- Platforms: PlayStation 1, PlayStation 3 (PlayStation Network)
- Suggested Platform: PlayStation 1
- Developer: Konami
- Genre: Survival Horror.
- Release Date: 01/31/99 (NA)
- Why Play It?: Great story, environments, puzzles, and unsettling vibe.
- Why Skip It?: If you don’t like survival horror or can’t get past the tank-style control scheme.
Silent Hill is one of the greatest video game franchises of all time. In fact, you’ll notice that at least one other Silent Hill has made the best game ever list, and the others that haven’t I still rank pretty highly. A few years ago, before I started up Cyberphile, I played through Silent Hill, Silent Hill 2, Silent Hill 3, Silent Hill 4: The Room, and Silent Hill Origins. I still need to play the newer ones, and the little bit of Silent Hill: Homecoming that I played I enjoyed. That aside, I decided I need to play through the especially good ones (1-4, sorry Origins) again, and it made me decide to put the original Silent Hill on the list.
Silent Hill tells the story of Harry Mason, a man who goes on vacation to the popular resort town of Silent Hill with his daughter, Cheryl. En route to Silent Hill, as heavy fog rolls in, Harry loses control of his vehicle and crashes. When he comes to, he discovers that Cheryl is gone, so he begins searching around Silent Hill looking for her. Harry soon comes to discover that Silent Hill is not your ordinary town, and something dark and sinister is going on, as skinned creatures skulk around town, and reality has a tendency to shift into a horrific nightmare world, full of blood and rust. Throughout his search, Harry will run into a cast of characters, each with their own personalities and quirks. In fact, all of the characters you meet during your stay in Silent Hill are great and very believable, despite the sometimes questionable voice acting.
The main thing that turns people away from Silent Hill and other survival horror games in general is the tank-like controls. Instead of moving your character in whichever direction you choose relative to the camera, up always moves your character forward, down is always backwards, and left and right turn your character slowly to their left and right. Before you can fire or swing your weapon, you need to ready it with R2, then fire or swing with X. The reason why these design choices were made is no mistake in my opinion. Having the tank-like controls makes moving around in an area with many enemies dangerous and tense. When using weaponry, it makes you have to think about each scenario and adjust accordingly. If you’re in a cramped hallway with two enemies on either side of you, you’re not going to have time to beat one to death without getting assaulted by the other. This means you’ll have to break out your valuable ammunition if you don’t want to take damage.
Another reason to have the unique controls is because the camera angle is usually fixed, especially when you’re in small rooms or hallways. My favorite survival horror games (the Silent Hill and Fatal Frame series’) use this design to great effect to create tension and unease in nearly every room. For example, very early into Silent Hill you are running down a narrow alleyway that has begun to get dark and creepy and the camera angle adjusts to make the alleyway askew as Harry walks off away from the camera towards the darkness of the alleyway. These kinds of camera angles create tension and fear, and a good survival horror game, like Silent Hill, uses these to great effect.
Silent Hill, mechanically, is part puzzle, part survival. What this means is when you need to advance in a certain area, you often need to solve one (or usually many) puzzles to either unlock a door or find a key or other item to advance in some way. The puzzles range from simply finding a number that unlocks a door to mind-bendingly tough, like playing a piano with keys in a certain configuration. This is definitely a pen-and -paper game where writing down clues while you try to figure out a puzzle will save to time and frustration when you find where that puzzle must be put in place. That said, the puzzles are not impossible (at least, not on default settings) and when you do finally figure them out, it is immensely satisfying. You’ll definitely get that rewarding “a-ha!” moment more than once during the course of Silent Hill.
When you’re not solving puzzles or hunting for clues to said puzzles, you’ll be scavenging for health pick-ups, ammo, or fighting off strange and creepy creatures like skinned dogs, weird pterodactyl things, nurses with strange parasitic growths on their backs, and various other creepy creatures. Whenever an enemy is nearby, your radio will start playing static louder as you get closer to the enemy, adding another layer to the chill-factor. Oftentimes, especially if the enemy isn’t inhibiting your progress, your best bet is to run past them. However, oftentimes you’ll have to fight, and you’ll need to manage the ammunition for your guns carefully, as the guns are your most powerful weaponry, but blowing through your ammunition will put you in a bad way when you really need it to take out hordes of enemies or the occasional boss.
Lastly, let’s talk about the graphics. They have this grainy feel to them, but honestly, it looks pretty good, especially for PS1. In fact, I think the grainyness of it suits the game very well. They used an ingenious method for when you’re in larger areas; Since the PS1 definitely couldn’t handle loading up everything in an area (low draw distance) when you’re running around Silent Hill, the heavy fog obscures all but a few feet in front of you, adding to the tension, especially when your radio is alerting you to a nearby enemy, and you can hear them approaching, but not see them. Another good design choice, in my opinion, is the complete absence of a H.U.D.(Heads Up Display). This means to check the ammo in your gun or your health, you’ll have to navigate into the menu. The two different “worlds” you’ll visit are jarringly different, yet eerily similar, and they do a great job with this, using different colors and disturbing imagery to their advantage. Another really cool feature that I only really see the Silent Hill series do is that the character will mark the map accordingly for you. If you run into a dead end or something important, Harry will mark it on the map for future reference. Really nice touch, if you ask me.
The feelings, thoughts and questions Silent Hill leaves you with once you complete it, as well as the gameplay, puzzles, and story make Silent Hill worthy of its spot on the list of Best Games Ever. With 5 different endings and multiple difficulties, the replay value is high for me, and if you’ve never had the chance to play the first Silent Hill, especially fans of survival horror, you’re doing yourself a great disservice.