show of the PlayStation’s power in its own right. There’s less emphasis on musical performance than in the later games, it’s very basic melodic jam, but the sound effects are from another world. Some random effects coming out of the blue colour up the fear factor of the game quite damn well.

The voice acting’s surprisingly decent – one character is even deliciously manic in her presentation – but a large part of the lines themselves is pretty crappy. They apparently focused on telling a story and not on the way it’s told. Most people involved with the voiceover work are semi-regulars in the business.

It isn't exactly pretty, but it's damn creepy.
When this game originally came out, it was the creepiest gaming experience ever. You’re an average white American male in a more than average situation. You have to find your daughter in a place that environmentally has more in common with hell itself than a regular seaside resort, and fight hordes of disfigured monsters, origin unknown, while you’re at it. At first, the game lets you feel exactly what Harry feels. During the first enemy encounter, you don’t even have any weapons. You have no choice but to run, down a narrow alley, while Akira Yamaoka’s tense, haunting piece plays in the background. At this point, you need to ultimately give in to the monsters. This feeling of incompetence echoes in the first real battles in which you have to aim at enemies for a long time before you’re able to shoot, let alone hit your target. Harry gradually gets used to fighting the abominations, and so will you. The monsters that give you a hard time in the beginning are really not that hard at all in the long run. You should always remember to stomp the enemy after taking it down, there’s always a chance it’ll get back up to play its part as a waste of bullets. The boss fights all have certain tricks to them, be sure to figure those things out before you go blasting like crazy – that’s another effective way to save bullets, as well as your health items which also turn out pretty scarce nearing the end, if not before.

There are many sequences in the game which consist of running around town searching for an unblocked path to your next destination. This can really get on your nerves after a while, because as much as you find bullets scattered all around, they are not for you to waste on the monsters on the streets, and they multiply the faster the closer you get to where you’re going – one more time: you will need those bullets later! You have many melée weapons at your disposal, but with some enemies, they won’t do you any good due to the quite unrefined combat mechanics and collision detection. The main problem with guns, on the other hand, is aiming. Harry takes aim automatically, but you have to reset the aim to lock on to another enemy after you’ve taken one down. This is slow, and really bad in intense fights where you have more than three enemies coming at you. The camera is also a bit of a nuisance in all possible situations, whether you’re fighting or trying to locate an important item. What’s most annoying about running around, besides enemies, is the strict linearity of the game’s first half. There’s at least one key item that you simply cannot find without finding the clue to its location first. Like in the case of the game’s first sequel, the game feels like it doesn’t even begin before you reach the first “stage”, which in this case is the Midwich elementary school.

The riddles and the accompanying puzzles in the game are HARD! Seriously, each notable puzzle will keep you jotting down bits and pieces of personal notes for hours and cursing your own being. I perfectly understand why they added a difficulty level for the puzzles alone in the next two games. What’s downright annoying is that you can’t keep the memos and important clues. That practically means that each time you attempt to crack a riddle, and end up forgetting something vital to it, you’ll have to backtrack to the clue. The most effective, but just as tedious way to keep track of what you’re doing is to write down the clue yourself. Dumb, considering that the first Resident Evil game already had the filing system for memos, journals and clues. However, Silent Hill strikes one back at Resident Evil with an unlimited inventory and a much more intelligent, and well explained saving system – notepads around town prompt Harry to write down everything he’s experienced so far, in case he dies and someone else takes his place as a lost traveller.

I don't know what it is about lighthouses that
always scares the shit out of me.
In addition to being quite difficult (read: a bit awkward) in terms of combat, and featuring some pretty damn hellish puzzle-solving, the game is moderately lengthy... and big. There are many unique locations on the seemingly endless streets, and nearly all of these locations show up in two different forms: the (far from) normal setting, and the alternate Otherworld setting, which sees the lights go off and the environment turn into a delightful mix of rust, blood and chainlink, not to mention the really disturbing details ranging from utterly mangled corpses to bloody mannequin limbs – what is it with mannequins, why are they so damn scary?! – just be ready for everything when the siren goes off.

Two basic items in Harry’s inventory – which were to become franchise staples – besides all the guns, weapons and key items he carries, are a flashlight which is attached to his chest pocket, and a radio which makes a static sound whenever a monster’s near. The radio, in my opinion, is completely useless. Especially when you reach the point in which the darkness pretty much devours the whole town and monsters start running rampant everywhere, it’s just there to irritate you to the max and nothing else. Luckily you can turn it off any time you wish. You simply can’t live without the flashlight, though, and its short range adds to the fear factor.

Let’s see, uh... there are five different endings, lots of tricky – though at times, just frustrating – combat, and puzzles straight out of the eternal inferno, and even a bonafide sidequest for those that are going for a satisfactory ending by all accounts! Yep, this is a hard one. Arguably the most difficult Silent Hill game.

Silent Hill is still a damn creepy game, and therefore quite an effective method of sleep deprivation. Despite being outdone by its sequels in many senses, the game still holds its own, offers good replay value and an enjoyable – can you really call it that? – gaming experience to any survival horror fan.

Graphics : 8.0
Sound : 8.3
Playability : 8.5
Challenge : 9.3
Overall : 8.6


GameRankings: 84.43%

Although it is not indicated or mentioned once during the game, the game’s events are set in the year 1986 according to the official Silent Hill timeline.

The streets and roads of Silent Hill are named after famous authors: Richard Bachman (a.k.a. Stephen King), Robert Bloch, Raymond Bradbury, Michael Crichton, James Ellroy, Jack Finney, Dean R. Koontz, Ira Levin, Richard Matheson, Carl Sagan, John Sandford, Dan Simmons and F. Paul Wilson.

Harry and Cheryl were originally named Humbert and Dolores, after the main characters in Lolita.

Cheryl’s name is derived from Sheryl Lee, the actress most known from her infamous double role in Twin Peaks. In the show, Sheryl plays two women who look exactly the same, but are totally different in nature. A similar theme is used for Cheryl and Alessa. The exact same theme is one of the central themes in Silent Hill 2.

Alessa (Asia) and Dahlia (Daria) were originally named after the daughter and former wife of famed Italian horror film director Dario Argento.

Dr. Michael Kaufmann’s name is a combination of the names of Troma Studios producers Michael Herz and Lloyd Kaufmann.

Lisa Garland is named after actress Judy Garland.

Near the gas station, there is a door which has the word “REDRUM” painted on it in blood. This is a very obvious reference to Stephen King’s The Shining. “REDRUM” is “MURDER” backwards.

The Midwich faculties – K. Gordon, T. Moore and L. Ranaldo – are named after Sonic Youth members Kim Gordon, Thurston Moore and Lee Ranaldo.

The key to the Otherworld in the Alchemilla Hospital is the elevator button, which appears out of nothing and indicates the 4th floor. Interestingly enough, in Japan, hospitals don’t have fourth floors due to superstition; the Japanese words for “four” and “death” are pronounced exactly the same.

Some of the creatures and puzzles were designed after Alessa’s favourite books.

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