It’s trippy revisiting games from the early days of the survival horror era, but despite being a PS1 game, the original Silent Hill from 1999 still holds up for me in terms of horror gaming experience. I expected it to look terrible on my 60-inch HD television (I wouldn’t dare try it on my 65-inch 4k television), but using a PS2 to hdmi converter, I was shocked to discover it looks pretty damn good, even with the original full-frame presentation stretched to a 16×9 aspect ratio. Having said that, with rumor spreading the Silent Hill 2 is getting a remake, I can’t fathom why they wouldn’t first remake the first one since it’s on the oldest generation from the 3D era of video games.
If you don’t know by now, the basic premise is that a man named Harry delves into the abandoned town of Silent Hill in search of his little daughter after she runs off. He soon discovers the town is shrouded in mystery, fog, and grotesque creatures. To be honest, they aren’t as frightening as they were at the turn of the millennium when you compare the pixelated graphics to modern day horror games. Now they look kind of cute, but their bite is still brutal.
One thing I can really appreciate upon a replay is that it’s a reminder of what a strong adaptation the original movie was—cutting through all the narrative noise of this game and its multiple endings while creating a more concise plot that borrows crucial elements of the first and second games in the franchise. I love that movie.
The opening sequence immediately reminds you that Silent Hill took the fixed camera angles of Resident Evil one step further to create a claustrophobic, dizzying, disorienting visual experience.
Pretty soon you score a gun, radio, and flashlight. The radio gives off static to warn you when monsters are near. The flashlight can only be turned on in “dark Silent Hill”. Even though regular Silent Hill can seem quite dark at times, you’ll know when you’re really in the dark version, because you can’t see three feet in front of you, and everything turns decrepit, dirty, rusty, and bloody. Eek!
The creators of Silent Hill fine-tuned the tank controls a bit compared to Resident Evil. With the touch of a shoulder button, you can refocus the camera angle to over your shoulder to see what’s in front of you. The thumbstick can also be used to push in the direction you want to go at times, and you can dodge left or right as well as jump backwards, a move I never seemed to be able to master unless I was in the middle of a frantic boss fight and the last thing I wanted to do was jump backwards.
The inventory system is smooth, simple, and unlimited. Yay! No trying to juggle items in a box or trying to determine what you should and shouldn’t keep on hand. However, by the end of the game, Harry was probably carrying about a thousand pounds of stuff on him. And finally, the save stations are notebooks you can find on desks throughout the town.
This is a vast game with numerous buildings to go into and items hidden in nooks and crannies on the densely fogged streets. Even though you usually find a map of each area, I’d highly advise use of a walkthrough, because backtracking is bad enough in a Resident Evil mansion, but expand that to a whole town of buildings, streets, and alleys filled with respawning monsters and your nightmare quadruples. You’ll sometimes come across dead ends that just drop off into oblivion, but don’t worry, you can’t fall off them.
As if the streets aren’t annoying enough to navigate, the game sometimes fucks with you. For instance, you kill two zombie dogs by a doghouse. You check the doghouse and see nothing. You try to get in the door to the house right next to it but it’s locked. Farther down the road you find a note that says there’s something in the doghouse. You go back and there’s a key in the doghouse that unlocks the door of the house. Argh!
Did I mention using a walkthrough? The walkthrough will also ensure you gather all the ammo and health you can. You’re going to need them. That is unless you’ve already completed the game. The second time through, you have access to some cool weapons (which you won’t know about without a walkthrough), including a laser zapper with unlimited power that can be used on most enemies.
Enemies are first encountered on the streets, and include a pterodactyl type of bird, zombie dogs, and gorilla-like man monsters that pounce on you and seem to want to hump you to death. These are the least horrifying of all the enemies you’ll encounter.
You’ll also interact occasionally with normal humans, including a cop, a nurse, a crazy old lady, and a dude in a suit.
