The most scary experience ever... and I can back up that statement
I'm a PC owner, and a PC player. Unlike some people out there, I stick to my PC and I was NEVER interested in getting a console, don't have the money nor the will to do it. Plus, as any human being who is more than 15 years old as of June 2003, I didn't develop these 15-inch twice-articulated thumbs people seem to have nowadays, thus I choose my good old keyboard over any console controller any day of the week. Hell, I grew up by a Sinclair's ZX Spectrum +, which makes it even worse as even the mouse was kinda weird for me at a time.
I liked Survival/Horror games when they first came out -AND IT WAS NOT IN 1996 WITH THAT RESIDENT EVIL CRAP, IT WAS LIKE 3 YEARS BEFORE AND THE GAME WAS CALLED ALONE IN THE DARK!!!-, yet the more I growed as a PC-player, the more I got used to the keyboard/mouse combo (too much FPSs and adventure games).
This would eventually make full-keyboard controlled games (namely, Survival/Horror games) pretty hard for me to get used to. The inabilty to have features such as "free look" kills me. The mouse is a must for me today. Not being able to use it to look around makes me feel kind of claustrophobic. Or like I'm controlling some badly handicaped character.
So, this was pretty much my videogaming life, until one day I stumbled upon Silent Hill 2. God how I LOVED that game. Well I won't extend about it here -you can go ahead and read my REVIEW if you want to know how much I liked it- but I will say this: I liked the story so much, that I was compelled to play the first game no matter what.
I found out SH was only a PSX game which didn't make it to any other platform, so guess what? I GOT A PSX JUST TO PLAY SILENT HILL.
To the moment, it is the only PSX game I own, and it will most likely remain like that for the time being.
So, all this rant is meant to explain the fact that I might be too hard on some technical aspects, since I come from a DirectX 8.1 class PC, and don't know the exact limitations of PSX. Furthermore, I'll be comparing Silent Hill to its sequel, which will of course sound quite anachronic.
OK, on to the review.
I got to go easy on THE GRAPHICS, since as I said I don't know how close to the PSX limits these are.
The graphics resemble to DirectX 6 class games, wich means pretty little polygons per character, crappy lighting effects, and very low resolution textures.
Nevertheless, from a designer point of view I think they look great. The first monsters you come to find look kinda silly, but I believe they are inteded to, as you will probably understand near the end, when you get in Alessa's childhood bedroom. Plus, they looking silly makes up for a strong contrast with the "alternate" version of them you will find in Dark Silent Hill (more on this later).
The town is depicted to every little detail, making it look very realistic. The different scenarios are stuffed with small freaky details, which will add a lot to the atmosphere. In the videogaming community there is somewhat an arguement about the mist that covers the town, whether is there to help the game rendering or just to add to the atmosphere: well whatever the truth is, it works great for the atmosphere. So, end of discussion.
Also the camera not only swaps between different static angles as in classic Horror/Survival games, but every angle has real time motion on its own. Sometimes the camera will make weird pannings that work out as a really dramatic effect.
There is one option by which we can position the camera behind the character's back (similar to a FPS game) which helps clear any problem the "weird angles" may create. In this regard, Silent Hill 2 really sucks, as the camera sometimes will hide the enemies, and more often than not will take forever to re-position in a convenient place. So, in this regard, I got to say the first Silent Hill is WAY better than the sequel, in spite of the technological superiority of the later.
THE SOUND is simply amazing. It is hard to say if it is the music or the sound effects, since they are both pretty much the same, it is not exactly music, but at times it has too much "rythm" to be just noise. This "soundscape" has often been compared to the work of Angelo Badalamenti for the likes of the TV series Twin Peaks or the movie Lost Highway, and I think is the best description someone could possibly make.
One thing you can be sure about: the soundscape is eerie, and enhaces the atmosphere of the game greatly.
Furthermore, every now and then, there will be "random" noises that go off all of a sudden and will make you jump off your seat.
No other game came closer to Silent Hill in this area, and the ones which made an attemp, pretty much failed (like Alone in the Dark IV and even Silent Hill 2).
