Happy Halloween everybody! The one day a year where it’s perfectly okay to dress up in colorful costumes and scare the crap out of people, all the while eating a bunch of candy, is finally upon us. For many, this is one of the greatest holidays of the year. If you want to know why, just ask our resident horror expert Ann Hale! Her fantastic 31 Days of Horror have been counting down the greatest horror films of all time since October 1st and her love for the holiday simply oozes out of every sentence. Don’t take my word for it though! Be sure to check out her work first hand. As for me, I wanted to take a little page out of her Halloween tribute book and go a little festive this week with Remembering the Classics. As you might already know, I already did a post back in June about the original survival horror/zombie series Resident Evil meaning that franchise was out of the question for this post. That means that the only logical choice this week is the other premiere survival horror franchise and perennial Resident Evil rival, Silent Hill. This franchise is widely considered as one of the scariest on the market and for good reason. Let’s dive right into it shall we?
The Silent Hill franchise first started on the original PlayStation in 1999. Developed and published by Konami, the original Silent Hill jumped into a market that was already dominated by Capcom’s Resident Evil. With two games already under their belt and a third that came the same year as Silent Hill, it’s pretty clear where the market already stood. The series is set in the fictional American town of Silent Hill and takes a firm stance on the psychological side of horror. The character is the typical everyman meaning they aren’t particularly special one way or another. They’re not a secret agent or gun-toting badass. In the first game, the player character is a normal man named Harry Mason who is searching for his daughter Cheryl. He’s inexperienced with firearms and is easily winded, yet marches onward into the forces of evil. Visibility is extremely low throughout the game with only a flashlight to illuminate your way for the most part. These elements were carried onto future titles, along with the religious cult that regularly antagonizes the player. One notably horrific villain who has since become a legend in itself is Pyramid Head from Silent Hill 2. As part of the franchise’s psychological spin, Pyramid Head itself is a symbol of Silent Hill 2’s protagonist James Sunderland’s desire for punishment regarding his wife’s death.
Despite having a similar third-person play style to Resident Evil and being marketed as survival horror, a genre which Resident Evil first popularized, Silent Hill was able to stand out. It in essence took everything that made Resident Evil so scary and brought it up a notch. The rooms were darker, the enemies were more relentless, and your character was a lot weaker. Some people even view the graphical limitations of the first PlayStation as something good for the first title as it really hammered home that the character was in a location of complete desolation. All of this contributed to critics falling in love with the first title and giving birth to a major franchise. Silent Hill 2 brought the series to even bigger heights with improved graphics and a much scarier atmosphere and setting. Plus, the aforementioned Pyramid Head became a breakout character.
Ironically enough, both Resident Evil and Silent Hill have followed down similar paths in their lifetimes despite their differences. As the Silent Hill franchise continued to receive rave reviews with its focus on psychological damage as opposed to action, future titles following Silent Hill 3 started to become much more action focused. For many this began with 2004’s Silent Hill 4: The Room on the PlayStation 2 and Xbox. Silent Hill 4 still received the usual high marks for its frightful atmosphere, but was highly criticized for its emphasis on combat. Future titles haven’t fared any better as they have yet to return to the highs of the original three. As it turns out, Resident Evil has itself suffered from the same identity crisis as of late. Is it horror? Is it action? If you’re looking at these games now, definitely action.
Truth be told, I have actually never played a Silent Hill title. I have distinct memories of seeing a magazine cover with Silent Hill 2 on it and big letters saying “THE SCARIEST GAME YOU WILL EVER PLAY” or something of that sort. Seeing as I was only about 11 years old at the time and very easily frightened, I immediately put that on my “Do not play or else you will never sleep again in your life” list. Seriously, I avoided that title like the plague. Now that I’m much older and have a growing love for the horror genre, there really isn’t a better time for me to revisit the Silent Hill franchise to see what I’ve been missing. Maybe I’ll even play the games at night with all the lights off. I’ll bring a change of pants just in case.
There have been a lot of horror games throughout the years but Silent Hill has always been able to shine through as one of the best. Along with its “rival” Resident Evil, the survivor horror genre has exploded into previously unimaginable heights of popularity. Since the first game came in 1999 there have been novels and films based in the same universe that have also become popular in their own right. The films have received negative reviews despite the connection but that certainly doesn’t stop fans from checking them out. I know a lot of people who are huge fans of this series and would probably sing its praises given the chance. After all, many people still consider Silent Hill 2 to be the scariest game of all time. So if you’re in the mood for some real scares this late into Halloween and also have a hankering for quality game time, I’d say you don’t have to look much further than this survival horror series.