Review: Flashlight? Check. Radio? Check. Depends?... Dammit!
Game to movie projects are usually disasters. Uwe Boll, Super Mario Bros.
, even Doom
wasn't exactly what people expected aside from that awesome first-person scene. Silent Hill
, on the other hand, appears to be the flick that turns the corner and present a film version of a popular gaming series. But where did it start? What makes it so well-tuned to be transformed from a 10 hour game into a 2 hour movie? The original Silent Hill for the PlayStation is as good as any place to start and explain the legend and its roots, from being cast off as a Resident Evil clone and eventually surpassing that survival horror innovator...until RE4 anyway. See the movie, take in the terror... then hit your nearest PlayStation console and see how it all began.
Silent Hill puts you in the perspective of Harry Mason, a writer, on his way to the resort town of Silent Hill (hence the name of the game) along with his daughter Cheryl. Harry is a sad fellow, given his wife recently died of a long illness (no word on whether it's the same one that took down James Sunderland's wife in Silent Hill 2 - just another theory for SH fans to think about), and is taking a vacation to get away from his troubles. However, things go terribly wrong, as the image of a little girl appears on the highway, and Harry is forced to swerve and cause a serious one-car accident. When Harry comes to, his daughter is nowhere to be seen. He goes looking through town - which is a tough call, as SH is extremely foggy today, and even snowing, despite it being the middle of summer. Eventually Harry heads down an alley; one that gets increasingly disturbing, with guts, blood, wheelchairs, gurneys, and at the dead-end, a decaying body that apparently has been crucified. All the while, the skies turn dark and ominous. Then, out of nowhere, squeaking little demons, known lovingly as demon children start hacking away at Harry with their knives (this image in itself is a bit freaky, no?), until they kill him.
And then he wakes up...
This is just the first 5 minutes or so - but the introduction sets the tone for an extremely strange story that is even more confusing than Metal Gear Solid 2; at first anyway. All you know is, you must find Cheryl in the town and get the hell out, and even though this world is disturbing, weird, and horrifying, it doesn't matter to Harry - he just wants his girl back. Along the way, Harry encounters many people, both friend and foe (though really, most are neutral until later on in the game), who slowly reveal the secrets behind all the strange happenings in Silent Hill.
Silent Hill is one of the few games that actually use graphics and sounds as an integral portion of the gameplay. While the majority of the game is solving puzzles and blasting away creepy enemies, the graphics engine and sound engine accent the happenings of the town, further adding a level of suspense and horror to the game. For instance, when playing in Foggy Silent Hill (the one that's normal, with the exception of no people being around, and weird chasms in the roads), the fog level makes seeing far ahead nearly impossible; it's not a cover-up effect - it's to add a further level of fear of not knowing what's ahead of you. Even when you hit dark places in the area, like the school, only your flashlight and radio can guide you through the halls and identify enemies, clues, and paths to take. However, when you get whisked into Darkside Silent Hill, the floors are replaced with fencing, the rooms are decaying and disgusting, the puzzles are even more disturbing, the enemies are stronger and more frequent, and the gore level is brought up to terrifying proportions, with dead, decaying bodies all around, blood stains all over, and a general uneasy feeling. Yeah, the PlayStation limits the details of the game, but in many ways, it's a great idea; as then, you're forced to try and decipher what's going on, but you really can't - making the game creepier.
The sounds only make it worse. Forgetting the voice acting, which is decent, the sound effects of Silent Hill are spectacular when joined with gameplay. So many times, you'll hear noises coming from...somewhere...yet nothing is really there, putting you further on the edge (or forcing you to find the power button and run to mommy). The radio that you carry that makes a ringing sound when enemies are near is another tool of fear - nothing like entering a dark room, only to hear the radio screech out and not be able to find the enemy before they attack. It's difficult to put into words, but the first time you start encountering some of these nasty tricks, it proves to be the anti-Resident Evil - as in, when you hear something, it's probably nothing. Probably. There's also the industrial/techno-ish soundtrack to the game, which further increases the tension - sometimes it's so well composed that you can't tell whether it's a sound effect or music.
Still, the bulk of Silent Hill is done with exploring and fighting. The controls are a bit nasty and clunky, but with purpose. Harry isn't a superhero; instead, he's a regular guy who's probably scared half to death and carrying a few pounds of poopie in his pants while running around town. As such, he's a terrible aim with a projectile weapon, missing the targets from a distance, forcing him to attack as close as possible, putting him in the line of fire himself. It doesn't help that Harry runs kinda funny and has a problem with making corners on a dime without skidding to a stop and gasping for air.
Exploring through Silent Hill is simple, yet difficult. While Harry has a map that's constantly updated when finding new areas (such as marking when a street is missing road and you can't cross, or what rooms in the school or hospital or whatever are locked if you find the proper map), it takes a bit of effort to navigate the fully 3D world. Most of the progression is solved through puzzles; many are cryptic and creepy, and usually always written to you in blood. There were numerous times when I got stumped on one of the strange puzzles, but once the hints are properly gathered, it's not too challenging - enough to keep your mind busy, though. It makes no difference whether or not you're in either Silent Hill incarnation, the puzzles are necessary to solve to advance.