But the technical aspects alone won't make any justice to the game. IS THE STORY of the Silent Hill saga the main thing that set these games apart from any other title of the genre. There might be eternal discussions about which one has the best graphics, the best control interface, or even the best sound, but the story in Silent Hill is WAY superior to ANY other survival/horror game.
The best thing about it is that the greatness lies not only in the storyline itself —which is STUFFED with twists, secrets, and all kind of nasty surprises— but it goes much further, turning the whole gaming into a unique immersive experience that is pretty difficult to put in words.
Harry Mason is driving his car towards Silent Hill, a quiet tourist resort. By his side Cheryl, his 7 year old daughter, sleeps. A female cop passes by the car on a motorbike and they exchange looks. Further ahead, Harry sees the bike crashed on the side of the road, the cop missing. As he raises his eyes, he gets to see a girl standing in the middle of the road; Harry quickly maneuvres to avoid hitting her, and the car crashes. When Harry awakes, he finds Cheryl's missing. As he steps out of the wrecked car, he finds out the town is indeed silent. As if it was empty. There's a dense mist that won't let him see more than 20 ft ahead. Softly but consistent, a light snow falls. Without even thinking about how strange that is, being summertime, Harry runs after a silouhette that looks just like his daughter, ending up in a long alleyway. As he moves on, it seems like night falls quickly. Behind one corner, Harry finds a wheelchair. Behind another corner, Harry finds a hospital bed with a body, covered by a blood-stained sheet. One more corner ahead, Harry find what seems to be a crucified human body, the skin peeled out. Harry turns over, and three small children holding knives stumble towards him, stabbing him to death.
Harry wakes up in a dinner. Cheryl's not there, but the female cop is. Outside, it's still snowing.
From this moment on, the game grips you by the troath and won't let go until you find out what is happening in this town, where is Cheryl and why does she seem to run away from her father every time they meet.
Harry is not your typical videogame super-hero a la Resident Evil, who happens to find a rocket launcher lying around and just starts blasting off the evil zombies and ghouls ( that, BTW, also have rocket launchers ??? ).
Harry is a family man, a regular guy who lost his wife and now refuses to lose his daughter to a nightmare of a town. The man is determined and brave, but doesn't even know how to hold a gun. He is trapped, clueless, in a story that goes beyond his possible understanding.
Silent Hill is not the quiet tourist resort Harry thought. Eerie and deserted —except for the nightmarish creatures and a couple of persons who are as struck as Harry, if not as twisted as the beasts—, Silent Hill has yet another face to make things even worse.
The town with the mist and the creatures lurking in it makes up for a pretty opressive atmosphere that will have your nerves going on; but at some points Misty Silent Hill will "shift" into Dark Silent Hill. Here, you get to re-visit some of the places you have already been to, but everything is changed: rain pours instead of the snow, there is a gripping darkness instead of the mist, and all the walls and decorations turn into rusty blood-stained metal, with hanging chains, cuffs, hooks, human-body sized cages, and other elements that make you think about medieval torture chambers. As you move on throughout the game, every time you get back into Dark Silent Hill it seems to get even worse, until even the monsters get "reversed" and more twisted than they were, and the streets are replaced by rusty grating over bottomless pits.
After spending some minutes in Dark Silent Hill you will actually be GLAD every time you get to go back to the —also eerie and twisted!— Misty Silent Hill, and that is an incredible achievement from the producers of the game, it's the most smart mindjob I've been put to by a videogame.
Also, and this is something a lot of people actually HATED, don't expect the ending to be an easy to digest, tell-all, conclusive ending. By the time you beat the game, you might be left with more questions than when you started, feeling the need to play it all over again, in order to get things straight.
Furthermore, there are four possible endings, depending on some choices you get to make in a couple of moments of the game.
In that regard, the game offers a great deal of REPLAYABILITY. Not only because of the four different endings, but every time you restart you will find a load of bonus weapons and hidden features, according to how you played the game the last time.
