Retrospective: Silent Hill

Much of my gaming time over the last couple of months has been spent compensating for this generation’s dearth of creativity by delving deep into the back catalogue, saying goodbye to hardware backwards compatibility by enjoying some of my overlooked classics on the PS1 and PS2. One of these was the original Silent Hill, perhaps not afforded the credit it deserves in the wake of its admittedly better, more widely ported sequels, and certainly in the shadows of Resident Evil in the PS1’s survival horror canon, but one worthy of revisiting.

Silent Hill

As you’ll see above, it’s also responsible for possibly my favourite screenshot ever. (Courtesy of the Silent Hill Wiki.)

Despite its formidable reputation, I didn’t find Silent Hill scary. Its reputation for creeping psychological horror seemed overstated, with nothing that had me cursing it beyond a couple of cheap jump scares – an unexplained window breaking or sound of unseen objects clattering to the floor. Perhaps it’s too difficult nowadays to look beyond the rough edges and see a vicious creature torn from a tormented psyche when they look more like melted cake ornaments. Low-poly ones at that.

Shorn of what is arguably its raison d’être, though, Silent Hill is still worthy of your time. Firstly, a well-documented bug in the PS3’s backwards compatibility and some mixing issues aside, it’s one of the earliest games to have impressed me with its sound design. Akira Yamaoka’s dissonant soundtrack complements the Lynchian weirdness wonderfully and, along with the unsettling industrial sound effects, is by far the aspect of the game that has aged best.

When Silent Hill was re-imagined as Shattered Memories, it dropped combat entirely. This led me to believe that the combat, so often the weak point in games that aspire to more than action, would be terrible, but it’s really not. Ammo is scare enough to be valuable without discouraging you from pulling the trigger when necessary, and relying on melee combat is actually a realistic proposition. Simply by not having combat be a total drag, it outdoes most survival horror games, which is intended to be higher praise than it might sound like.

Not a life-changing classic, then, but another example of a clever, original franchise that has devolved into shooting and jump scares in this generation. People banging on about the depressing frequency with which this has happened may be getting tiresome, but you know how publishers can make us desist? Stop doing it.

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