There are essentially a handful of very specific locations you spend most of your time exploring. The first building you become immersed in is the school, and immediately the game messes with you, because north on your map is suddenly to the right, not the top. Ugh. Not to mention there is only one save room in the whole building. Here you’ll meet the terrifying little children monsters with knives. Eek! They ambush you in groups, and cling to your legs while crying. As you try to shoot one, another comes at you, so you need to create distance, because they are vicious with their knives. There are also little chirping ghost children, but they are not all that harmful, and I kind of felt bad killing…ghosts? You’ll encounter your first puzzle in the school, and again, it’s annoying game design. You find three books with messages to solve the puzzle, but you don’t take the books with you! You have to write down the information for later use. Or, if you’re smart, you just read the info off the walkthrough. Eventually you are transported to the dark version of the school, where you’ll encounter giant cockroaches, and…the first boss.
WTF? The first damn boss is a one hit kill situation! You have to shoot him repeatedly until he opens his mouth, then shoot him in his mouth as much as possible before he closes it, but he gobbles you down before you can even move away. And there’s not enough room to get around his fricking mouth! And watch out for that thing in the center of this circular arena that you can constantly get stuck on if you’re not careful.
Next you meet an old lady in a church and she tells you to go to the hospital. I hate her. The hospital is the stuff of nightmares. You meet the nurses, who are all hunched over and wielding knives. The use of sound, music, camera angles, missing flooring, and darkness will ruin your life. The nurses also pop up in cramped rooms and are very aggressive. Meanwhile, jealous because the nurses are giving you all the tender love and care, out come doctor demons, which are faster, regenerate more, and tend to be right on top of you when you go through doors.
After the hospital, the streets get a bad case of dark Silent Hill, with super dark streets, no clear landmarks, grates on the ground, and enemies that are now more plentiful and relentlessly chase you.
You quickly stop into a mall…for a boss battle! WTF? I just wanted to grab some CDs from the music store! After all, this game came out right before Napster ruined the physical media industry forever.
Boss 2 is a giant, burrowing larva that spits acid at you. It always seems to come out of the ground right where you are standing and deals a lot of damage. Expect tons of running around while trying to get shots at him.
Boss 3 is just a few minutes later. You’re forced to go all the way back to the hospital, and you fight the larva in moth form, same acid spitting deal.
And then…WTF? There’s no save after the boss before you’re introduced to a new enemy…in the sewers! The sewers contain more giant bugs, including ones that drop from the ceiling, as well as these little Weeble Wobble bear things. The good news is that you aren’t wading through sewer water as in Resident Evil. When you’re finally out of that maze, you must endure a maze of docks by the water to get to a lighthouse. In a show of mercy, after that brief stop the game automatically transports you to where you need to be next.
Unfortunately, you end up going through sewers again to end up at an amusement park with no map…and just to fight a boss.
This fight takes place on a carousel. You meet an awesome boss, someone you thought was a friend but now isn’t looking so friendly. She shoots at you, which is a bitch, but after she drops the gun, if you used a walkthrough and you picked up the “unknown liquid” along the way, you’ll know to just use it on the boss instead of continuing to fight her, which also gives you a better ending. Have I sold you on a walkthrough yet?
The final segment of the game involves a lot of running around, collecting things, and solving puzzles. The problem is there’s no map, and there are lots of corridors and doors, including doors that transport you from one floor to another. But you would never know that unless you…say it with me…use a walkthrough.
You get one of two different final bosses, depending on actions you took earlier in the game, but both bosses are fought basically the same. Sad thing is you are shooting blindly because the boss flies and is not visible on screen once the cut scene introducing it ends! It’s up somewhere off screen, and your camera repositioning trick has no affect here. WTF? All you see is its lighting strikes coming down from above, and if you get hit by them you have to heal within seconds or you’ll die.
And speaking of endings, there is one more ending you can get when you play through a second time…with a walkthrough. You’ll find a special object on your journey that you can use in very specific places in the game. Each time you do, you get a cut scene of a UFO. If you hit all the areas, you suddenly get a UFO ending in which you’re abducted. However, this ends the game instantly when there’s a whole lot more game to play. Good news is there is a save right before the final spot where you use the item. Simply save first, get the UFO ending, and reload your save to continue the game.