Silent Hill is a gripping survival horror game that made its debut in 1999 on the first PlayStation. Since then, many gamers and critics have started to associate the Silent Hill series as almost a sub-genre of survival horror game. This is what I have learned about the game and why it was a fresh take on the genre.
Silent Hill‘s Development
It did not start out merrily. Sources indicate that Konami Computer Entertainment Tokyo did not expect much from Team Silent. Konami, however, did want to create something that would be successful in the Western market, just as Capcom was able to do with Resident Evil.
As opposed to the Resident Evil series’ heavier focus on combat (quite a few of the playable characters can handle firearms and are physically trained), the Silent Hill series focuses more on exploration and puzzle solving. Combat does not seem like Silent Hill‘s strong suit, which perhaps makes it conceptually relevant and appropriate. Most of the Silent Hill series’ main characters are not combat-savvy, after all.
Yes, maybe Team Silent was not able to design a great combat experience for the game. Some players even voiced their dislikes towards the slow and clunky combat control. But, others could argue that because it doesn’t have a great combat mechanic, it is intentionally designed so the players focus more on the survival aspect (run!).
The first Silent Hill game has the player controlling Harry Mason. Mason is taking his daughter, Cheryl, for a vacation to Silent Hill, a supposedly famous tourist town in Maine. Along the way, Mason has to avoid hitting a girl who suddenly appears on the road, causing the car to swerve and crash. Mason loses consciousness and when he awakens, he realizes Cheryl is missing. After walking for a while, Mason finds Old Silent Hill, a town that is covered with thick fog and snow. The dead town seems to have been deserted.
After running around in the area, the town suddenly goes dark with sirens blaring in the distance. Mason illuminates the area with a lighter and finds the town transformed. Rusted metal, grime, blood, and gore fill the environment as it has transitioned into the Otherworld, a realm that exists between reality and unreality. This is where the creepy atmospheric and metallic soundtrack starts to bring out the chills.
Without any other choice, he makes his way through an alley and finds some horrific scenes. Soon after, he’s attacked by child-like monsters and loses consciousness. Mason awakens in a nearby town’s cafe where he also becomes acquainted with a local policewoman named Cybil Bennett. Bennett equips him with a handgun to defend himself. Additionally, Mason also readies himself with a town map, a knife, a portable radio, and a flashlight. His journey to save his daughter in the damned dark and dreadful district begins.
Silent Hill gained many positive reviews for its horrifying take on the genre. Though many people compared it to its famous predecessor, Resident Evil, Silent Hill managed to distinctly and positively separate itself. Reviewers praised the psychological and ambient horror as well as the eerie soundtrack.
The Character Design in Silent Hill
Perhaps the most disturbing visual factor for the series is the creature designs. Unlike other horror flicks or games at the time that used zombies and demonic beings, Silent Hill‘s creatures are largely based on human figures. Not only that, in the later games, the creature designs have come to symbolize certain psyches of the playable and non-playable characters. They are grotesque, twisted, horrifying, and visceral.
The team and publisher, Konami, received many criticisms regarding the design of the Grey Child monsters above. Many of the censorship boards throughout the world deemed the design too child-like. The US version release had the team rework the design to be slightly larger while the European release had a different monster that replaced it.
The song above is simply titled “Silent Hill.” Created by the main composer for the game, Akira Yamaoka, the intro seems to be more upbeat and cheerier than what the game is about. However, you also need to watch the opening movie to see how hair-raisingly effective the music is.
Akira Yamaoka has been the sound designer, composer, and producer for many Silent Hill games. Yamaoka has also worked on other games and media such as Play for Japan: The Album (compilation album headed by Yamaoka himself to help victims of 2011 Tohoku earthquake), Suda51’s Lollipop Chainsaw, and even remixing a song for Persona 4: Dancing All Night.
Despite being known as composer and sound designer, Yamaoka’s educational background was in product and interior design. Sources stated that he is very influenced by Angelo Badalamenti who had composed for David Lynch’s Twin Peaks TV series. The Silent Hill games, in turn, have drawn inspiration from and paid homage to Lynch’s works.
Speaking of references, the Silent Hill series has many references to other media, but I will try to focus more on the first game. Harry Mason, the protagonist, is said to have referenced Stanley Kubrick’s movie adaptation of Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita. Actor James Mason played the role of Humbert Humbert, the main character of Lolita. The opening sequence of Mason and his daughter driving through the fog also parallels a similar scene in the film adaptation of Lolita. The game also pays homage to Kubrick’s other work, The Shining, by having a bloody piece of graffiti spell “REDRUM”.
The streets of Old Silent Hill that Mason visits in the game are named after horror writers. Notably Robert Bloch (of Psycho), Richard Bachman (a pseudonym of Stephen King), Richard Matheson (of I Am Legend), and Ray Bradbury (of Something Wicked This Way Comes).
Have you played any Silent Hill games? Do you have a favorite of the series? Leave us a comment!