There is even a fifth secret ending, some kind of easter egg meant as a sick joke from the programmers.
OK, now the sad part.
I totally *HATE* the CONTROL INTERFACE. This is the damnation of the Survival/Horror genre, and apparently there's not much to do about it, some people even like it, which surely goes beyond me, but as I already said, a game in which I can't "free look" around makes me sick with claustrophobia. If a monster happens to throw itself at your feet, you are pretty much screwed, and need to back up quickly as Harry can't look down or crouch.
As other titles of the genre, Silent Hill gives us a lame excuse for a "strafe" move which is two steps from totally useless, and that is the best control feature we have in action sequences. Because of this, I found myself running away from as much fighting situations as possible, and the boss fights were pretty much an excercise in the shoot-heal-shoot-heal-shoot-heal technique, as trying to avoid attacks would make me get more damage than just standing still.
The GRAPHICS need some work around, specially the human characters. They don't look good. As I said, I don't know how much better the PSX can get, but I do believe a Tomb-Raider-level is achievable, and TR's characters look much better than SH's. Dr Kaufmann is horribly drawn. So is Harry, the main character.
As good as I think the fact that the hero is more of an anti-hero without any of those cliches so common in videogames is; sometimes they take it way over the line. Take for example the way Harry runs. He looks plain silly, one would think his feet weigh a couple tons or something. Even worse is the way he holds some of the weapons. OH MY GOD! When I saw Harry holding the pipe, I just rushed to holster it and never took it out again! He looks so STUPID I was afraid the monsters would just laugh at me! Same goes for the way he holds any of the melee weapons.
As good as the moving camera is, there is something wrong with it. I don't know exactly what is it, just most times when the camera moves, the textures seem to flicker very badly. Looks like the whole scene is made out of cardboard, and moving it is about to break it all. I'm pretty positive this didn't happen in Tomb Raider.
The VOICE ACTING sucks. So much so, it manages to throw some otherwise *very* intense moments off board just like that. This is terrible, since even one of the game endings gets pretty screwed up by this. Specially the guy playing Harry (the main character, almost nothing) should be better off doing the dishes at some small town dinner or something. The guy sounds so calmed and washed out he can't possibly have a soul.
Furthermore, there is a small half-second pause between spoken sentences that doesn't make any sense. I suppose it is the game loading the next line, but it often pauses right in the middle of some fast-paced dialogue or in the middle of some maniac rant from an inspired character, and looks like the actor forgot his line, and is checking down the script.
The Bottom Line
The best horror game ever. Period.
I'm a PC player, but I got a Playstation only to play Silent Hill.
The game has the best atmosphere I experimented in any videogame, and it actually surpasses a lot of movies. It's got even better atmosphere than its own technically-almost-perfect sequel.
If we think about how limited the game is in the technical aspect, one must stand up and applaude Konami for a great job. Silent Hill is a masterpiece.
The game will send the creeps all over you all the time. You won't believe you are just playing a game, and even less you will believe that a so technically outdated game can have that effect on you. The soundscape keeps the atmosphere going on. The twists in the plot confuse you more and more by the minute. Every now and then something will suddenly come up, making you jump off your seat like a good old-school horror movie. Every now and then, reality will be transfixed into something wicked, where nothing is what it seems. At one point you will face a huge creature resembling a lizard. You need it to open its mouth, so you shoot it in order to get it mad. Then it starts making noises and you get ready because this is it. Then you freeze when, instead of opening a mouth like you would expect, the lizard's head splits in half, opening its huge jaws side to side.
Please take note that Horror/Survival is a pretty confusing genre, and there are different opinions on WHAT exactly Horror/Survival means.
If you think Horror/Survival is best defined by Capcom games (Resident Evil, Dino Crisis) then you might find Silent Hill too slow and confusing.
On the other hand, if you think Capcom leans too much towards the "action" side of the street, and those games are not as scary as you would like (plus I think their storylines sucks), then join us in the Silent Hill side. Personally, I think THIS is how you make a horror game.