Friday, May 15, 2015

Silence of the Hills

It appears that Konami is making its exit from the video game industry so I'd like to take a moment to talk about what once was one of their premier franchises, Silent Hill.

Most fans of this long running series consider the second installment to be the best of the bunch, but (having played them in chronological order) I consider the first to be the most interesting.  That's coming from someone who has played the first, second, third and fourth mainline entries to completion (plus I even got a number of alternate endings).  The fifth, I only watched an LP of on Youtube and while it wasn't very good overall there were a few bits I rather liked.

The original Silent Hill on the PSX was kind of a shock for me.  Having been used to Resident Evil style survival horror games, I was caught off-guard by the way the game was presented.  The story was also quite cryptic, and difficult to follow, since I wasn't familiar with a lot of the design influences at the time such as the films "Jacob's Ladder" and "Rosemary's Baby," the TV series "Twin Peaks," or the Steven King novella "The Mist."  Only after I had read a plot FAQ by the aptly named "President Evil" did I really start to get an idea of what the game was all about.

Silent Hill 2 took the series in a somewhat different (although not unwelcome) direction.  The scorched and mutilated imagery of the first game was replaced by feelings of decay and atrophy.  Little did I know at the time that this vibe would be emblematic of the sequels as a whole in terms of quality.  I get that the environments and enemies were intentionally designed to reflect the inner psyche of the protagonist (and that cool).  However, I felt the moment to moment gameplay suffered slightly for it.

Silent Hill 3 was an attempt to meld the design philosophies of the first two games into a single entity.  The result was unfocused and, while it had some good ideas, things failed to gel into a cohesive whole.  Take, for example, the premise of the original game (find your daughter) or the second (find your wife), and compare it to the third.  It doesn't seem to be a fully realized concept by comparison.  The player spends the first half of the game wandering around a shopping mall and subway without really having a clear goal.

Silent Hill 4: The Room was an interesting new direction for the series.  The fear factor was amplified considerably for me because I was living in an apartment nearly identical to the protagonist's in the game at the time.  The references to films such as "Event Horizon" and "The Cell" were nice touches, but the presence of ghosts felt out of place to me.  My understanding is The Room was originally intended to be an entirely separate horror game that got re-purposed as sequel for the Silent Hill franchise.

From there on out, I've pretty much lost touch with the IP.  As far as I'm concerned there isn't much more that can be done with that small town (which has an obscenely large hospital for some reason...) by the lake.  Also, a big part of what makes horror effective is fear of the unknown.  At this point Silent Hill is a far too well understood property to really surprise fans, and any drastic changes to the formula would render the result no longer a Silent Hill game.  So while part of me laments the cancellation of Guillermo del Toro and Hideo Kojima's joint venture into the pluralization of the game's title, I think these two talented individuals have other (and probably better) outlets for their creative energies.  Still, it's a bummer that P.T. got de-listed from PSN....

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