Halloween Week – Facing Fears in Silent Hill

Here’s an All Hallow’s Eve confession: I hate survival horror games. I managed to fumble my way through Resident Evil and Resident Evil 2 with the help of my best friend, but the experiences left me feeling weak and afraid of the entire genre. So I’ve purposely avoided all survivor horror games save for one that’s haunted me.

One day in early 1999 that same best friend brought over a PlayStation demo disc. He plopped it down on the coffee table and declared that we absolutely had to try this new game from Konami – Silent Hill. I hadn’t heard of it before (I must have been behind on my EGM) so I asked him what it was. He responded simply that “Silent Hill is to Hellraiser as Resident Evil is to Night of the Living Dead.” I shuddered but what was I going to say to my best gaming bud: no? I faked enthusiasm as best as I could while he booted up the disc. By the time it was over I knew I would never play the game, ever. That is until now: with the latest Silent Hill installment making waves with its PT (Playable Teaser) demo and with Hideo Kojima and Guillermo del Toro helming the project, I figured it was time to face my fears at long last and try the now PSOne classic for myself. Besides, the original is almost 16 years old now. How terrifying could it possibly be?silent hill opening

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Silent Hill may not be “terrifying” to the modern eye but it’s still pretty creepy and unsettling, both in terms of its design and its minimalistic aesthetics. I have to admit that I remembered those opening moments chasing after the protagonist’s lost daughter as if my friend and I just played the demo yesterday. The game’s oppressive fog effect may be covering up system limitations but it still works to unnerve you with a claustrophobic feeling. The monsters are competently done but a tad drab. You’re initially pursued by hellhounds and what appear to be hell-pterodactyls. Later on its shank-wielding hell midgets, and eventually you’ll work your way toward a demon in the game’s final confrontation.

But to me the real challenge lay not in monsters or non-intuitive puzzles. It’s more about overcoming the limitations of my hero himself. Poor Harry Mason is just a regular guy in a bad situation: he’s not graceful, he can’t run very fast, and he’s terrible at handling weapons. There’s no mini map, no helpful arrows, no hint system, nothing to guide you to your goal. There’s not even a free roam camera. All you’ve got is a broken radio to let you know enemies are close and your wits, as long as you can keep them. Silent Hill feels like your nemesis at all times and it still does it terribly well today. I may have finally beat it, with a bad ending apparently, but after almost 16 years I’m ready to call this one a draw. I may have faced the fear of the first game, but I can’t say I’m in a hurry to download the newest demo. Or any other survival horror game for that matter.

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